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Around The NHL In 30 Days: Ottawa Senators

The Fansided NHL Network, that SenShot is proud to be a member of, is embarking on its NHL preview. Each day in September, one of its members will be posting a preview for their club.  SenShot will look at their preview, and let you have a look.  After that, we will provide our own perspective.  Jared will handle the Western Conference teams while Tony will look at the East.

Today, we’ll preview your Ottawa Senators.

The 2010-2011 season was not kind to Ottawa. After reaching the pinnacle of the franchise four years ago in the Stanley Cup Finals, Ottawa has been on a downward slope ever since. After losing the the Final to Anaheim, the Sens have been through five coaches, have seen franchise players leave town, and are now considered a bottom feeder in the league.

Last year saw Ottawa make the decision to change the philosophy of the team and proceed with a rebuild to get the team back to contender status. Shipped out-of-town were fan favorites Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly along with four others for the return of draft picks. In total, eight players who suited up for the Sens last season are gone and replaced by prospects and free agents.

Everything that could go wrong last year did. Injuries were a major factor as only two Senators played the full season of 82 games. The biggest injury was to center Jason Spezza who missed 15 games that sent the team into a tailspin. Goaltending was another major issue as neither goalie could stop a beach ball. Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire were seen as the scapegoats for Ottawa’s poor season, and the two should carry a lot of the load.

Another factor for Ottawa’s poor play was the coaching of former head coach Cory Clouston. Wanting to instill a pressure offense with a strong forecheck, the players seemed to tune him out as his strategy was not working on the ice. Communication was another issue as Clouston was not known as a strong communicator.

When the organization decided to rebuild the Ottawa franchise, the plan was to rebuild the team through the draft and develop their own stars. With GM Bryan Murray and Assistant GM Tim Murray known for their drafting records, many believed the team was going in the right direction. With 12 draft picks heading into the draft, Ottawa had the assets to make some moves and help set the franchise up for the future.

At the draft, Ottawa nabbed three first round picks in Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel. In total, Ottawa drafted ten prospects and had a very successful draft. Also at the draft, Ottawa traded for the highly skilled Nikita Filatov from Columbus.

Not expected to be major players in the free agency market, Ottawa filled a few holes with the additions of back-up goalie, Alex Alud, and tough guy Zenon Konopka.  Ottawa also took care of some in-house business as they resigned RFA’s Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Zach Smith and Bobby Butler.

Let’s take a look at the new additions to the Sens line-up.

Nikita Filatov

Acquired at the NHL 2011 Entry Draft for a 3rd round pick, Ottawa picks up Filatov from Columbus who decided to give up on the 6th overall pick from the 2008 Draft after three seasons in their organization. With tremendous skill, Filatov never really got a chance in the Blue Jackets system. Coming to Ottawa, Filatov will be given every opportunity to play top six minutes and be a productive player.

Zenon Konopka

Adding some grit to the line-up, Ottawa signed face-off specialist and all-around tough guy Konopka to a one-year deal. With many young players expected to make the Ottawa line-up this season, Konopka will help provide some added protection.

Alex Auld

Signed as a free agent to a one-year deal, Alud was brought in to back-up starter Craig Anderson. Considered as a one-year fill in until super prospect Robin Lehner is ready to ascend to the throne, Alud will be a good team-first guy and provide solid spot duty when Anderson needs a game off.

Colin Greening

Seeing action in 24 games last year, the first year pro put up decent numbers in the NHL and the AHL. After finishing the year in Ottawa, Greening went down to Binghamton and helped the franchise win its first ever Calder Cup. Signed to a one-way deal, Greening will now try to make his mark in the NHL.

Erik Condra

Condra also saw action in Ottawa last season with 26 games in the nation’s capital. Also winning a Calder Cup with the B-Sens in the AHL, Condra was signed to a one-way deal as he will try to compete for bottom six minutes in Ottawa. With the losses of Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher, Condra brings his high hockey IQ to the Sens’ line-up.

Zach Smith

Expected to make the Sens’ line-up for the last two seasons, Smith has finally earned a one-way deal after his breakout playoff performance en-route to the Calder Cup.

Bobby Butler

Signed out of college as a high scoring forward, Butler needed some time in the AHL to adjust to the pro game. After going on a scoring streak in the AHL, Butler earned 36 games in Ottawa where he got ten goals and 21 points. After winning a Calder Cup too, Butler signed a one-way deal with Ottawa and will compete for top six minutes this season. Look for a big year from Butler if he gets paired with Jason Spezza on the first line.

With all the new additions to the team, there will be a number of blue chip prospects who will try to earn a roster spot in training camp. A few notables are defensemen Jared Cowen and David Rundblad, goal tender Robin Lehner, and forwards Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa.

New Man behind the Bench

As a result of their horrible season last year, Ottawa let go head coach Cory Clouson right after the season ended. After an intensive search, Ottawa is hoping they have finally found their man.

Coming over from the Detroit Red Wings where he served as a assistant coach, Paul MacLean will now be in charge of leading the Senators back to the promised land. Preaching speed and hard work, MacLean hopes to develop the Sens into a face-paced, pressure team.

Factors to Success

For the Sens to be successful this year, a lot has to go right. Health was a major concern last season and it will be again this year. All the veterans on the team have a history of injuries and will need to stay healthy for Ottawa to have any chance of staying out of the NHL basement.

With at least half the team under the age of 25, the Sens will need all of them to learn very quick how to play in the NHL or there might be some very long nights for Sens fans.

And maybe the biggest factor to the Sens success will be how Craig Anderson performs between the pipes. Coming to Ottawa at the tail end on the last year, Anderson put up impressive numbers which earned him a new four year contract with Ottawa. He won’t be expected to keep up his super human play, but Ottawa is hoping for stability in goal from him. And with Ottawa known as a goalie graveyard, hopefully Anderson is not the next victim.

Prediction

To be realistic about Ottawa this season, I fully expect Ottawa to miss the playoffs this year. Their team is too young and inexperienced to be competitive against some of the powerhouses in the eastern conference. This year will be more about development rather than results. Expect Ottawa to remain around the bottom of the league standings and ship out players for future assets come the trade deadline.

If Ottawa plays their cards right this season, a lottery pick and another good draft could turn this rebuild into a short-term plan and Ottawa could be competitive in the 2012-2013 season.

‘Til next time Sens Army, GO SENS GO!!!

Check back here tomorrow when we preview the Philadelphia Flyers and their upcoming season.

**Don’t forget to buy your Tickets for SenShot’s Alfie Night in Ottawa on November 11th, 2011. Click here for more details**

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