A Changing of the Guard for the Ottawa Senators – 30 in 30

Ottawa Senators 30 in 30 NHL
With a little over a week before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Ottawa Senators. It has been over a decade since the Ottawa has started the season without one of their “Big 3,” but with Daniel Alfredsson in Detroit, Jason Spezza in Dallas, and Dany Heatley in Anaheim, all three players have went their separate ways. Now Ottawa has to retool the roster and find a new group of players to build around. It will be a changing of the guard in 2014 for the Ottawa Senators, and the hope is that the search for a new leader will not be a difficult one.

Last Season – After making a surprising playoff appearance in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, the Senators regressed (or perhaps fell back to Earth) last year. Though the team was only five points out of a Wildcard spot, they were lucky to be that close.

Both Ottawa goaltenders, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, had terrible years, especially when compared to their 2013 performance. Anderson went from a 1.69 Goals Against Average (GAA) and a .941 save percentage (SV%) to a 3.00 GAA and a .911 SV%. Similarly, Lehner’s GAA jumped from 2.20 to 3.06 and his save percentage dropped from .936 to .913. This big drop, statistically, simply reflects the troubles the Ottawa Senators had keeping the puck out of their net last year.

However, on the opposite spectrum, the Senators were 11th in the league in goals per game. Their ability to put the puck in the net was effective and varied. Ottawa had five players score 20 or more goals, and seven that scored 15 or more. The team had the depth to outscore opponents, but their defensive play lost the Senators a lot of games.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson seems to be a microcosm of the Ottawa Senators as a whole. He put up a career year of 74 points in 82 games, an unreal point total for a defenseman. However, that offensive output came at the cost of some of his defensive responsibilities.

The Offseason – Unfortunately for the Senators, it is hard to say they improved their roster over the summer. After demanding a trade, long-time center Jason Spezza was dealt to the Dallas Stars with a very paltry return for Ottawa. Forward Alex Chiasson was the only NHL talent Ottawa received, and he will not come anywhere close to replacing what Spezza brought to the team. To make matters worse, winger Alex Hemsky decided not to re-sign with Ottawa, choosing instead to follow Spezza to Dallas. Between the two of them, they produced 83 points in 95 games for the Senators last year.

The Senators did grab veteran center David Legwand out of free agency, signing him to a two-year, $6 million deal. Legwand is getting up their in age, but he should be good for around 50 points in a season. More importantly, he is experienced, so he can serve as a mentor for some of the Senator’s younger forwards.

What to Watch for this Season – With the recent departures of Alfredsson and Spezza, the Senators will be looking for a leader to step up and take charge of the team. Karlsson seems like the obvious choice, but Marc Methot and Milan Michalek could be other options.

The departure of Spezza has left an interesting situation for center Kyle Turris. Turris had a rocky start to his career, but he appears to have turned a corner since joining the Senators. He put up 58 points in 82 games last season, good numbers for a second line center. However, this year he will likely be expected to center the first line. This entails a lot more responsibility and will have him facing off against an opponent’s best defensive pairing. How he responds to this new challenge will go a long way in determining how far the Senators go this year.

Two other players to keep an eye on are defenseman Marc Methot and winger Bobby Ryan. Both are unrestricted free agents by season’s end, but Ottawa would like to keep them both. Methot has become a rock-steady presence on the back end, and reports say that he and the Senators are relative close to a deal. On the other hand, Bobby Ryan has decided to wait until the season is over before resuming negotiations with Ottawa. This leaves Ottawa in a tough situation of whether or not to trade Ryan rather than risk losing him for nothing.

The Senators could surprise a lot of analysts this year. A recovery year from Anderson and/or Lehner, or the next step in development for Kyle Turris, and Ottawa could be back in the playoff mix. However, when a team is looking for the next group of core players to build around, it often leads to a lot of trial and error, which is not the best way to win games in today’s NHL. The Ottawa Senators are facing a changing of the guard this year, and that could hurt their playoff hopes.

Join 30 in 30 and the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow when the Philadelphia Flyers’ season is examined. Also, check out yesterday’s team, the New York Rangers.

Commentary by Jonathan Gardner

Photo Courtesy of CS Smith – Creativecommons License
Sports Illustrated

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