Ottawa Senators 2005-2006

TEAM NAME: Ottawa Senators

TEAM PAYROLL: $30 million

GENERAL MANAGER: John Muckler, third year with the Sens

HEAD COACH: Bryan Murray, first season with the team

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FORGOTTEN MOVES: Ottawa’s busiest time of the past two years actually occurred before the lockout began. It started the week leading up to draft day, 2004, when they traded third-line centre Radek Bonk to L.A. (who ended up trading him to Montreal) for a third round draft pick. This was a good move by the Sens, as Bonk, a former first round draft pick, never lived up to expectations in the nation’s capital. Another big move from the pre-lockout era came when the Sens signed future hall of famer Dominik Hasek. This move was met with both excitement and trepidation in Ottawa. Sens fans are excited about finally having a top tier goalie, but worried about whether Hasek can hold up throughout a full season. Hasek has only played 14 games in the past three seasons (due to a year of retirement, an injury and the lockout). To make room for Hasek, Patrick Lalime was traded to St. Louis for a draft pick. Backup goaltender Martin Prusek was also let go. The final move, and probably the biggest pre-lockout, was the firing of head coach Jacques Martin. The Sens brought in former Ducks GM Bryan Murray to head the team. This was important as Sens fans has lost faith in Martin, as he couldn’t get his team to deliver in the playoffs, especially against the hated Leafs. Where Martin focused on defence first, Murray will give the players a chance to use their speed and focus more on offence.

TEAM MODE: Have to win. Those three words sum up the Sens this season. Yes, they are a young team, and yes, they have some questions in goal. But they have been a young team on the verge of winning it all for several years now, and there have always been questions in goal. They are seen as a Stanley Cup contender, but have yet to prove it come playoff time. There are another three words that will have to sum up their season in a year: Beat the Leafs. The Sens could go a perfect 82-0 in the regular season, but if they lose to the Leafs in the playoffs, it would be seen as a disappointing season. They are 0-4 in playoff series against their provincial rivals, and it’s time they prove their worth in the playoffs. The new rules should benefit the Sens more than any other team this season. They are one of the speediest teams in the league, so the new two-line pass should really open up the game for them. They also had the best powerplay in the last NHL season, so if the parade of penalties continue throughout the regular season, the Sens will make the other teams pay for their indiscretions.

TO TAKE CHARGE!: There are lots of leaders on the Sens (Alfredsson, Redden, Heatley, Chara), but it’s time for young sensation Jason Spezza to lead this team. He should be on the top line of the Sens, and should be the top point getter. Yes, he’s young, but a lot of young players have been expected to lead their teams throughout the years. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old’s shoulders, but it’s up to Spezza to lead this team in both the regular season and the playoffs.

ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): Two reasons why Ottawa will lead the league in goals: 1) 21.5%. That is the powerplay percentage of the Sens in the 2003-2004 season, when they led the league in PP. They also had the most powerplay goals (80), but was only seventh in powerplay opportunities (371). They also tied Detroit for the best home PP ( 23.6%), and third on road PP (19.1%). If the Sens get more opportunities thanks to new rules to remove obstruction, then expect more goals; 2) 262. That’s the amount of goals the Sens scored in 2003-2004, leading the league in that category as well. They led the league in first period goals (81) and second period goals (96). The Sens have a 67% winning percentage when scoring first. However, there are two reasons why the Sens won’t lead the league in goals: 1) Marian Hossa. The man was a machine for Ottawa. He was responsible for 17.5% of the team’s powerplay goals, scoring 14 of them, he also assisted on 25 others, meaning he accounted on 39 of the Sens 80 powerplay goals. Overall, Hossa scored 36 goals for the Sens the last NHL season. That type of offence will be hard to replace; 2) Shorthanded threat is almost non-existent. Ottawa scored only six shorthanded goals in 2003-2004. Martin St. Louis had 8 by himself that year, and only one team had less than five (Washington with four). For such a speedy team, they seem to hang back for short handed opportunities. With the team spending more time in the box this season (as will every team), they need to be more of a threat when killing a penalty. One final reason that’s a cause for concern: .346%. That’s the winning percentage of the Sens in one-goal games. They’re only .538 in two goal games, but .818 where a team wins by three goals or more. That’s not a good record in close games. To have a successful win-loss record, the Sens will have to get better in that area.

COVERING THE D-ZONE: This defence should be known more for its offensive punch throughout the league than what it is. In the 2003-2004 season, Wade Redden was tied for most goals by a defenceman with 17, while Zdeno Chara finished with 16. Redden finished that season with 26 assists and 43 points, good for 13th in the league. He also finished tied for first for powerplay goals by a defenceman with 12. Chara was also third overall for +/- with 33, and third in penalty minutes for defencemen with 147. The only defenceman who finished with a negative +/- (Todd Simpson) is no longer with the team. The defence also helped the Sens finished eighth in goals against, at 2.3 per game. Penalty killing needs to be worked on though, as the Sens finished tied for 17th with an 83.5% PK rate. Pretty much, the defence is the same as it was when we last saw them. One problem though, may lie with Chara. He is a tough, physical defenceman, but has already commented to the media that he thinks too many penalties are being called. He says players are trying to hit him, bouncing off, and he is getting called for the penalty. If he feels he has to change his game to adapt to the new rules, that is not a good sign for Ottawa. Wade Redden is one of the top defencemen in the league, and his name always appears on the list for world championships and Olympic teams. But when problems start occurring in Ottawa, his name is the first to come up by fans to get rid of. If there’s a big goal scored against Ottawa, he’s usually on the ice for it. Chris Phillips turns it on in the playoffs, and is a solid #3 d-man. Brian Pothier and Anton Volchenkov will get the job done. A prospect will also be rounding out the top six defencemen.

GUARDING THE NET: The Sens goalie situation has changed fully since the last time we saw them in action, so it would be useless to use stats from previous years. Gone is the starter (Lalime) and backup (Prusek). Instead is a new tandem, Hasek and Ray Emery. Hasek is the here and now. He is expected to come and help this team win immediately. However, there is some concern about how well his body can hold up over a full season, as he has only played 14 games in the past three years. Emery is the future for Ottawa between the nets. Highly touted, he is expected to be the number one guy in a number of years. If Hasek doesn’t get on track though, the pressure is on Emery to bail him out. It should make for an interesting year between the pipes for Ottawa.

TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: When it comes to drafting, Ottawa is hands down the best team in the NHL. The amount of talent they discover throughout the draft would make any general manager envious. This is the reason why the team always seems to be young. When a veteran leaves the team, there is always a promising prospect to replace him. Due to the shifting of players on the Sens, Ottawa had a few opening for prospects. Surely, one of the most impressive rookie performances this preseason comes from Brandon Bochenski. This kid should make the team, and has looked very comfortable playing on the top line with Spezza and Heatley. He has already scored five preseason goals. Brian McGrattan is another prospect expected to make this team, but for different reason. McGrattan is a tough player, and not only did he lead the AHL in penalty minutes last season, he set a league record for most Pims. For years, the Sens have been seen as a soft team, but McGrattan will help erase that reputation as the season wears on. Finally, in net, there is Ray Emery. This goalie has been tagged as the franchise goalie for years. His time is quickly arriving, as he will be playing backup to Hasek this season. The starting job will be his within a couple of seasons. All three of these players are expected to be with the team for years. On top of this, the Sens farm team, Binghamton, was near the top of the standings last year, and have enough prospects to continue that trend this season.

PROJECTED LINES: With the addition of the prospects, the lines are taking shape in a way most people wouldn’t have expected before training camp. As it stands now, it should be:

Bochenski-Spezza-Heatley

Havlat-Smolinski-Alfredsson

Schaefer-Fisher-Neil

Vermette-Martins-McGrattan

Redden-Chara

Phillips-Volchenkov

Pothier-Meszaros

EXPECTATIONS: To be a top team in the regular season, and to go deep in the playoffs. Most of the players are on a short lease. Another year with an early playoff exit could mean big changes for this team. The fans in Ottawa are tired of losing to Leafs in the spring time every time they meet, so fans are expecting a big win over their rivals. The are expected to finish first in the northeast, top two in the conference and top five overall.

PROJECTED: Hard to say, but they should be pretty much what where they are expected to be. They should win the northeast division pretty handily, and will battle with Philly for the top seed in the conference. Of course, this all depends on their goaltending. Should Hasek falter and Emery not be ready to be a number one goalie, they may slip to the sixth or seventh seed. But provided Hasek plays his 60-65 games and is in hockey form, they should have no troubles.


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