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2011-12 season preview: Ottawa Senators

Oct 1, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Paul MacLean AP

2010-11 record: 32-40-10, 74 points; 5th in Northeast; 13th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Not that long ago, the Senators boasted one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, with a star-studded top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson supported by talents like Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat. (History is still trying to cope with what Wade Redden meant to those teams.)

The 2010-11 version was a far cry from those glory days. Heatley, Chara and Havlat are long gone while Spezza struggles to stay healthy and Alfredsson is likely a season or two from riding off into the sunset. GM Bryan Murray keeps firing coaches, but the hope is that former Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean can make magic with an ugly roster.

MacLean’s mustache is magical, if nothing else.

Offense

Only the New Jersey Devils (174 … seriously) scored fewer goals that Ottawa’s pitiful 192 last season. Despite missing 20 games, Spezza topped all Senators players with 57 points. Their second highest point producer was All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson (45). No one else broke the 40-point barrier. Yup, that edition was pathetic.

Nikita Filatov is the most notable offensive addition (stop laughing), unless you count first-round pick Mika Zibanejad. The one bright side – and expect this to be a running theme – is that the Senators basically have nowhere to go but up.

Defense

Well, uh … they still have Chris Phillips. Karlsson made the All-Star team, too. So they have that going for them.

The Senators probably wish they could take their logjam of defensemen and combine a few of them into a Frankenstein monster who could actually make a difference on this team. Imaginary mad science aside, there is at least one dream that isn’t totally crazy: maybe Sergei Gonchar can get his act together after an abysmal debut season. If Spezza and Alfredsson are healthy, the Senators might have a shot at putting a passable power play together with a rejiggered Gonchar, creating a combination that might help them steal a few games.

Goalies

Even though his contract is highly questionable, the Senators made a solid move in tabbing Craig Anderson as their goalie of the (near) future. Anderson struggled mightily last season after carrying a flawed Colorado team to the playoffs in 2009-10, but his previous work suggests that he can be at least an average starter in the NHL. That probably won’t be enough for next season, but if they can start putting things together, he should help them turn things around long-term.

Alex Auld has the chops to give Anderson a breather every know and then, which is a relief because Anderson hasn’t had a full-time workload very often in his career.

Coaching

MacLean matured as a coach in Detroit’s system and followed Mike Babcock around as his mustachioed right-hand man. A lot of teams are going the ‘hire the hot AHL coach’ route, but San Jose excelled nicely with the ‘hire a Red Wings assistant’ routine. Perhaps MacLean will produce similar results as mostly-successful Todd McLellan has.

Breakout candidate

Line combinations tend to change a lot in the NHL and there have been rumors that Alfredsson won’t play alongside Spezza this season (presumably to spread out the team’s offense and cover up for some lackluster depth). It wouldn’t be surprising if they found themselves together quite often next season, though, which could bode well for young winger Bobby Butler. He scored 10 goals in 36 NHL games last season and could very well flirt with 20-25 if he gets significant opportunities alongside Spezza and/or Alfredsson.

Best-case scenario

If you’re a season-ticket holder: MacLean motivates an unproven roster to provide depth for the team’s small stable of stars. Anderson stands on his head most nights, proving that last season was the fluke, not 2009-10. Spezza and Alfredsson put together healthy seasons and average close to a point-per-game each. The Senators make it to the playoffs and scare a division winner in the first round before bowing out in Game 6 or 7.

If you’re a big-picture fan: Spezza, Anderson and MacLean do just well enough to retain Murray’s faith for the near future. Alfredsson serves a greater purpose, whether it means showing young kids the ropes, retiring at the end of the season or producing a surprisingly strong trade package at the deadline. The Senators pull off the rare feat of being both respectable and a lottery team, allowing them to stock up on another set of prospects while earning a little patience from fans and the beer can hoarding media.

Reality

The Senators are a lousy team, although Spezza and Alfredsson could very well produce bounce-back years (while Gonchar could at least be functional). Anderson is a solid goalie who might hit some serious slumps behind a talent-poor squad, but should be given the leeway to stumble here and there.

Ottawa could flirt (at least briefly) with playoff contention, but it would be in their best interest to lay low in the cellar and re-stock the cupboard with young talent. This franchise is in a really tough spot, so making the postseason just to get bounced dismissively from the first round wouldn’t do them much good.

  1. unknowneric - Oct 1, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Above: Paul MacLean asks reporters if anyone has seen his bukkit. News at 11.

  2. kingjoe1 - Oct 2, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    ….Reporters ask Paul MacLean how big is Sidney Crosby’s johnson is…

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