Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pool Outlook for Ottawa

Man, oh man, what a difference a calendar year makes, eh?  The Ottawa Senators missed the playoffs in 2009 and there was all sorts of questions leading up to the Summer, but there were few that foresaw a controversy surrounding Dany Heatley and there were even less that saw the playoffs in their future despite the whole issue.  Still, the Senators pushed on in 2010 without a black cloud hanging over top and the team did well to work hard and push through, even making a good run for the division for a while.  Even with a first round loss in the playoffs, I would say that the Senators had a pretty good year and that they are taking steps in the right direction.

Leading by example is just one of the biggest benefits of having Daniel Alfredsson on your team.  Alfredsson again led the Senators players in pool scoring in 2010, finishing off with 71 points (20 goals & 51 assists) in 70 games, which earned him a little bit of a raise in the rankings, going from 38th to 37th, up to 24th from 27th in forwards.  If Alfredsson can get a full season under his belt, he could be one of the more valuable players in the hockey pools these days. If there was one thing that Alfredsson proved in 2010, it was that he isn't dependent on having another top scorer on the team and that he can create his own offense.

The rest of the forwards, on the other hand, just did enough to make their own offense to make the playoffs, but in the hockey pool sense, the Senators were a very up-and-down kind of team, from player to player.  Jason Spezza had a down year, scoring only 57 points in 60 games, thanks in large part to a torn MCL in December/January.   Mike Fisher had a definite up year, picking up 53 points in 79 games, making claim to being a decent 2nd-line centre.  Alex Kovalev was down, Milan Michalek was down, Chris Kelly was up, Peter Regin emerged, Nick Foligno was down and Jonathan Cheechoo was so bad, he had to go to the minors.  The Senators did feel they were good enough to be buyers at the deadline, so they picked up Matt Cullen from the Hurricanes and he finished up having a good year, up from 2009.  It's hard to forecast from here, but I wouldn't be in a rush to bump up many numbers at the moment.

The defense in Ottawa was not really potent offensively at all, which also seemed to hurt their bottom-line a bit, but not by too much... they made the playoffs, right?  Filip Kuba led the way, but had a down year thanks to injury, 28 points in 53 games wasn't really going to cut it in either column.  The Senators also got 60 games out of their hotter blueline prospect, Erik Karlsson, but only managed 26 points out of him. Chris Phillips, Chris Campoli and Anton Volchenkov were around all year, minus some injuries, and didn't really make great impacts on the scoresheet, although the best argument is that Phillips and Volchenkov are straight shutdown, only picking up points when they happen to be on the ice with the top guys.

In goal, it was a return to the starting role for Brian Elliot after their deadline acquisition of 2009, Pascal Leclaire, did not pan out the way they were hoping to in 2010.  Elliot took the ball and ran with it, appearing in 55 games for the Senators, amassing a record of 29-18-4 with 5 shutouts and adding an assist.  That totalled him up to 69 points in the hockey pool this year, ranking him 13th among goalies in the league.  Leclaire only managed to pick up 12 wins this season, giving him 24 points and a ranking of 42nd among goalies, which is a last resort in the pool these days.

2011 Season Outlook
Like I had mentioned at the top of the piece, I think the Senators are finally taking steps in the right direction, especially when it's coming to the hard-working attitude that the coach is employing among his troops.  The team is starting to budget a little bit better and will have some key personnel decisions to make this Summer, but there does seem to be some light at the end of this tunnel of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, to which they were in only a short time ago.

Daniel AlfredssonFilip KubaBrian Elliot
Jason SpezzaErik KarlssonPascal Leclaire
Mike FisherChris Phillips
Alex KovalevMatt Carkner
Milan Michalek
Chris Kelly
Jarkko Ruutu
Chris Neil
Jonathan Cheechoo

Comparing season to season, there was a fair bit of change to the roster list going into the Summer, but the most positive change was the salary cap number down from $49.2 million for 19 players to $47.1 million for 15.  Wait a second, that's not down really at all, is it?  Well, no.  The Kovalev deal was pricey, plus the Michalek and Cheechoo contracts filled in for Heatley's, and Karlsson's entry-level deal is kind of pricey.  The Senators are not in bad shape, as they will be looking at roughly $10 million for 8 players (for the 23-man roster), which is reasonable for depth, especially with a good core already signed.

The Senators did their part to push the rental market in the 2010 season, so they will be letting go of some keen unrestricted free agents this Summer.  Matt Cullen, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton and Shean Donovan lead the list of UFAs coming out of Ottawa and from what has been said so far in this post-season, there doesn't sound like much hope is going to spring out of any of these.

Restricted free agency sees only a few key names on the list, but they should be pretty easy going when it comes to a brand new deal.  Peter Regin, Nick Foligno and Chris Campoli are on the list for this Summer and I would imagine that all three of them are in the team's plans going into 2011.  All three should be looking for raises, but I would say they will all fit with plenty of room to spare.  Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same thing for the UFAs above.

Last year's one to watch was Erik Karlsson, who did make the jump into the big club's line-up in 2010 and this Summer, the one to watch going forward will be another defenseman, Jared Cowan, who did end up getting some ice-time with the Senators before the season closed.  Cowan is a big defender who should bring some more physical play to the blueline, which will be key if the Senators cannot keep Anton Volchenkov in their organization.   Cowan may not be the complete package, but it does sound like the Senators can groom him in the places they need him most.

As for the 2010 Draft, the Senators won't pick any worse than 18th this year, but I don't know how that is exactly going to change their perception going in.  Looking at their list of top prospects, I would have to assume that the Senators will be looking for a scoring forward or a top end goaltender to fit in.  I said last year that the Senators should have drafted a forward, but of course, they went ahead and drafted Cowan, which now looks to be a pretty good pick.

What I said at this time last year: "The Senators have plenty of work to do, but the move for Pascal Leclaire makes them a reasonable pool team going forward. The old adage of playing more confident when you know you have a good goalie behind you may seriously come into play in the 2010 season. Leclaire does have the talent to give more confidence to his teammates and could give guys like Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly a little more confidence to make better plays. The addition of Chris Campoli to the backline does improve them greatly going into next season and I think he could be one of the better sleepers heading into the year. The Sens should have enough to make the playoffs now, if everything falls into place like I've drawn it out."

Well, there was a couple of prognostication failures in last year's paragraph,  Leclaire did not pan out and Campoli didn't make the blueline any better.  However, goaltending did make Fisher and Kelly into better players and they did have enough to make the playoffs, so I was right there, except I didn't get the correct goalie, so we'll spot that a 1.5 instead of two.  Oh yeah, they did have to do a lot of work and they did... so I'll be reasonable and say it's a 2.25.

For 2011, the possible loss of Volchenkov could be pretty big to the team, unless Cowan can pan out and be the physical shutdown defenseman that Phillips can use as a good partner.  For scoring, I suspect Alfredsson will be the status quo, Spezza might be able to bounce back, if the Sens can find him a scoring partner beyond Alfie, I have a hard time thinking Kovalev will recover much, Fisher has matured to a point where he'll continue 2010's pace and Regin has gained all sorts of confidence to grow.  The Senators should be an alright team in 2011, I'll just take them with a grain of salt at my hockey pool draft this Fall.

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