Senators can hold heads high
Being eliminated in game seven is always heart-breaking, even if you weren't supposed to be there in the first place.
The Ottawa Senators were not picked to make the playoffs by anyone save delusional fans, and have had what can only be called a stellar season. The team was selecting by many pundits, analysts, writers, bloggers, and even fans to finish in the bottom two in the conference. I predicted tenth place, which was still outside of the playoffs.
The reality of the rebuild has been much different. The team has been inconsistent this season - a hallmark of young teams - but exciting at all times. This team skates with passion and comes to play every night, even the bad ones.
Players like Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Jim O'Brien and Rob Klinkhammer have had significant years for rookies. Zack Smith has taken a major step in his development as a defensive centre, and young Erik Karlsson has been nominated for the Norris trophy.
Paul Maclean's new-look Senators are shaping up with the winning culture he has been preaching all year and the experience of a seven-game playoff series against the Rangers can not be understated. Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone even got in a few games for Ottawa and did not look out of place. The organization put Stone into the line-up and stated it was still a development year and winning wasn't the be-all-and-end-all of the year for them. He rewarded them with a beautiful assist on Spezza's goal.
The veterans for the Senators were a mixed bag. Matt Gilroy will not be re-signed by the team, while I believe Zenon Kenopka should be for his work ethic, faceoff-prowess and toughness. The majority of veteran - Phillips, Gonchar, Kuba, Michalek, Winchester, etc- played as expected for the team. Daniel Alfredsson, in what may be his last series for the Senators, gave his all for the team and shown why he is such a great captain. Craig Anderson was amazing in net, and provided the solid goaltending Ottawa has craved for years. The current goalie situation is the best I can remember from Ottawa. Jason Spezza was disappointing in the early-going playoffs but started to turn it on a bit near the end. He has to be much better for this team.
Overall, the Senators are building for the future, and their future got some valuable playoff experience. It is likely some of the players will now head out to the World Championships and gain further experience on a big stage. The Senators will also have a decent draft pack this season, which they will likely use t shore up their defensive prospects - having to give up Runblad for Turris has left a bit of a gap in that department.
It will be interesting to see if Ottawa trys to bring in a free agent that can add a bit of scoring punch to the line-up. The defense core will be as-is next season most likely, but the forward core will see a lot of new faces from the pipeline. Zibanejad should fill into a checking role, while Silfverberg should fit into a scoring role. I wouldn't mind having Zibanejad spend a year or part of a year with the Baby Sens. Stone, Puempel, Noessen will likely all be with the B-Sens, which should make that team competitive again. The Senators should look at adding a player like Zach Parise who is still young and extremely talented, with some great leadership abilities. The Sens could even gamble on a player like Dustin Penner, ho would add some size to their top six, but that would be a big gamble and isn't required.