Puck Drop Preview: 2014-15 Ottawa Senators

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2014-15, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season andPuck Drop Preview offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2014-15 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page.  Today is the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators.

Last season

Dramatic and a let down is what you could say for the Ottawa Senators last season. Having started their season with the face of the franchise, the longest-serving captain of 14 years, and the highest scorer in franchise history in Daniel Alfredsson walking out, to then ending up not meeting expectations at the end of the year, missing the playoffs, to later lose a captain, again, it was a rough one for the Senators to say the least.

Last season started with the face gone, a new superstar arriving via trade with the Anaheim Ducks, left winger Bobby Ryan, and a newly named captain, Jason Spezza. The franchise instantly looked and played different from the year prior, regardless of the Jack Adam’s Trophy Paul MacLean won.

When the Senators went out and surprised everyone by making it to the playoffs in 2013, along with finding themselves in the final 8 in round 2, there were now certain expectations to be met on the team. You would surely think the team plugged the hole the loss of Alfie made with Ryan, aside from leadership. For the most part, he did, but the Senators forgot to close a gap within their defence when Sergei Gonchar‘s rights were traded to the Dallas Stars. Not just the move itself, or lack thereof should I say, but with terrible play in their own zone, along with back-checking, and mediocrity and inconsistent goaltending, it’s no wonder why the Senators wounded up with a 37-31-14 record and finishing 12th place in the eastern conference.

They were one of the worst teams in the league in goals against, ahead of only the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Edmonton Oilers, with a total of 258 goals going in their own net. Yet even though the defence was very shaky with having a new comer of Cody Ceci, who broke out his rookie campaign last year, a major decline in play with Jared Cowen, Erik Karlsson, and Chris Phillips (that actually totalled for a plus/minus of -27), they were still able to have a fairly decent offense with five players reaching the 20 goal mark, including the injured Ryan.

In the first half of the season, the Sens were only able to post 17 wins. Though things weren’t going as smoothly as the organization had hoped, at this point they weren’t entirely doomed from making the playoffs. They would later go on to win 11 more games before making the move in trading for Ales Hemsky from the Oilers. Within three weeks time, the Senators would only go on to win one more game and decided to end the season for Bobby Ryan by allowing him to undergo surgery for a sports hernia, which he had been dealing with since November. At that point the management and fans knew it would take more than a miracle for Ottawa to catch up and make the playoffs, which they ultimately missed by five points.

2014-15 Ottawa Senators

Offseason Changes

The biggest move for the Senators this offseason was trading their star center, Jason Spezza, after only his first season as captain. During the 2014 NHL entry draft, there was a potential trade between Ottawa and the Nashville Predators for Spezza, but he declined the trade with the Preds as they were one of the ten teams he listed in his limited no trade clause. This would bring a halt to Ottawa trading Spezza until July 1st when a deal was finally made between the Sens and the Dallas Stars. The deal between the two franchises sent Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to Dallas in exchange for Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul, and a 2015 second-round pick.

Aside from the trade with the Stars, the only other acquisition the Senators made was signing veteran forward David Legwand to a two-year contract. Legwand will add depth down the middle as well as a veteran presence in the locker room for leadership.

The big name you can expect to definitely hit it off with the big club is Alex Chiasson. Chiasson is a big, fast, versatile forward, who has a big possibility in cracking the top 6 in the Senators line-up this upcoming season.

That was all that was added to the Senators team but management wasn’t quite finished yet. They were able to sign Milan Michalek, as well as their restricted free agent backup goaltender Robin Lehner for 3 more years, along with giving extensions to their number one goaltender Craig Anderson, a valuable forward to the team last year in Clarke MacArthur, for 5 more years, and rising defenceman, Mark Borowiecki.

As the Senators are ready to leap into training camp, there have been negotiations with two of their top players who are set to become available in the free agency market at the upcoming season’s end, Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot. Though no deal has been finalized with either player, both have expressed in wanting to stay and play in the nation’s capital. Though the Senators have plenty of room in their cap, it’s an absolute wonder if either or both will be re-signed with the Sens having their own internal cap.

2014-15 Lineup Projections:

This is just a projection of the Senators lineup as of now. We may expect some of the likes of Curtis Lazar and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to be involved in and out of the lineup, pending how everything rolls out in training camp, pre-season and during the regular season itself. As well Zack Smith expressed interest in playing left wing.

Clarke MacArthur – Kyle Turris – Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek – Mika Zibanejad – Alex Chiasson
Colin Greening – Zack Smith – Chris Neil
Mike Hoffman – David Legwand – Mark Stone
(Erik Condra)

Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen – Cody Ceci
Chris Phillips – Patrick Weircioch
(Eric Gryba, Mark Borowiecki)

Craig Anderson
Robin Lehner

Players to Watch:

  • Kyle Turris: A lot of focus will be on Kyle Turris this season and every Sens fan will undoubtedly have him on the must watch list. He’ll be taking over the number one center position and filling in the shoes that Spezza left behind before he was traded to Dallas. Last year Turris had his best season in both health and production. He was able to play in all 82 games and career highs in goals (26), assists (32), and of course points (58). He had a great chemistry with the both MacArthur and Ryan, and with more ice time you can’t help to think the BC native will light it up to a greater extent. Of course his opposition will most definitely be tougher to play against but he’s had some recent experience filling in this position whenever Spezza was out with injuries.
  • Cody Ceci: This will be Ceci’s sophmore year and to an extent if healthy, possibly a full season. Ceci came into the Senators organization after being called up from their AHL affiliate last season and was incredible on both sides of the puck for his rookie campaign. This year will be a real test for the Ottawa native, as more will be expected from him and having the opportunity to play a full regular NHL season and being in the top 4 defencemen for the Senators.
  • Alex Chiasson: One of the newest members of the organization, Chiasson will be an intriguing player to watch. Not just to see what Ottawa got in return for Spezza but also to see if he can commit himself and be productive on the second line, while finding chemistry with his new found team mates. Aside from Ryan, MacArthur, and to an extent, Michalek, there isn’t a whole lot of firepower coming from the Senators wingers. Chiasson may just be the player to help Ottawa out with his big frame of 6’4″ to add the probable necessary scoring.  The Montreal native played his first NHL season last year, in playing all but 3 games for the Dallas Stars. He racked up 13 goals, 22 assists for a total of 35 points.

On The Rise:

  • Erik Karlsson
  • Bobby Ryan
  • Mika Zibanejad

Now to expect more from Karlsson would seem absurd to most Sens fans, as he was the leading scorer last year on the team with 74 points. It’s his defensive game that some would say was more than disappointing and even questionable. Prior to his injury from Matt Cooke, Karlsson displayed no problems bringing up the play and being able to skate back down in a flash to his own zone. Last year he showed quite the difference.

His offensive support was still present, but when it came to playing defence, he just wasn’t the same player to help the defensive squad and scoop the puck back up. Karlsson looks more than motivated in recent interviews and knows where he must begin specifically in training and practice. The thought of Karlsson returning to form is very convincing and I think we will once again see the same input and output he once had. He’s matured, blossomed, and knows what is expected from him.

Bobby Ryan was one of the five players on the team that pitched in on goal scoring by racking up 20 or more goals with 23. This is of course with a shortened season, missing out in 12 games, and battling with a sports hernia from November onward. He’s already had surgery during the closing days of last season and has fully recuperated and is ready for a full healthy dose of a season to bring to Ottawa.

If Bobby didn’t suffer that injury and was able to play a full season and not battle the injury for several months, who knows how far he could’ve gone. Maybe 30-35 goals? Almost 40? That’s almost double what he produced. Now that Ryan has returned to full health, I think we will all finally see why Murray pushed for Ryan to begin with. I expect a breakout year with the Senators for the American superstar winger.

Now to Mika Zibanejad or ZBad as many call him. Still at the young age of 21, Zibanejad really started to blossom last year scoring 33 points, with 16 of them being goals, in 69 games. He could’ve easily been another 20 goal scorer for Ottawa had he played a full season. As of others, more will be expected of the Swedish center. This year he has a good chance to lock himself as the number two middle ice man behind Turris. Mika still has plenty of growing to do and, in this upcoming season especially, I have a knack to think that we’ll be seeing more of him with the team roster spots being shuffled around due to the offseason adjustments. If he can connect well with Chiasson, and perhaps if the likes of Michalek, Stone, or Hoffman are able to find chemistry with Zibanejad too, Mika can be a solid second center in the near future.

On The Decline: 

  • Chris Phillips
  • Chris Neil
  • Craig Anderson

With age usually comes skill decline and this is the case for the likes of all three players I’ve brought up. Especially for long time Senator and alternate captain, Chris Phillips. His best days are clearly behind him. All you can really get out of Phillips is his veteran presence, and hopefully a decent night once in a while. He’s not nearly as great of a skater he once was and has a lot of difficulty trying to get the puck out his own zone.

He was never known as a point-getter and that will never be the case, especially for a player who will soon be approaching his 40’s and the end of his NHL career. However Phillips still is a useful 6th or 7th defenceman but unless he has a drink from the fountain of youth, there isn’t much you can expect from him. This two-year contract he is on with the Senators could very well be the last contract that Phillips signs in the NHL.

This situation also applies to gritty winger Neil. Neil doesn’t seem to be declining as fast as Phillips for his position but he’s nowhere near the same calibre that he was, laying waste to powerplay specialists and trying to rack up over 20 points at the same time. His speed and intensity has dropped and as mentioned previously, players usually don’t bounce back when ageing, especially for Neil and for his type of role and age.

Neil still can be used to grab some energy. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t a complete waste of a player or a plug on the team. He brings in a lot of good quality traits but just not to the same extent as opposed to the days of his prime. (Fun fact: Neil and Phillips are the only remaining Senators from the team in 2007 that went to the Stanley Cup Finals)

Although Anderson did just recently sign a 3 year contract extension and still is a decent goaltender, I believe his best days for Ottawa was when he had just arrived in the nation’s capital. He’s really going to have to amp it up with the upcoming Robin Lehner behind him and finishing off with a goals against average of 3.00 last season. I partially do blame the mediocre defence that played in front of Andy, but Craig himself looked very shaky from time to time last season and it made many wonder where was the Anderson that Ottawa got when they shipped Brian Elliott out in exchange for him.

By the end of his contract he will be in his mid 30’s at the age of 36 and Lehner should have by then full duty of leading the Senators as the number one goaltender. This season is going to be quite the square off between the two netminders as Lehner will be competing for that number one position job, and Lehner has all the youth and potential behind him.

2014-2015 Season Expectations:

Now standing outside from the Senators and looking in, they have a very tough Atlantic division to deal with in the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and even the Detroit Red Wings. It’s going to be very difficult for the Ottawa Senators to bounce back. It’ll be more than difficult to take a playoff position outside of the wild card, but the possibility of that wild card may still give the Senators a chance to enter the post-season once again. Unless Ottawa’s defence tightens up, Anderson or maybe Lehner can step up, and the key forwards, like Bobby Ryan, must remain healthy, I don’t expect to see much more of a difference from last season. The Sens will be a bubble team and it will be no surprise if the Senators don’t end up making the playoffs but won’t be a complete shocker either if the Senators can snag one of the two wild card positions.

Up next in Puck Drop Preview, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

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