Senators beef up in hopes of rebound
Long a perennial postseason participant, the Ottawa Senators have hit some tough times of late, missing the playoffs twice in the past three years after qualifying in each of the previous 11 seasons.
Last year was particularly painful, as Ottawa finished with only 74 points, its lowest total since 1995-96, and jettisoned many of its veterans in a massive fire sale at the trade deadline. The Senators also got rid of coach Cory Clouston after three seasons and Paul MacLean to take over behind the bench. He spent the past six seasons as an assistant in Detroit.
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2010-11 record: 32-40-10, 74 points (fifth Northeast Division, 13th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)
Key losses: F Ryan Shannon (signed with Tampa Bay); F Marek Svatos (free agent); D Andre Benoit (signed with Spartak Moscow, KHL); D David Hale (free agent); D Derek Smith (signed with Colorado); G Curtis McElhinney (signed with Phoenix); F Cody Bass (signed with Columbus); G Mike Brodeur (free agent); D Lee Sweatt (retired); G Pascal Leclaire (free agent); F Ryan Potulny (signed with Washington)
Burning question: Will Ottawa's more physical lineup wear down opponents or just wear out the Senators' penalty killers?
There weren't many positives to take for Ottawa's 2010-11 season, but the Senators could take a little solace in their work on the penalty kill, which ranked ninth in the league at 83.7 percent. Ottawa's penalty killers were tested quite a bit, finishing 15th in the league with 294 times shorthanded. That unit could face an even bigger challenge this year after adding Konopka, who has led the NHL in PIMs each of the past two seasons with 265 and 307. He joins last year's runner-up, Chris Neil, who had 210 PIMs, along with Matt Carkner (136 PIMs in 50 games), Zack Smith (120 PIMs in 55 games) and Francis Lessard (78 PIMs in 24 games).
Many of those penalty minutes came on matching fighting majors, which didn't affect the manpower situation, but it's clear that Ottawa is beefing up to play a very physical style of game. That can be effective in wearing down opponents, but the Senators will also have to take care not to wear down their own penalty killers by spending too much time in the sin bin.
2011-12 outlook: Despite the Senators' struggles last season and the number of veterans dealt away, there are some quality pieces in place to build around in Ottawa. Captain Daniel Alfredsson leads the way, or at least the Senators hope he will be able to after undergoing back surgery in June. He had just 14-17-31 totals in 54 games last year. Jason Spezza (21-36-57 in 66 games) and Milan Michalek (18-15-33 in 66 games) both also battled through injuries last season. Bobby Butler (10-11-21 in 36 games) and Nick Foligno (14-20-34) lead the youth movement up front, and 2011 sixth overall pick Mika Zibanejad could join them, though he may need another year in Sweden before he is ready for the NHL. The Senators also took a chance on enigmatic Russian forward Filatov, acquiring the 2008 sixth overall selection from Columbus for a third-round pick.
On the blue line, Erik Karlsson (13-32-45) has emerged as a promising young defender, but Ottawa still needs more from last summer's big investment, veteran Sergei Gonchar (7-20-27). The Senators need more from their goalies, too, and they're banking on Anderson playing more like he did in Ottawa after arriving at the trade deadline (11-5-1, 2.05 GAA, .939 save percentage) than he did in Colorado (13-15-3, 3.28 GAA, .897 save percentage). Ottawa re-signed Anderson to a four-year, $12.75 million deal this summer and also added a capable backup in Auld.
Did you know? Ottawa's top affiliate, Binghamton, won the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champions this past spring. The playoff experience should benefit the Senators' prospects, but winning at the AHL level doesn't necessarily translate into success in the NHL postseason. The Hershey Bears won the previous two Calder Cups, and their parent club in Washington hasn't exactly thrived in the playoffs despite dominant regular seasons.