Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Ottawa Senators. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
The good news for Ottawa fans is that after last season, things can probably only get better.
The team suffered its lowest points total (74) since 1996-97 - when the team finally emerged from its expansion cocoon. General manager Bryan Murray held a fire sale at the trade deadline that saw a lot of the team's veteran core shipped out for draft picks. The pieces that remained endured career lows in points and extended stints on the injured reserve list and the team finished the season with a roster heavily reliant on call-ups from Binghamton.
With a renewed focus on the future, the Sens brass hope that a healthy veteran core will be able to mentor the young players through a rebuilding process that can start them back on the path to the playoffs.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: The good news for Ottawa is that the cupboard is bursting with top-end talent. The Senators were one of the busiest teams at the NHL draft, stepping up to the podium three times in the first round. The prize out of that class is skilled Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, taken sixth overall. The Senators immediately signed him to an entry-level deal and expectations will be high.
Beyond Zibanejad, the team added skilled forwards Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel in that same first round to go alongside former college star Bobby Butler. The team's blue line group can expect a boost from David Rundblad and Jared Cowen in the very near future. And with Craig Anderson and Alex Auld between the pipes this season, the team can afford to take its time with Swedish keeper Robin Lehner.
Breakout Player to Watch: The Senators may have made one very lopsided trade by giving up a third-round pick for Nikita Filatov at the draft. After three underwhelming years in Columbus, some have come to wonder if Filatov will ever get his NHL game up to his insanely high level of raw talent.
If there's any team that can afford to give Filatov free reign, it's Ottawa. So bank on Filatov using the opportunity to score at will alongside Ottawa's top talents - whether that's on Jason Spezza's wing or flanking another top line with Daniel Alfredsson or Milan Michalek. The Senators have the patience and the talent to support the temperamental winger and with the 'last chance' warning blinking in the back of his head, this could very well be the year we see the player who was believed to be as talented as Steven Stamkos back in 2008.
Marquee Match-Up: Feb. 9 - After 11 seasons with the Senators, Mike Fisher makes his return to Kanata as a member of the Nashville Predators. A fan favourite on and off the ice, it will be a night of mixed emotions at Scotiabank Place.
Other Dates to Watch: Oct. 8 at Toronto - The Sens get the ball rolling on the Battle of Ontario in the first Saturday night game of the year. Oct. 11 vs. Minnesota - The Senators' home opener sees 'fan favourite' Dany Heatley roll into town just three games into his Minnesota career.
Reason to Get Excited: In addition to being one of the youngest Senators teams in years, this will undoubtedly be the toughest as well. Too often, young squads on the rise get derailed by simply being pushed around by the opposition.
Bryan Murray's biggest acquisition this off-season was one of the game's most enthusiastic pugilists in Zenon Konopka. Add Konopka to Matt Carkner and Chris Neil and teams will be a lot less inclined to line up Butler, Filatov, Erik Karlsson or anyone else for a game-changing hit.
Home Hardware: Corralling Ottawa's mixture of talented veterans, top prospects and character grinders won't be an easy task. So, should the Sens turn it around and be a competitor in the East, a lot of the credit will probably fall on new head coach Paul MacLean.
MacLean is coming off a great stint as an assistant coach in Detroit, so the Senators are hoping that the Red Wings' long-practiced virtues of discipline and team-first play will have rubbed off on them. Sometimes being around winners is enough, so if MacLean can motivate the team with just the sight of a Stanley Cup ring, then there's no reason to think he won't be a contender once the Jack Adams Award is handed out.
On The Hot Seat: Sergei Gonchar will once again have his feet firmly held to the flame this season. While he's not getting younger, he was signed as a 36-year-old last summer to help lead the team's power play.
For a player who has traditionally had injury concerns, the Senators didn't do too poorly, getting 67 games out of Gonchar last season. However, getting 27 points out of a player who's getting 40-plus point money just won't cut it if the team intends to turn things around quickly.
It's Your! Call: How quickly can the Sens right the ship?
Rumours were so rampant at last year's trade deadline that lifetime Senators like Alfredsson and Chris Phillips had to tell throngs of reporters not only that they intended to stay in Ottawa but also that they wanted to.
There's no doubt that the future is the primary concern for the Senators right now, but will they be able to make stars or even NHLers out of their crop of young players in time to pair them with the veteran group that was around the last time elite hockey was played in the nation's capital?
The team will be leaning on the few 30-somethings they've got on-hand to help make stars out of the Rundblads and Zibanejads of the roster, but will those players be around to enjoy any of the spoils that come with the rise of those talents?
Should they even expect to, or is their choice merely to finish what they started, where they started it?