A surprise playoff berth last season was supposed to be followed up by a deeper postseason run this season.
While that might still happen, the odds are longer in the wake of long-term injuries to Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and star center Jason Spezza, and let’s not forget top-four blueliner Jared Cowen, whose NHL season was over before it started thanks to hip surgery.
I certainly wouldn’t write off the Senators. As they showed in beating the Devils in New Jersey on Monday and the Islanders at home on Tuesday, there’s a scrappy heart still beating on that team, and it’s led by its 40-year-old captain.
But in the event the injury-riddled club can’t overcome its massive loss of talent, it certainly raises the the question: What lies in Alfredsson’s future?
I can think of several contenders that would love to add him to the mix. Could Alfredsson be enticed to leave his one and only NHL club to take a shot at a first-ever Stanley Cup?
One team that I believe will show serious interest in Alfredsson, if and when the time is right, is the powerhouse Boston Bruins. With the trade of Tim Thomas’ contract, the B’s have lots of cap room to add pieces before the April 3 trade deadline.
The connections, of course, are obvious: GM Peter Chiarelli used to work in Ottawa’s front office and B’s captain Zdeno Chara is a former teammate of Alfredsson's. If there’s one team that could entice Alfredsson, I’m not sure there’s a better fit than Boston.
Know this: I don’t believe Senators GM Bryan Murray has any desire whatsoever to move Alfredsson, even if his team is out of it by April 3. There’s too much respect for what Alfredsson has done for that franchise to even care about what he could bring back asset-wise. Having said that, you can bet that if -- sorry, make that when -- contenders come calling with offers, Murray would likely at least make Alfredsson aware of them and basically let him decide. As it should be, this will be Alfredsson’s call.
There’s still lots to play out, such as the Senators defying the odds and making the playoffs, which would make this a moot point. And even if they don’t, there’s certainly the possibility that Alfredsson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, would never want to leave.
What if he wants to come back and play another season? That’s another possibility you can’t discount. If he does play another season, would he want to try to win a Cup elsewhere and return to Ottawa for a final year? All things to consider.
The trade scenario is food for thought, because I believe the Bruins will make every attempt to lure Alfredsson to Beantown if given the chance.
The San Jose Sharks have hit the skids with just one win in February after a sensational 7-0-0 January. This makes you wonder how long GM Doug Wilson will stay patient -- or will he pull the trigger on a trade? He’s certainly never been scared to make a bold move before. But he still believes in his team.
"It’s getting back to doing the things that allowed us to be successful early in the year," Wilson told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "It’s been addressed. Our talent level hasn’t changed. But as you know, we’re always looking for ways to improve our hockey team."
Translation: If a trade makes sense, the Sharks GM won’t be shy to pull the trigger.
While Wilson wouldn’t say it, if I had to guess, it would make sense for him to be looking to add help at the forward position and deal from his surplus on defense.
A few thousand miles away, I don’t imagine Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is going to wait too much longer before moving some bodies from his disappointing squad. I’d give it another five or six games before the Panthers decide where they’re headed organizationally. And unless the Panthers get to winning some games in a hurry, I believe the focus soon will be on moving the program towards the younger faces in the organization. The most notable UFA-to-be on the team is center Stephen Weiss. Whether or not the Panthers attempt to re-sign him before the April 3 trade deadline is a decision that has yet to be made. Lots to play out here over the next few weeks in South Florida.
Calling for Kevlar
If there’s any silver lining whatsoever in the wake of Erik Karlsson's gruesome injury, it’s that it has raised awareness of cut-resistant socks as a discussion point among media and players. Most people call them Kevlar socks, but not all cut-resistant socks are made out of Kevlar.
Either way, shouldn’t every player in the league wear some form of cut-resistant sock?
Some do, some don’t. Sources have told ESPN.com that when the NHL’s 30 GMs convene March 20 in Toronto there will certainly be a discussion of whether it should be mandatory for players to wear cut-resistant socks.
Of course, that would require the players’ consent via the NHLPA.
With the use of visors, for example, the players’ union has resisted the league’s push over the years to make them mandatory. A source told ESPN.com that the league brought up mandatory visors during CBA talks, but the NHLPA once again resisted, citing the players’ preference to individual choice. In the end, more and more players are wearing visors anyways, as the numbers climb every year. It’s estimated at around 75 percent right now.
Some players, meanwhile, have tried cut-resistant socks and find them too hot to wear. It depends on the brand, the make and, obviously, the players’ comfort level.
Perhaps the solution (and I suspect the GMs will raise this March 20) is to grandfather the rule. Allow the existing 700-plus players to decide for themselves on cut-resistant socks but make it mandatory for future NHLers.
But again, the NHLPA would need to give it its blessing. The NHLPA is discussing the sock issue internally as well, and without question will continue to talk to the NHL about it over the coming months. But I just don’t see a day where the union will endorse mandating the forcible wearing of cut-resisting socks. The NHLPA works for the players. If the players want free of choice, that’s what they’ll get.