Senators: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
It was a rather quiet offseason in Ottawa -- other than the well-received hiring of coach Paul MacLean. Of course, that's only because GM Bryan Murray took out the sledgehammer last season and destroyed a roster that had completely misfired.
Finally, after making the playoffs 12 of 13 years, including a trip to the Cup finals in 2007, the Senators decided to bottom out and rebuild.
It was important for Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk to get that process going last season, and not wait until the offseason.
"If you're going to get any assets, you have to make trades either before or at the deadline," Murray told ESPN.com. "We were looking for draft picks. I felt and Eugene felt that if we were going to trade Mike Fisher or Chris Kelly or players like that, and get any value back, let's do it when teams are vying for a run at a Stanley Cup. So that part worked out for us I think."
The Senators are young, and they're going to get younger. Patience is now key.
1. Pay attention, naysayers
"People aren't giving us much credit, and probably rightly so. We had a terrible year last year and don't deserve it going in, but we feel that we're a better team than people are saying," star center Jason Spezza told ESPN.com. "We feel like we still have some veteran guys that can contribute and some good young players that got a chance at the end of the year that may not have gotten a chance in other situations, and we found out we have some pretty good players. We feel we can compete for a playoff spot. We have to make sure we've got to get off to a good start because it's tough to play catch-up when you're a young team. So a good start will be real welcome for us."
Melnyk hates losing. But we're told he has accepted this rebuilding plan and understands what it takes to be ready for a long season. The fans in Ottawa also have accepted what's ahead. It'll work for a year, but the owner and the fans will need to see tangible improvements as soon as next season. There's no appetite in that market for a five-year rebuild. Not from the owner, not from the fans.
2. Captain is back
At 38, Daniel Alfredsson isn't the star he once was. But his influence on and off the ice on a rebuilding club will be gigantic. He's fully recovered from back surgery after missing most of the second half last season.
"Alfie says he's felt better than he has maybe in the last couple of years," Murray said. "I don't expect him to get the same point production he had in the past, but he's a good player still. He's a big part of what we're going to do with our young people."
Don't count out Alfie, Spezza says.
"He is a little bit older and he is coming off a bad surgery, but he's a pretty resilient guy," Spezza said. "I feel like he can still have a great year. He's a super-smart hockey player. Some guys can play a little bit longer in their career because of their heads -- and he's one of them. He holds things kind of tight to the chest on how he's feeling, especially now that he's had a serious surgery, but from all accounts, he's been skating pretty hard for the last month or so and he'll be ready to go."
3. Eye on young Bobby Butler
He got a taste late last season playing in 36 games (10-11). Spezza is impressed by the kid, and the GM believes Butler will have a chance to produce on a club that struggled to score goals last season.
"We're counting on him to play like he did at the end of the year," Murray said. "He's a point-getter. One way or another, he finds a way to put the puck in the net. That's what we're counting on. If he can get 20-22 goals for us, he'll have a really good year, and that'll be a big plus for our hockey team. I'm really counting on Bobby having an impact on our club."
4. Youth is served
Peach fuzz will run rampant on a Sens roster that is getting totally retooled. Rookies this season could include the likes of defenseman David Rundblad, forward Mika Zibanejad and blueliner Jared Cowen. If they don't make the team out of camp, some of them will be up eventually.
Spezza told ESPN.com in early September before training camp that he was impressed with what he had seen from Zibanejad.
"And Jared Cowen is a huge man, and he's 20 years old and went down and dominated in the American League in the playoffs. From talking to the guys there, I think [he] can be a solid everyday NHLer," Spezza said. "Dave Rundblad I don't really know that well, but nothing but rave reviews from people that have watched him play."
5. What now for Erik Karlsson?
He was one of those sexy picks in hockey pools last season and didn't disappoint with 45 points (13-32) in 75 games. On the downside, a minus-30 rating (on a bad team) underlines his need to work on his defensive play.
"He looks stronger and more ready to play," Murray said. "He looks more comfortable. He looks like he's going to take a big step. It looks to me like he's ready to become a top-end player."
6. Craig Anderson has found a home
When the Senators acquired UFA-to-be Craig Anderson last season, a few heads were scratched. It all made sense after the Sens signed Anderson to a contract extension before the end of the season. They saw enough of him after the trade from Colorado to trust him with the No. 1 job.
"We've got Craig Anderson in net who came in and was a real calming influence for us and was a real solid rock and did a great job," Spezza said. "Goaltending's a huge factor in things. He's a guy that I think can be that every-night stalwart for us. It gives us confidence. I think likewise he got confidence off the enthusiasm of our club. We made a lot of changes and guys didn't quit, and I think that was the big character showing of our team. We didn't quit after we really had a terrible start and were out of the playoffs just a little after Christmas. I think he fed off that and we fed off him."
7. Jason Spezza, Part 1: Health factor
On a team that will have to work really hard to score, Spezza is easily the man when it comes to offense. The Senators need him to stay healthy after he was limited to 62 games last season because of a back injury.
"I feel pretty good," Spezza said. "Did a lot of work on my back this summer. I've had two years in a row now where I've missed 20 games, and it's been pretty frustrating. As soon as things seem to be going all right, then I've gotten hurt. Hoping for a big bounce-back year."
8. Jason Spezza, Part 2: Not a kid anymore
At 28, Spezza is hardly a grizzled veteran. But with the Senators shedding veterans last season and rebuilding the club, he's suddenly one of the oldest players on the team.
"It sure seems like last year was really a transition year for me from being a younger guy to being an older guy real quick," he said. "We traded everybody, and I ended up being one of the last older guys standing, and I'm not an older guy, but I'm just more of an experienced guy. I went to the world championships and I was the second-oldest guy on the team. It really seemed like in a hurry I found out that I was becoming more of a veteran guy that guys look towards. It's a role that I think that I'm ready for now and that I embrace."
This will be interesting. Spezza might embrace the chance at leadership and might further develop his game much like Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano did in later years. The Senators will have a long season, but Spezza's tale might be a good one.
9. Mike Fisher's replacement
OK, so Fisher played mostly second-line center near the end of his Ottawa days, but he played his best hockey over the years as the team's third-line center. He was a big-time, two-way force. Now that job belongs to 23-year-old Zack Smith. The kid has wheels, has 200-feet awareness and is one of the hardest-working players on the team. He hasn't married a country music star yet, but he's a nice fit for Fisher in that third-line center role.
10. Search for optimism
It's going to be a long season in Ottawa. The job of Murray and MacLean will be to keep the right attitude on a young team that can easily get defeated mentally as the losses pile up.
"I think we're going to be a competitive team," Murray said. "We're obviously going to play harder and better than we did last year. I know some people have picked us to be 15th in the East, and some people think we're a little better than that. I don't pretend to want to put a number on it, but I do think we're a little better overall. I think our team speed will be better. The goaltending will be better. I'd like to think we have a chance to compete for a playoff spot, and that's the intent we're starting with."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering first NHL season as a head coach
Stanley Cup titles: N/A
• MacLean's hire in Ottawa was a popular move around the league because he's so well-liked. And he's paid his dues as a longtime assistant, most recently at Red Wings University with Mike Babcock. Murray became disillusioned with coach Cory Clouston last season, frustrated that the young coach seemed to struggle communicating with the players. Enter MacLean, an affable and likeable personality.
"He brings people skills to begin with, and that's most important," Murray said. "The coaches that are successful get their players to play every night, and I think Paul is one of those people that will communicate and involve the players in lots of discussion. I really think that the guys are looking at this at a real opportunity to be part of it, and I think that's a big difference." -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson delivered more than expected in his sophomore season with the Senators. Look for the 21-year-old to try to equal his 45-point output while trying to improve his gruesome minus-30. There's little pressure playing for the rebuilding Senators, and Karlsson will be given every opportunity to experiment and make mistakes. That should be a good thing. -- Victoria Matiash
Risky pick: Jason Spezza
Spezza has a ton of skills but has not had the finishers on his wings to complete his work of late. Spezza is the only sure thing in the Senators' offense, but there is also the fact he has missed 20 games in each of the past two seasons. If he is on the ice, though, he will find a way to notch a minimum 70 points. Even though the upside from there is mild, it does exist, making Spezza a final pick to fill out your fantasy second line or a good starting point for your fantasy third line. -- Sean Allen
Sleeper pick: Nikita Filatov
Filatov is getting a chance to hit the refresh button on a career that hasn't even really gotten going. No one denies his offensive skills and potential for highlight-reel goals, but defensive lapses stopped him from getting a chance with the Blue Jackets during the past three seasons. He joins a team that can't possibly be concerned with his lapses and is in dire need of goal scorers. Filatov will have every chance to earn a spot on one of the top two lines and makes a fantastic draft-day sleeper for the later rounds. -- S.A.
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Senators:
• May 19: Re-signed C Zack Smith and C Colin Greening.
• June 14: Named Paul MacLean head coach.
• June 23: Named Dave Cameron and Mark Reeds assistant coaches.
• June 25: Acquired LW Nikita Filatov from Columbus for Ottawa's 2011 third-round pick.
• July 1: Signed G Alex Auld.
• July 5: Signed C Zenon Konopka.
• July 6: Re-signed RW Erik Condra.
• July 14: Re-signed RW Bobby Butler.
• G Curtis McElhinney (unrestricted free agent, signed by Phoenix)
• RW Ryan Shannon (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay)
• D David Hale (unrestricted free agent)
• G Pascal Leclaire (unrestricted free agent)
• RW Marek Svatos (unrestricted free agent)