Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Team Preview: Ottawa Senators

Key additions: Bryan Murray, Head Coach; Dany Heatley, RW (T - ATL); Dominik Hasek, G (FA - DET); Lance Ward, D/LW (FA - ANA); Steve Martins, C/LW (FA - STL); Tomas Malec, D (FA - ANA); Jeff Heerema, RW (FA - VAN); Brett Clouthier, RW (FA - NJ); Patrick Eaves, RW (D - 2003, 1/29)

Key losses: Jacques Martin, Head Coach; Marian Hossa, RW (T - ATL); Greg de Vries, D (T - ATL); Radek Bonk, C (T - MTL); Todd White, C/LW (T - MIN); Martin Prusek, G (FA - CBJ); Peter Bondra, RW (FA); Todd Simpson, D (FA - CHI); Curtis Leschyshyn, D (FA - COL); Jesse Fibiger, D (FA - Europe); Pat Kavanagh, RW (FA - PHI)

Key players unsigned:None

Forwards: In Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza the Senators have four incredibly talented scorers, each fully capable of scoring at better than a point-per-game clip in 2005-06. In fact, anything less would have to be considered a disappointment for any member of this quartet except possibly for Spezza (though we think he'll get there, after posting 117 points in 80 games to win the AHL scoring title and MVP award in 2004-05). The departures of Bonk and White leave the Senators a little thin down the middle, but if the lightning-quick Antoine Vermette can settle into the number two center role behind Spezza and push Bryan Smolinski to third-line center, the team will be fine. Mike Fisher is another center/wing ideally suited for third-line duties. Peter Schaefer, Vaclav Varada and Eaves also will see time on the top three lines. Ottawa's top two lines will give opposing teams fits, and their power play will be flat-out lethal. If they can cobble together an effective shut-down line, they will be difficult to beat on most nights.

Defensemen: Wade Redden can - and does - do it all. He tied for the lead amongst all NHL defensemen in goals in 2003-04 with 17 (Pavel Kubina also potted 17 goals), 12 of which came on the power play, and had a plus-21 rating. The need to re-sign Redden, among others, after the 2005-06 season was the primary reason the Senators moved Hossa to Atlanta. The Senators #1A defenseman is the 6-9 Zdeno Chara, whose numbers in 2003-04 were even more impressive than Redden's (Chara scored 16 goals and 41 points while posting a plus-33 rating and 147 penalty minutes). Chara's partner on most shifts will again be Chris Phillips, the first overall pick in 1996, who has developed into a solid defenseman who seems to be getting better every year. Hard-hitting Anton Volchenkov will be ready for a full-time roster spot in the NHL after a very strong year in the AHL in which he was third in plus-minus and eighth in scoring among the League's defensemen. Malec and Brian Pothier will round out a strong blueline that is one defenseman away from being unquestionably the League's best.

Goaltenders: Dominik Hasek has played in only 14 NHL games since winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit at the end of the 2001-02 season (he was temporarily retired for the 2002-03 season, missed most of 2003-04 with a groin injury and did not play anywhere in 2004-05). That's an awful lot of down time for a goalie who will be 41-years-old in January. But did the down time help him to heal completely and recharge the batteries for another run at the Cup or did The Dominator gather nearly three years worth of rust? Only time will tell whether or not Hasek can stay healthy, but if his skills were not sharp, the ultra-competitive Czech would not have returned to the NHL. Expect plenty of nights off for Dom, as the Sens rest him in order to keep him fresh for the playoff run. Even when he is playing, though, his workload will be relatively light, as the Senators allowed the third-fewest shots on goal and the eighth-fewest goals in the League in 2003-04. Is a seventh Vezina out of the question for Hasek? If he thought so, he wouldn't be back thrilling NHL fans with his quickness and agility. Besides, at $1.52 million, Hasek is not much of a financial risk and has the potential to be the biggest bargain of the offseason. Ray Emery will be Hasek's backup, which means he will see plenty of NHL minutes this year. Emery is coming off a disappointing year in the AHL, but has all the tools to be the Senators #1 goalie for years to come once Hasek steps aside.

Bottom line: The Senators have been close several times in the past decade. In eight years, Jacques Martin led the team to three divisional titles, four 100-point seasons and a Presidents' Trophy, but his inability to lead the Sens to any substantial success in the playoffs (including four losses in the past five seasons to provincial rival Toronto) brought about the end of his tenure behind Ottawa's bench, and deservedly so. The Sens scored the most goals (262) in the NHL during the 2003-04 regular season and had the League's top-rated power play at 21.5%, but managed only one goal in the four games they lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. General Manager John Muckler is hopeful that a fresh voice in Bryan Murray and a big-time goalie in Hasek will provide the lift the Senators need to finally advance to hockey's promised land. With a healthy Hasek, there's no reason the Senators won't be playing late into the spring.

2 comments:

Spe said...

"... a fresh voice in Bryan Murray". Nothing rallies the troops like a lisp (or I should say, lithp).

JP said...

Ha. I was going to mention his speech impediment but thought it too cruel. Kudos for crossing the line.

That said, the guy's got a pretty good regular season coaching record.