It has been pointed out to me that during my series last week on who the Senators can finish ahead of in the Eastern Conference, I neglected to explain in detail why the Senators will be better than they were last year. Here are the 7 main reasons why. I alluded to most of them in some form during the 5 parts, but did not assemble them all in one place….until now!
1. Coaching – Cory Clouston had the best intentions, but his dictator style wasn’t the way to handle this group of players. This was and will continue to be a young team that needs to have fun while learning, and not be afraid to try things for fear of making mistakes. Despite claims to the contrary, communication was an issue over the past couple of years. Paul MacLean brings a pedigree of working with one of the best coaches in the NHL (Mike Babcock) in Detroit. Babcock is a no-nonsense individual, but also seemed to know when to relax the reins and let the boys be boys.
2. Goaltending – Brian Elliottallowed 3 or more goals 26 times in his 39
starts last season. His GAA with Ottawa was 3.19 and his SP was .894. Fifty-eight goalies who played 10 or more games last season had a better GAA. Sixty three had better save percentages. I’m not saying Craig Anderson will win the Vezina or even approach his 2.05 GAA with Ottawa last season, but even if you conservatively give him a 2.50 GAA (which would be around 30th in the league) that would cut approximately 30 goals from the clubs totals, putting them around 11th or 12th, instead of 25th where they finished last year.
3. Defense – There were some atrocisous numbers put up by the Ottawa defense unit last season. Chris Phillips (-35), Erik Karlsson (-30) and Filip Kuba (-26) were among the worst in the league in +/-. Sometimes it is a misleading stat, but it shows just how low the mood on the club sunk with Brian Elliott in the net. After Anderson’s arrival, Phillips was -9, Karlsson was -2, and Kuba was even. Sergei Gonchar was off his game and he should be better. David Rundblad and Jared Cowen will, at the very least, make it a competitve training camp for jobs and at best will both make the club and play key roles. Mistakes will be made, but that is what you count on a goaltender for. Elliott couldn’t cover for those mistakes, while Anderson showed he can (albeit in a limited audition).
4. Daniel Alfredsson -The Captain fought through a painful injury for most of the season that resulted in Alfie having no strength in his right leg. For a player who relies on his leg strength to play his game, it had to be frustrating. This explains his more than 50% decline in production from the previous season. Off-season surgery has repaired the problem and he will be back to full speed in October. He might not get back to the 80 point plateau, but 65-70 points shouldn’t be out of the question.
5. Jason Spezza -Scored 37 points in 30 games upon returning from injury. He also displayed a commitment to an all-around game that was previously lacking. If he can continue this level of play he will finally place himself among the elite of the game and has the ability to carry a team on his back when need be. He just needs to stay healthy and play 75 games.
6. Youthful Exuberance – With a core that had been toghether for so long, players might have become complacent. For those veterans who were fan favorites, it was hard to see them leave town. But the replacements, such as Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Colin Greening showed they belonged and will be mainstays this season. Perhaps it will be in a reduced role from what they saw last season on an injured and gutted roster, but the depth they add makes this club better and deeper than it was last season. And if injury should strike or a player on the top two lines struggles, they have shown they can fill in for a short period of time and not look out of place.
7. Overall Club Morale & Motivation – In January, this team sunk as low as it has been since they first made the playoffs in 1997. Since then goaltending and coaching have been addressed and the organization can boast its first ever championship, when the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup. It might be at the AHL level, but without a doubt it was felt at the NHL level as well. Players now know that if they don’t perform at or above expectations, there is talent on the farm waiting to take their place.
After all is said and done, last season’s dismal standing can be attributed to goaltending, coaching and health. Two of these issues have been dealt with and the third, well, can bite you at any time. The Senators lost more than its fair share of key player to injury, and that is something they are in a better place to deal with today than they were at this time last season.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but remember Ottawa was still fighting for a playoff position on Boxing Day when Spezza suffered his shoulder injury. That is when it all fell apart for the Senators and they went 1-10-4 without him. When he came back the Senators had fallen from 9th to 13th and plans for a rebuild were taking shape in the front office.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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