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Cullen: A year of growth for the Ottawa Senators

Scott Cullen
9/24/2011 7:19:45 PM
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The forecasts aren't so sunny for the Ottawa Senators this year and that can either make them a source of underrated value or a team to avoid altogether if you fear the downside of minus ratings.

Number one centre Jason Spezza may qualify as the safest Senators player to pick, and he's missed 42 games over the last two seasons. When he's in the lineup, Spezza scores at close to a point-per-game pace, which makes him valuable enough, but injuries and a questionable supporting cast likely make him easier to get in mid-to-late rounds.

If there is one individual player who can make a significant difference in the Senators' season, it would be goaltender Craig Anderson. Anderson struggled in Colorado last year, but was excellent (11-5-1, 2.05 GAA, .939 SV%) in 18 games down the stretch with the Senators. Carrying that on for an entire sason is a lot to ask, but Anderson is posied to get a heavy workload as the Senators' starter.

Since the Senators are looking to the future, their young Swedish defencemen ought to play big minutes. Erik Karlsson had 45 points in 75 games last season, but his minus-30 rating made it difficult for him to provide overall value. Playing big minutes on a bad team does come with a down side.

Rookie David Rundblad had 50 points in 55 games for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League last season, which is impressive for a defencemen no matter how you slice it, so expectations will be high for Rundblad this year as he'll be counted on to improve Ottawa's ability to move the puck from the back end.

While the Sens look ahead with that young talent, there are still some veterans that will be counted on to play prominent roles. Injuries limited 38-year-old Daniel Alfredsson to 54 games last season and, as a result, his 31 points represented a career low. Alfie might be a prime sleeper candidate because he's going to play as a top six forward but it gets dicey when you start counting on bounceback seasons for players in their late thirties.

Few players were as disappointing as Sergei Gonchar last season, as he finished with 27 points and a career-worst minus-15 rating, but it should be noted that he was minus-19 through the first three months before stabilizing somewhat in the second half. Like Alfredsson, Gonchar is a candidate to perform better this year, because it won't be easy to be less productive, but he's a 37-year-old who has missed 92 games over the last three seasons.

The Sens will cling to potential this year, so for those in deep leagues it could be fertile ground. Bobby Butler, Nikita Filatov, Stephane Da Costa, Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Colin Greening and Erik Condra could all warrant a look at some point, but any of them could flame out and be entirely ineffective too. Filatov and Butler appear to be the best bets from that group, but they're late-rounders.

Falling in between the young and old in Ottawa, left winger Milan Michalek should be entering his prime, but injuries are taking their toll on him. He's missed 32 games over the last two seasons, and last year's 33 points represented a career-low.

For leagues that count penalty minutes, the Sens do have a couple of options that might help, centre Zenon Konopka and defenceman Matt Carkner, that are willing combatants and can fill the designated PIM role if that is how your roster would be best served.

The rebuilding process could be painful in Ottawa, at least for this season, while the Senators determine who can and can't help over the long haul. As a result, they might be an interesting team to pluck pieces from for fantasy, but risk exists with virtually everyone on the roster.

Depth Chart - Ottawa Senators

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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