The Ottawa Senators have expectations for next season that include being a better team and hopefully making it back to post-season contention. One of the first steps on the path to reaching that goal is to move up the ranks in their own division. So based on the off-season moves of their division rivals, is that expectation realistic? I will look at the other 4 Northeastern Division teams and what they have done before judging the Senators and their moves.
The defending Stanley Cup champs have not been shy about making moves this off-season. The Bruins have added Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo to the lineup while losing Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle to free agency and Mark Recchi to retirement. Winning the Cup gives everyone on the roster an extra boost in terms of experience. The Kaberle/Corvo tradeoff is pretty much a wash, while Ryder’s loss probably hurts the club a little bit more than Pouliot’s gain. Recchi provided leadership and some scoring punch, but his departure just opens up more playing time for sophomore Tyler Seguin and playoff breakout performer Brad Marchand, who will both be players to watch next season. Tim Thomas isn’t getting any younger, but if he needs a rest, they don’t lose very much when Tukka Rask is between the pipes.
Spending like a trailer park lottery winner doesn’t really mean you are a better club. The Sabres and new owner Terry Pegula opened the vault and spent the money, but did they do it wisely? The Sabres let a number of veterans go, including Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Patrick Lalime, Tim Connolly, Steve Montador, Matt Ellis and Mark Mancari. They traded Chris Butler and Paul Byron for Robin Regehr and Ales Kotalik. They then traded for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff and signed him to a 10 year, $50 M contract and overpaid for Ville Lieno when free agency opened. Ehrhoff and Regher shore up the blue line immensely, with one elite offensive powerhouse and one shutdown defenseman. They have an elite tandem between the pipes with Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. Up front, the departure of Connolly and the insertion of Lieno is a lateral move. Hopefully for the Sabres, Derek Roy can come back healthy, and is ready to assume the #1 centre role that is now his and his alone. Offensively they will not shock and awe, but they are going to be a very difficult team to score against.
The Canadiens will have a new look going into 2011-12. Gone are veterans Roman Hamrlik, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel, Jeff Halpern, Alex Auld as well as younger players such as Dustin Boyd, Nigel Dawes, Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt. Incoming players include Erik Cole, Mike Blundin and Peter Budaj. The Canadiens will be better based on the fact that blue-line leaders Andrei Markov and Josh Georges should be back after missing most of the season with injuries. Carey Price continues his ascent into stardom and will be the primary stopper for the foreseeable future in Montreal. The departures up front make room for Lars Eller to step up and be a contributor offensively.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Senator’s “measuring stick”, the team that success or failure will be measured against. Gone from Leafland are role players and part timers like Tim Brent, Christian Hanson, Brett Lebda, Daryl Boyce and Joey Crabb. They also let goalie J.S. Giguere walk away, to Colorado. As for additions, the Leafs didn’t win the Brad Richards derby but got Tim Connolly signed, traded for Cody Franson and John-Michaell Liles. Matthew Lombardi was a salary dump on Brian Burke by Nashville in the Franson deal, but he seems to think he will be able to recover from post-concussion syndrome and be able to play for the Leafs. If he can, he brings a speedy top 6 forward to the Leafs that is not expected at the moment. Goaltending will be a question mark until James Reimer (or Jonas Gustavsson for that matter) steps up and shows that he can be a consistent NHL performer. Reimer was a surprise last season, and it remains to be seen if he is Jim Carey or Martin Brodeur (obvious hyperbole so save your comments)! If Connolly can avoid the injury bug, he is a legitimate #1 centre that they have been looking for since the departure of Mats Sundin, and he should help Phil Kessel reach new heights. They finally have a #1 line that can be counted on every night, which is one thing that they have been lacking. The defense corps is suddenly very impressive with Phaneuf, Aulie, Liles, Franson, Gunnarson and Schenn. Mike Komisarek is an expensive 7th man, but Burke will try to find a taker for him before the season starts.
The Senators will look very much like the team that ended the last season. Other than the signing of prototypical 4th line centre Zenon Konopka and backup goalie Alex Auld, the Senators have been very quiet, preferring to develop internally. They did make a splash at the draft by selecting Mika Zibanejad 6th overall and trading a 3rd rd pick for Nikita Filatov. Binghamton callups Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra looked good late in the season and will be given the opportunity to make the team. Rookie defensemen David Runblad and Jared Cowen will also get a shot, and are expected to make the team, and to make the battle for blue-line jobs very intense. The Senators are deep in the bottom 6 forward postions and on defense, but the ongoing problem is finding enough offense. Filatov should and could be a positive addition to the top 6, but it is not an area of strength. A healthy Daniel Alfredsson will help but he isn’t 25 years old any more and can only do so much. If Jason Spezza can continue the maturity he showed at the end of last season he can dominate, but needs to have a capable wing-man. It might be a couple of years before the crop of draft picks this year deepens the talent pool, but Zibanejad has signed and will be given a shot at making the club this fall. Craig Anderson needs to continue to play at the level he did after coming over from Colorado if the Senators have any chance of moving up.
Judging by the moves of their divisional rivals alone, the Senators have a big hill to climb this season. Arguably Buffalo is better, Boston is at least as good, and the Leafs have improved greatly. Montreal is the only team that seems to have taken a step back on paper, until you consider that they are essentially adding a top 10 NHL defenseman back to the roster, without giving anything up. Until Ottawa adds offense it will rely heavily on Anderson and a trio (or quartet depending on Lee’s status) of defensemen under 23 to carry the load.
Looks like it might be another long year ending up with the Senators on the outside looking in.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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