The State of the Sens 2010-2011

Goaltending:

When the Ottawa Senators Acquired 27 year-old Pascal Leclaire at the trade deadline two seasons ago, many fans were optimistic he would be the answer to their goaltending woes. In short, he wasn’t. His figures from last season are frightening; only 34 games played, with 12 wins, 14 losses, 2 OT losses, .887 save percentage, and 3.2 GAA. Not even a master of public relations could make that look good. He had flashes of brilliance last season, especially in the playoffs, but he will have to be much more consistent if Ottawa hopes to compete this year. Luckily there’s another ‘tendy’ in Ottawa who had a great season.

Brian Elliott, a 25 year-old goaltender from Newmarket, Ontario, had a break-out season. He started out the year a little shaky, but finished with 55 games played, including 29 wins, 18 losses, 4 OT losses, .909 save percentage, and a GAA of 2.57. The stats aren’t elite goaltender material, but they are definitely NHL starting-goaltender material. Elliott looked a little shaky at times in the Sens’ short post-season appearance last season. He’s young, and that was his first big dance, so it was expected that he might have some struggles. Aside from Elliott, there are a few decent prospects in the Sens’ pipeline.

Mike Brodeur, a 27 year-old goaltender from Calgary, Alberta, won all three starts in his rookie season for the Sens. The ‘other Brodeur,’ as some affectionately call him, posted a shutout, a .966 save percentage, and a 1.00 GAA in his three games. That’s an impressive rookie season, as short as it was. The Senators also have a promising prospect in Robin Lehner. The 18 year-old keeper from Gothenburg, Sweden, posted a 27-13-3 record in 47 games played for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

All that said, the Senators’ future in the goaltending department looks bright, but the present is anybody’s guess. If Leclaire can return to his 2007-2008 form, which saw him post 24 wins, 9 shutouts, a save percentage of .919, and a GAA of 2.25 in 54 games, the Sens’ would be in great form between the pipes. If Elliott can repeat his season last season, the Senators will at minimum have average goaltending.

Forwards:

Getting rid of Dany Heatley last off-season was going to hurt the team offensively, that was a well-established fact. The highest goal total on the team was 25 goals, scored by the 30 year-old jack-of-all-trades centre, Mike Fisher. Fisher was followed by the enigmatic 27 year-old Jason Spezza. Spezza, a favourite among fans looking for a scape-goat, posted 23 goals and 34 assists in 60 games. Milan Michalek posted 22 goals, and Daniel Alfredsson netted 20 to round out the 20-goal club for Ottawa. Many fans hoped that Jonathan Cheechoo (a one-time Maurice Richard trophy winner with 56 goals) and the aging Alex Kovalev (who used to be reliable for about 30 goals a season) would step up to carry some of the offensive load, but that didn’t happen. Cheechoo is now on waivers, and if a team doesn’t pick him up, he will likely be bought out by the team (his salary cap hit for the upcoming season is $3 million according to nhlscap.com.) 37 year-old Kovalev had season-ending knee surgery last season, so chances are he won’t have a return to glory this season (I don’t imagine rehab going that will for the surgery, because let’s face it, he isn’t exactly renowned for his work ethic [refer to Teemu Selanne.])

Ottawa’s offensive prospects are honestly not that great as a whole. There’s some promising talent, no doubt, but it’s a stretch. 22 year-old Zack Smith is poised to begin the season with the Sens after playing 15 games with the big boys last season. Peter Regin, potted 13 goals and 16 assists in his 75-game rookie season. The 24 year-old Danish player has shown some impressive offensive flair and Sens’ management will be hoping he continues to grow. Bobby Butler, signed to a two-year contract by the Senators in 2010, is also a great prospect. The 23 year-old posted 29 goals and 24 assists in 39 games at the NCAA’s University of New Hampshire last season, en route to securing the MVP of the Hockey East conference, and being a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. 21 year-old Mike Hoffman posted 46 goals and 39 assists in 56 for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs. It is hoped that Hoffman will spend some time developing in Binghamton, before jumping to the National Hockey League in a few years.

Ottawa’s talent pool is deep in the centre position, but weak on the wings. Judging by the reaction of many fan forums I read after the draft, I’m not alone in thinking Ottawa should have grabbed some offensive firepower in the 2010 draft. Readers unfamiliar with the depth of Ottawa’s defensive prospects will understand what I’m talking about after reading the next section.

Defense:

Ottawa’s defense will be undergoing a changing of the guard in the 2010-2011 season. It does not appear 28 year-old Anton Volchenkov will resign with the team. Volchenkov is known as the A-Train, because he lays out menacing body checks, and sacrifices his body every game for the team. His presence will be missed greatly, especially if 35 year-old Andy Sutton does not return either. Ottawa’s premier power-play specialist, 33 year-old Filip Kuba, will be back however. In 53 games last season, he posted 3 goals and 25 assists which are impressive numbers. He will be joined by Erik Karlsson, who ended last season as one of Ottawa’s best defenseman, and was able to take over some of the offensive gap left by Kuba’s season-ending injury. The 20 year-old Karlsson posted 5 goals and 21 assists in 60 games in his rookie season, and an astounding 1 goal, 5 assists in 6 playoff games.

Aside from Karlsson, Ottawa’s prospect pipeline is looking quite rich. 23 year-old Brian Lee has made tremendous strides with his development and looks poised to be a full-time member of the Sens this season. 19 year-old Jared Cowen (drafted 9th overall in the 2009 draft) is actively seeking a spot on the big club this season as well, though it’s not clear whether or not he’ll be able to make it. He may be one year off from full-time NHL duties. 19 year-old David Runblad is probably a year or two away from playing from the team as well, but is a very talented prospect. He will play in his native Sweden this season, for the Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Elitserien once again.

Free Agent Frenzy:

The Senators are comfortable with their cap space going into Thursday’s Free Agent Frenzy. Before any buy-outs or trades, Ottawa is sitting with almost $12 million in cap space. Ottawa will undoubtedly be looking to resign 22 year-old RFA Nick Foligno, and 26 RFA year-old Jesse Winchester. Both players bring a considerable amount of energy to the club, and fill out bottom six roles very nicely. Foligno is generally viewed as a top-nine forward on the squad, because of his offensive potential, which he has yet to realize. The left-wing flirted with the 20-goal mark in 2008-2009, when he scored 17 goals in 81 games. The Sens are hoping he will begin to make offensive progression again this year, rather than regress like he did last year.

Lee is another RFA that will be resigned I’m sure. 25 year-old offensive defenseman Chris Campoli, may be resigned in order to play an important power-play role for the Sens, if the price is right. He is eligible for arbitration though, so price will be the major stumbling block if he is not resigned. Regin is an RFA who is not eligible for arbitration, and will undoubtedly be resigned by the Senators. This list of RFAs should not command a very high salary.

It is unlikely the Senators will be able to resign Volchenkov. Volchenkov is an important part of the team, and will be sorely missed if he does leave. Apparently the major issue is over salary, and it may not be possible to resign him to an economically-feasible deal. Sutton had a cap hit of $3 million last year, and he would be a decent option for that price. He may get resigned for a much cheaper price, but is a Volchenkov-light as far as I’m concerned. 33 year-old Matt Cullen looked solid as a Senator, specifically in the playoffs where he posted 8 points in 6 games, and should be resigned if he is willing to accept a fair salary. He was worth $2.8 the last 3 seasons, but he is aging and his point production is not extraordinary, so it’s possible he would sign for less.

If Sutton and Cullen can be signed for $2.5-3 million each a season, on short-term deals, the Senators would have some additional cap space to play with. Considering the problem the Sens are having with offensive production, I imagine they would pursue some top-quality (and still on a budget) snipers.

After all of the RFA signings, Ottawa will be a little bit less comfortable under the salary cap. Ottawa needs to sign a top-four shut-down defenseman, and a top-six forward, aside from the four RFAs that need to be resigned. This will make General Manager Brian Murray’s job a little bit difficult, but I believe he’ll be able to accomplish these signings. The waiver/buy-out of Cheechoo will definitely help free up some money to bring in the necessary players.

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