OTTAWA SENATORS 2013/14 SEASON PREVIEW

Image courtesy of senatorsextra.com.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded, the draft has taken place and everyone’s had a good laugh over Toronto’s bat shit insanity on Free Agent Day.

So what’s left to do except fawn over what the 2013/14 NHL season might bring?!

Today, the Ottawa Senators – fresh off a great year in spite of a rash of injuries – will be in focus.

What happened in 2013?

4th in the Northeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference, knocked out of Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Image courtesy of rantsports.com.

The Ottawa Senators were looking to improve upon a good 2011/12 season where they surprised many by finishing in the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to the NY Rangers.  They started off in fine style, going 5-1-1 in January with the highlight being a 5-1 win over Montreal which saw the team come together in fine style despite the recent injury to star forward Jason Spezza.  February however was far tougher on the team, as they went 2-5-1 in their first 8 games of the month.  However, a furious second half where they won 5 straight games and earned points in all 6 remaining games saw them vaulted back up the standings with a final February record of 7-5-2.

March saw much of that success continue, despite the injuries to star players that continued to pile up, thanks to the readiness of the call-ups from the AHL and Paul MacLean’s expert coaching hand.  They went 7-4-3 that month to keep them well within grasp of a playoff spot entering the final month of the season.  Things didn’t go quite as they hoped however, starting the month off on a 4 game losing streak, before recovering with a 4 game winning streak, and then finishing off 2-3-0 in their last five games to stumble into the playoffs.  They’d done enough however, and in the 7th spot in the East were set to face 2nd seeds Montreal in the first round.

Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.

The Senators were actually considered to be a good challenge for the Canadiens, thanks to their strong possession play and the way they had dealt so effectively with their injuries.  In a series that go ugly in a hurry, the Senators overpowered Montreal and in particular goalie Carey Price, outscoring them 20-9 over the course of the series, with line brawls and physical play dotted throughout each game.  Ottawa came through victorious in a well-earned 4-1 series win.

Next up for Ottawa was the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  No-one really quite knew what to make of Pittsburgh – they had the star power up front, and some big names on defense and in goal, but it was that latter element that had come so close to letting them down in their first round series versus the NY Islanders.  Swapping out Marc-Andre Fleury for Tomas Vokoun allowed the Pens to make it through, but they were up against an Ottawa team brimming with confidence.  Unfortunately for Ottawa, Pittsburgh decided to find their stride, overwhelming the Senators with their vastly superior offensive firepower.  Outscoring them 22-11, Pittsburgh advanced to the next round whilst Ottawa licked their wounds, getting a taste of the medicine they’d used so effectively against Montreal.

Despite this unceremonial exit however, things continue to be looking up for the franchise.

Top 5 Scorers

  1. Image courtesy of wpmedia.sports.nationalpost.com.

    KYLE TURRIS (48 GP, 12 G 17 A 29 P)

  2. SERGEI GONCHAR (45 GP, 3 G 24 A 27 P)
  3. DANIEL ALFREDSSON (47 GP, 10 G 16 A 26 P)
  4. MIKA ZIBANEJAD (42 GP, 7 G 13 A 20 P)
  5. COLIN GREENING (47 GP, 8 G 11 A 19 P)

Trades in 2012/13

  • Nick Foligno to Columbus for Marc Methot
  • 6th Round Pick (2014) to Minnesota for Matt Kassian
  • Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay for Cory Conacher and 4th Round Pick (2013)
  • Sergei Gonchar to Dallas for Conditional 6th Round Pick (2013)

Signings for 2012/13 Season

  • Guillaume Latendresse (1 year)
  • Mike Lundin (1 year)
  • Hugh Jessiman (1 year)
  • Tyler Eckford (2 years)
  • Andre Benoit (1 year)
  • Nathan Lawson (1 year)
  • Troy Rutkowski (3 years)
  • Andrew Hammond (2 years)
  • Buddy Robinson (3 years)

2013 Off-season Activity

The Draft

  • Image courtesy of nhl.com.

    17th Overall – Curtis Lazar

  • 78th Overall – Marcus Hogberg
  • 102nd Overall – Tobias Lindberg
  • 108th Overall – Ben Harpur
  • 138th Overall – Vincent Dunn
  • 161st Overall – Chris Leblanc
  • 168th Overall – Quentin Shore

Free Agency / Player Signings

  • Clarke MacArthur (2 years)
  • Joe Corvo (1 year)
  • Mark Borowiecki (2 years)
  • David Dziurzynski (1 year)
  • Erik Condra (2 years)
  • Mike Hoffman (1 year)
  • Corey Cowick (1 year)
  • Patrick Wiercioch (3 years)
  • Ludwig Karlsson (2 years)

Lost to Free Agency

  •  Mike Lundin (signed with Barys Astana, KHL)
  • Daniel Alfredsson (signed with Detroit)
  • Peter Regin (signed with NY Islanders)
  • Andre Benoit (signed with Colorado)

Trades

  • Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and 1st Round Pick (2014) to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan
  • Pat Cannone to St Louis for Future Considerations

Projected 2013/14 Roster

FORWARDS:

MILAN MICHALEK – JASON SPEZZA – BOBBY RYAN

COLIN GREENING – KYLE TURRIS – CORY CONACHER

CLARKE MACARTHUR – MIKA ZIBANEJAD – ERIK CONDRA

MATT KASSIAN – ZACK SMITH – CHRIS NEIL

Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

For the first time since 1995, the Ottawa Senators won’t have the name “Daniel Alfredsson” gracing their roster.  No matter what your opinion on the circumstances of his departure, Alfredsson was the skillful and emotional soul of that team for an entire generation.  Without a doubt, however, this is now Jason Spezza‘s role.  He may not have quite the same character role on the team, but he is behind only Chris Neil as the longest serving Sens forward, and is certainly the most accomplished in the NHL with 621 points in 611 games.  He got off to a great start in 2013, with 5 points in 5 games, but suffered a back injury at the end of January that forced him out of the lineup for the rest of the season.  Despite being 30 – and thus past what is considered the prime of a forward’s career – Spezza clearly still has a lot of hockey left to give, having scored 84 points in 2011/12, and with a motivated Bobby Ryan on his wing certainly isn’t lacking for a talented running-mate.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spezza put in a great season – amongst the top point-getters in the league, whilst also playing a responsible two-way game.

Milan Michalek is an interesting player on the Senators.  He’s been pretty much a consensus top-line player the entire time, and whilst no-where near replacing Dany Heatley’s offense he is a capable, if somewhat streaky scorer with 79 goals and 141 points in 232 games.  He’s pretty reliable in shot differential at 5v5, and is a secondary option on the PK.  All in all a pretty useful player, but it would be nice if he was closer to the 50-60 point Michalek than the 30 point Michalek.

Bobby Ryan represents probably the biggest acquisition for the Senators (in terms of being newsworthy) since 2009 when Heatley was shipped out for Jonathan Cheechoo and the aforementioned Michalek.  It is hoped that the Ryan acquisition will be somewhat more successful than that of Cheechoo, who only scored 5 goals and 14 points in 61 games for the team.  There is reason to be more optimistic about Ryan though – he’s younger (26, Cheechoo was 29 when acquired), more consistent (four straight 30+ goal seasons before the lockout), and likely highly motivated given his turbulent relationship with Anaheim’s management in the last couple of seasons.  He is a dominant player at 5v5 in terms of shot differential (of course it does help playing with Perry & Getzlaf, it will be interesting to see how he performs without them, though playing on a line with Spezza is a nice landing spot) and as mentioned a very consistent goal scorer.  He did have a bit of an off-year in 2013, but his past history suggests that was an aberration.

Image courtesy of torontosun.com.

Colin Greening has done well as a former 204th overall draft choice to even get an NHL game, let alone 153 of them by the age of 27, and he’s done pretty well.  His numbers in 2013 weren’t brilliant, but they were pretty much in line with his previous season of 17 goals and 37 points.  He took on above average competition with a slight offensive zonestart push, and came out ahead in shot differential, and he is also a third-string option on the PK, indicating a pretty useful all around player.  He may be more suited to a third line role, and his size and hitting ability would be useful there, and could find himself swapping places with Clarke MacArthur.

Kyle Turris has still not lived up to his draft status, but has no doubt resurrected his NHL career in Ottawa.  Still just 24, he led the team in scoring in 2013 scoring at almost the exact same clip as 2011/12, and the approximate 50-point pace he’s been on since arriving in Canada’s Capital is precisely the sort of offensive production the team needs out of a 2nd line center.  He kicked it up a notch in the playoffs, scoring 6 goals and 9 points in 10 games, and whilst that’s far too small a sample size to draw any concrete conclusions from, it’s a nice part of his ever-improving resumé.  Has also seen some PK time, but could stand to improve upon his 5v5 play in terms of shot differentials.

Cory Conacher was acquired in the midst of a great rookie season from Tampa, but that trade did not see him continue his torrid scoring pace.  With 24 points in 35 games with Tampa, his 0.68 points per game pace probably had him as one of the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy, but with just 5 points in 12 games with Ottawa – a 0.42 pace – he dropped off the map somewhat in that regard.  Still, that is a small sample and it will be interesting to see if he rebounds.  His overall performance since turning pro in 2010 certainly suggests a man capable of scoring, and his 5’8″ frame hasn’t held him back so far, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt that he can put up some decent secondary scoring numbers this year.

Image courtesy of nationalpost.com.

Clarke MacArthur was a really nice pickup for the Senators on Free Agency Day this year.  He had good scoring numbers the first two seasons in Toronto, and whilst he slipped a bit this year (not by much, mind)  he is still a handy secondary scorer with good possession numbers.  Could easily find himself moving up the lineup with a good start.  Mika Zibanejad had a solid rookie NHL season, with 20 points in 42 games and finishing +9 on the year.  He finished with a positive shot differential relative to his team with the help of an offensive zonestart push, so whilst sheltered he did his job pretty well.  Will likely continue to be sheltered, and hopefully he gains more offensive confidence before being handed more responsibility.  Erik Condra saw his scoring drop off from 0.31 points per game to 0.25 – not a massive drop but significant enough.  He was solid defensively at 5v5 though, and was one of the team’s most trusted penalty killers whilst receiving almost no powerplay time.  A solid third liner, hopefully he can rebound on offense somewhat.

Matt Kassian, acquired from Minnesota last year, played just 15 games for the Senators this year with 1 goal and 47 penalty minutes to show for it.  That shows you what kind of player he is.  If you read my stuff regularly you’ll know that I don’t think a guy who plays 6:22 per game and only dresses for 31% of your games is particularly valuable, no matter how much he hits or stages fights.  Dressing any one of Hoffman, O’Brien or Pageau would be a better, more productive option.  Zack Smith on the other hand, is a useful NHLer.  He possesses decent size and can hit, but more importantly can play hockey.  His scoring numbers dipped a bit this season, but he was still contributing, and taking on some of the tougher minutes among forwards.  What was interesting was the drop in his PK time from 2011/12 to 2012/13 – one of the most used Sens on the PK in the former year at over 2 minutes per game, but one of the least used this year with under 30 seconds per game.  Whether that’s a result of an odd shortened year or he’s lost the trust of the coaches, I’m not sure, but we’ll find out this season.  Could find himself on the way out with the mini-emergence of JG Pageau.

Chris Neil appears to be a Sens lifer, playing in his 779th game for the team this year and with the departure of Alfredsson is now the team’s most tenured forward.  A solid player who can chip in offense and not give up much the other way,  his hitting ability is probably the most renowned aspect of his game, earning him a feared reputation, but his game is much more than that.  His scoring does fluctuate year to year, but on the whole he is a very good fourth line option.

DEFENCE:

ERIK KARLSSON – MARC METHOT

CHRIS PHILLIPS – JARED COWEN

JOE CORVO – PATRICK WIERCIOCH

Image courtesy of thescore.com.

The conversation here will of course start with Erik Karlsson.  The 2012 Norris Trophy Winner – no matter what you think of his defensive ability – is an offensive dynamo, notching 78 points in 81 games that year and 14 points in 17 games this year in an injury-shortened season.  It was only a small sample size, but in the 17 games he played this year he did display a much better defensive game, dominating shot differentials at 5v5 (with an offensive zone push, of course) and playing a decent amount of time on the PK, and overall clocking in an average of 27:09 per game, an incredible total.  A healthy Erik Karlsson leading the way will be fantastic for the Senators, but they have to hope he’s healthy – Sergei Gonchar was fantastic for the team in 2013, but he’s not there to fall back on any longer.

Marc Methot was OK in his first season as a Senator, logging heavy minutes at 5v5 and on the penalty kill, whilst also taking on relatively tough minutes at 5v5.  He can chip in a little offense, but shouldn’t be relied upon for that.  At $3m per year through 2014/15, I’m not convinced that he’s not overpaid, but he’s a decent enough player probably being asked to do a little too much.  The loss of Gonchar could only exacerbate that more.  Chris Phillips, now the Senators’ active leader in games played for the team with 1073, remains a solid player who can log over 20 minutes a night, being a particular workhorse on the penalty kill.  It’s not surprising to see him slow down at age 35, but he’s still a good NHLer with valuable experience and leadership ability.

Jared Cowen lost the vast majority of his season to injury, destroying valuable development time after a solid rookie season.  Hopes are high that Cowen will become that massive two-way difference maker, and his time both in junior and in the NHL show that he may have that ability – he can put up some points, move the puck, uses his 6’5″ frame to launch hits all over the place, and defends well.  Just how good he can be remains to be seen though, and hopefully this lost season won’t impact that.  A big year is needed for the 22 year old.

Image courtesy of flickr.com.

Veteran puck-mover Joe Corvo returns for his second tour of duty with Ottawa, having previously notched 64 points for the team in 127 games from 2006 to 2008.  The 36 year old is something of a nomad in the NHL, having suited up for 5 different teams over 10 seasons, but has produced everywhere he’s gone.  He’s not a great defensive player however – though not awful – and is probably best used as a third pairing option with a lot of minutes at 5v4.

Rounding out the d-corps is 22 year old Patrick Wiercioch, a hulking specimen who had an impressive rookie season last year with 19 points in 42 games.  I’m not sure many were expecting that production from a guy who had just two average AHL campaigns under his belt, and it may not be wise to expect that kind of production again – defensemen develop in fits and starts – but he was impressive, particularly at 5v5 where he dominated in sheltered minutes.  He did receive pretty hefty powerplay minutes to achieve those totals, but he certainly made the most of it.  I’m sure people would like him to use that 6’5″ frame more often, but he’s playing good hockey so far and that is good enough for me.

GOAL:

CRAIG ANDERSON

ROBIN LEHNER

Image courtesy of sportsinteraction.com.

Craig Anderson was once again lights-out-fantastic for the Ottawa Senators, although he did only play in 24 games thanks to injury.  He won 12 of those games, and finished with a staggering .941 SV% and 1.69 GAA.  Now, one shouldn’t expect those kind of statistics to sustain over a full season, but Anderson has been consistently very good for the last 4 seasons now, apart from a rough patch with Colorado immediately before his trade to Ottawa.  History suggests he should continue to be very good for the team, and at 32 should still have a few decent years left in him.

Robin Lehner, the 22 year old highly anticipated goalie from Sweden, played a career high 12 NHL games in 2013, winning 5 of them and finishing with a great .936 SV% and 2.20 GAA.  Like Anderson, it would be unreasonable to expect a goalie – particularly such a young one – to sustain those numbers over a wider sample size, but it is very encouraging.  He will likely spend at least the next season or 2 learning the ropes behind Anderson before he is ready to take over the starters role, but the future is looking very bright between the pipes for Ottawa.

EXTRAS: MIKE HOFFMAN (F), JIM O’BRIEN (F), JG PAGEAU (F), ERIC GRYBA (D)

Expectations for the Season

Image courtesy of cbssports.com.

Boasting star players at each position, the Ottawa Senators aren’t lacking for big names, and 2013 proved they aren’t lacking for depth either.  Make no mistake, this is a talented team boasting a young core that just got younger and potentially better with the addition of Bobby Ryan.  They shouldn’t have any trouble making the playoffs this season, though I don’t think they’re ready just yet to make the jump to contender status.  I would probably pick them to finish about 7th or 6th in the East, with an outside shot of reaching the second round of the playoffs.

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