The Ottawa Senators had to deal with injuries to key players last season but still managed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs and knock off a division rival before getting eliminated by one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Had the Senators not been dealt such bad luck with their health, they probably would have … reached the playoffs, defeated a division rival in the first round (maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs instead of the Montreal Canadiens in the 4/5 or 2/7 matchup) then been eliminated by one of the two best teams in the East.
Ottawa was a prime example of how NHL teams are sometimes able to survive without star players over the course of a small sample size. But the Senators also managed to meet preseason expectations, albeit with a greater degree of difficulty because of the injuries.
The ensuing offseason has not lacked drama. Longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson made it to free agency without an extension and ended up joining a new division rival, the Detroit Red Wings. The breakup has been public and a little messy.
General manager Bryan Murray didn't take long to replace Alfredsson, sending a package of players to the Anaheim Ducks for Bobby Ryan. The Senators also added Clarke MacArthur as a free agent, and, if healthy, the top six forwards could be more potent, even with Alfredsson in Detroit.
Veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar was set to leave as a free agent before being traded to the Dallas Stars, where he quickly signed. Veteran Joe Corvo was subsequently added as a depth defenseman, but Jared Cowen, a restricted free agent who needs a contract, will be expected to fill a bigger role.
Ottawa looks like a solid playoff team and one that can close the gap on the elite teams in the conference. Whether or not the Senators can challenge the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit at the top of the East likely will hinge on better health and a couple of young defensemen improving. Then again, Paul MacLean has proven to be an elite coach who is able to produce results regardless of who is available to play on any given night.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Senators:
NOTES: Ryan seems like a natural fit on the top line, or he could end up providing more punch with the second group, which sounds remarkably similar to his previous role in Anaheim. Five top-six slots seem set, with a group that includes Conacher, Greening, Smith, Condra and maybe a surprise (rookie Matt Puempel) competing for the last spot and places on the wings next to Zibanejad on the third line.
The Senators would probably like to see Cowen and Wiercioch cement a place in the top four on the blue line, but Phillips or Corvo could eat some extra minutes if needed. Or Karlsson can just soak up more ice time, as he is known to do.
Anderson, if healthy, will be in contention for a spot on the United States Olympic team. Lehner could earn a trip to Sochi for Sweden, and give Anderson ample time to rest with the condensed schedule.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: SENATORS
Under-valued: Craig Anderson -- Anderson would've been one the most valuable goalies last season if not for injury (he appeared in 24 games), but that shouldn't scare you come draft day. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to be a top-five netminder this season with a solid team in front of him, and that's worth the risk.
Over-valued: Cory Conacher -- Acquired by Ottawa in the Ben Bishop swap, Conacher didn't exactly thrive with the Sens (two goals, three assists in 12 games) and eventually found himself as a healthy scratch in the playoffs. His red-hot start in Tampa Bay made him a hot commodity early on last year, but Conacher will likely disappoint in production this season.
Sleeper: Patrick Wiercioch -- His 19 points last season were second only to Justin Schultz's 27 among rookie d-men, but add in his 39 penalty minutes, plus-9 rating, 10 power play points and 81 shots on goal, and you'll quickly realize he was the most valuable rookie defenseman in fantasy hockey. Expect more improvement and plenty of opportunities in 2013-14.Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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