Key Offseason Losses: Anton Volchenkov, Matt Cullen
Key Offseason Additions: Sergei Gonchar
Last Season Ranking: 5th in East
The Ottawa Senators return essentially the same guys up front which lead them to a postseason birth, as well as another early playoff exit, last year. The biggest loss up front for the Sens is Matt Cullen, a trade deadline pick up last season. He didn’t add a whole lot coming down the stretch, but was effective in the playoffs as he picked up 8 points in 6 games against the Penguins.
Returning scorers for the Senators include Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev, and Mike Fisher. Alfredsson had another outstanding season last year, posting point per game numbers, while missing 12 regular season games. Jason Spezza saw time on the IR as well. If he can stay healthy the entire season, he could head back up near the 80-90 point range, and continue his domination as the Sens top center. Milan Michalek made an impact last season, his first in Ottawa, as a 20 goal scorer. However, he too spent a great deal of time injured. Playing alongside Alfredsson or Spezza, he shouldn’t have a big problem contributing offensively. Kovalev struggled to find his true scoring touch last season, but it remains to be seen if he’s on the decline, or can still make plays. As one of the most skilled puck handlers in the game, he should rebound and find his touch again this season, at least enough to score his 600th career assist (22 away) and 1000th career point (10 away).
Both Mike Fisher and Peter Regin had impressive seasons last year, and both will look to build on that success heavily. Regin, entering only his 2nd full season in the NHL, proved last season that he deserves a spot on one of the top two scoring lines. If any of the aforementioned players fall in to a drought, Regin could make his way up the depth chart quite quickly. He should see more time on the power play this season as well.
Providing some great scoring depth, as well as grit and toughness, are Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu. Neither player is going to light up the score sheet with points every game, but they definitely will in penalty minutes. Both players know how to agitate, and get under their opponents skin very well. They’ll be sure to drop the gloves for any reason, whether its protecting their own star players, or just to give the team an energy boost. Definitely great assets to an offensively skilled team.
While the Senators lost star defenseman Anton Volchenkov to free agency, they picked up Sergei Gonchar to replace him. Gonchar is one of the games elite defenseman and will fit in great playing alongside Spezza and Alfredsson. His contribution on the top power play unit will be felt as well. Last season, he picked up 30 power play points with the Penguins, and should improve upon those numbers if he stays healthy this season. Complimenting Gonchar will be a core group of solid defenseman. Chris Phillips is a big body, a great shut down player and will be very responsible defensively. Filip Kiba is another big body to man the blue line, and will be effective on the power play as well. He has good vision and moves the puck well on the break out. Erik Karlsson should improve upon last years marks, and maybe make his way up the depth chart. He’s a young defenseman (20 years old) from Sweden, but had a great rookie season with the Sens as he posted 26 points in 60 games. At only 5’11”, he needs to pack on the muscle to be more effective defensively, but his contributions will surely be felt as a fast puck moving defenseman on the power play.
Splitting time between the pipes this season will be Brian Elliot and Pascal Leclaire. Elliot ran the show for the majority of last season, but Leclaire saw his fair share of time as well, starting 31 games. It still doesn’t look like Ottawa has a true number one in yet, so the goalie battle may ensue again in 2010-11. We’ll see if this brings out the best in both goalies, or if the rotational system gets real old, real fast.
The Senators are a hungry team, and bring back a number of highly skilled players on offense. Players like Spezza, Michalek and Kovalev need to produce like they’re supposed to, and stay healthy, for the rest of the offense to kick in to high gear. The top power play unit could be one of the best in the league with Gonchar joining Spezza and Alfredsson. They will be very dangerous. The question mark remains in goal, as it was for last season. If we see either Elliot or Leclaire develop in to a true number one goalie, things are looking good for the Senators. They should remain in about the same position as last year, as long as the team stays healthy. They simply can’t afford to lose a player like Spezza for any extended amount of time if they want to make a run. Come playoff time, the Senators could be kicking on all cylinders, and are definitely capable of surprising a few people.