fans must see the Toronto Maple Leafs in their nightmares. The
last several seasons Ottawa has had Cup aspirations and roared into the
playoffs, only to have their hopes dashed, sometimes rather easily, by
the hated cross-province rival Leafs. With a new coach, new star
forward and new goaltender who's very old, do the Sens have what it
takes this season?
And, in case you forgot, these
previews will appear, two a day, until the season starts on October 5th.
They will be put on-site by division, roughly in order of predicted
finish. Note that the rookies listed are only those most likely to make
the team, not necessarily ones who have already sewn up a spot, and surprises
always occur in training camp. The In/Out portion represents significant
players added and lost since the end of the 2003-04 season. And now, on
with the show...
In: Dany Heatley, Dominik
Hasek, Tomas Malec, Jeff Heerema, Lance Ward
Out: Marian Hossa, Greg de
Vries, Radek Bonk, Patrick Lalime, Curtis Leschyshyn, Todd Simpson, Todd White,
Martin Prusek, Peter Bondra
Rookies: Ray Emery, Patrick
Eaves, Brandon Bochenski, Andrej Meszaros
Nothing short of a Stanley
Cup will do this season in Ottawa, where the lineup closely resembles that of
2003-04 with two notable differences: Heatley on the right side after the
monster trade with Atlanta that saw Hossa and de Vries head the other way, and
Dominik Hasek in goal. Whether Hasek,
who turns 41 midway through the season, can still play at a high level after
having played just 14 games in over three years will be the biggest question
facing the Senators as they move forward.
Strengths: 1. Despite Heatley
replacing Hossa in the lineup, the Senators still have the strongest right side
in all of hockey. Captain Daniel
Alfredsson is an elite player, while Martin Havlat, still just 24, has as much
skill as anyone. The Senators hope
Heatley can give them a certain level of size and character Hossa couldn’t
provide without any drop-off in goals.
The team may end up shifting Havlat to the left to provide a bit more
scoring from that side, but regardless, those three imbue the Sens lineup with
a great deal of talent, and are likely to be the team’s first three choices in
2. While Alfredsson, Heatley
and Havlat can easily match any three wingers on any other team, on defense the
same can be said for Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, and Chris Phillips. Chara finished second in voting for the
Norris Trophy in 2003-04, and his development from a gangly kid of enormous
height who had trouble moving about on skates into an elite defenseman capable
of dominating his own zone is impressive.
Redden has anchored the Sens blueline for years, and while Phillips
hasn’t added quite the offensive dimension to his game many hoped he would when
he was drafted 1st overall in 1996, he has become a forceful
presence in the defensive zone. The
inclusion of de Vries in the Heatley deal leaves the fourth spot to Anton
Volchenkov to claim, and the way the young Russian played in the AHL last
season would indicate he is more than ready for it.
Weaknesses: 1. While the Senators’ forward corps is
obviously led by the men at the right wing position, the depth at center and
left wing is not nearly as impressive.
Jason Spezza, who led the AHL in scoring last season, is quite likely
ready for first-line duty, but unless Antoine Vermette, who has spent much of
his NHL career to this point at left wing, steps up, the likely choice for the
second line is Bryan Smolinski who is, quite simply, no longer has the ability
to be effective there. Another option
could’ve been Alexei Kaigorodov, who finished second in Russian league scoring
last season despite the presence of many NHL players, could’ve been an option,
but the Senators were unable to get him in camp. One might be inclined to question the Sens choice to deal off
Radek Bonk in the summer of 2004, then Todd White this off-season, without
having any proven candidates to fill their spots. The best scoring option on the left side, meanwhile, appears to
be rookie Brandon Bochenski, a late draft choice in 2001 who developed some
chemistry with Spezza in the AHL last season.
Peter Schaefer and Vaclav Varada are more suited to checking-line duty,
and the Sens will likely have to turn to either rookie Patrick Eaves or
journeyman Denis Hamel to fill out the left side.
2. No one can deny that
Dominik Hasek is a hall-of-fame goaltender.
His eight seasons in Buffalo
from 1993-94 to 2000-01 is the stuff legends are made of, and his Cup run with
Detroit in 2002 was no less than magical.
That was, however, a very long time ago. Hasek retired after that 2002 Cup win, spent the next season
playing forward in recreational hockey, then came back in 2003-04, only to
spend most of the season sidelined due to injury. Hasek signed with Ottawa that off-season, with the memory of
Patrick Lalime’s meltdown in the Ottawa goal in the 2004 playoffs fresh in the
minds of Sens fans. Hasek will be 41 by
midseason. He has had groin troubles
that border on chronic. His style of
play is not one that will get better as he gets older. His backup, Ray Emery, is a raw rookie known
as much for his fighting skills as his goaltending skills. Needless to say, Ottawa’s goaltending could
be an adventure this season.
Don’t be Surprised If: Ottawa
gets off to a rather slow start. While
much of this team is the same as 2003-04, some major pieces in Hasek, Heatley
and Bochenski are brand new, as is the coach, Bryan Murray. The adjustment for Heatley to a new city
will take a while, and the adjustment for the entire team from Jacques Martin’s
offence-through-defense system to Murray’s slightly more freewheeling style
will take time as well. The Sens also
need to figure out exactly how things are going to shake out in the lower ranks of their defense
and at center, and the wins may not be there early on as this team finds its
Outlook: Hasek is a huge
question mark, but if he performs at an acceptable level, the Sens will
certainly challenge for the division, perhaps even the conference. Hasek will be aided by one of the league’s
best defenses, and many of the players who posted the league’s best power play
and most goals in 2003-04 have returned.
The Senators will be all right;
whether they can be champions depends on Hasek.
Centres: 1. Jason Spezza 2. Bryan Smolinski
3. Antoine Vermette 4. Mike
Fisher 5. Patrick
Eaves 6. Steve Martins
Wingers: 1. Dany Heatley 2. Daniel Alfredsson 3. Martin Havlat 4. Peter
Schaefer 5. Vaclav Varada 6. Brandon Bochenski 7.
Chris Neil 8. Chris Kelly 9. Denis Hamel 10. Jeff
Defensemen: 1. Wade Redden 2. Zdeno
Chara 3. Chris Phillips 4. Anton Volchenkov 5. Brian Pothier
6. Christoph Schubert 7.
Tomas Malec 8. Lance Ward
9. Andrej Meszaros
Goalies: 1. Dominik Hasek 2. Ray Emery
Restricted Free Agents: none.