The Ottawa Senators made a big move last summer, trading three top-notch young assets for proven NHL scorer Bobby Ryan in an attempt to bolster a roster that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs two years running but failed to advance past the second round.
After a 2012-13 season in which the Senators were resilient in the face of injury woes, Ottawa was comparably quite healthy last season. The results were not as expected, though, after the Senators were a trendy pick to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference.
One issue simply was luck. Other than the New Jersey Devils, no other team that remained in playoff contention for much of the season had a bigger disparity between its Corsi-for percentage (Ottawa finished tied for seventh at even strength) and its goals-for percentage (the Senators finished 19th). That's not all luck. Some of it can be poor goaltending or bad special teams.
This season is going to be an interesting one in Ottawa. After a couple of seasons of looking like a rising force in the East with a great coach in Paul MacLean, the Senators are going to have one of the lowest payrolls in the League. Jason Spezza and trade-deadline acquisition Ales Hemsky are gone.
The offense has interesting parts but could lack elite-level talent. The defense has an all-world anchor in Erik Karlsson, but he needs some help. This could be the season that goaltender Robin Lehner truly challenges Craig Anderson for the No. 1 role.
MacLean has done his best work in Ottawa when his club has been counted out, and that's probably a position it will be in when the season begins.
Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Senators:
Kyle Turris filled in admirably as the No. 1 center when Spezza missed time. His line, with Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, was the team's best last season, so it would make a lot of sense that with Spezza and Hemsky gone to keep that trio together and find new linemates for Milan Michalek.
Veteran David Legwand could fill the other top-six role in the middle, but giving Mika Zibanejad a chance to secure the spot is a better forward-thinking play. Another player who should factor in during camp is top prospect Curtis Lazar. Alex Chiasson is the most likely member of the Spezza trade package to make an immediate impact.
Keeping with the idea of continuity, the trio of Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Chris Neil spent a lot of time together last season. They received third-line type minutes, but given the addition of Legwand and some other potential young "fourth-line" fits like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and maybe Chiasson if Lazar makes the club, it might make sense to reduce their ice time and give some of it to Legwand's trio.
MacLean trusted Smith's line with a lot of the tough defensive assignments in 2013-14, and that doesn't seem likely to change.
Karlsson split time with Marc Methot and Jared Cowen last season, and in reality he's going to play with nearly every defender on the roster at some point because he logs so many minutes. Where Cody Ceci fits will have a lot to say with how the rest of the group shakes out.
The Senators could pair him with veteran Chris Phillips as an on-ice mentor, but putting him with Cowen or Methot would be the optimal top-four look if Ceci is ready for the responsibility. Ottawa could roll out an offensive-minded player with a defensive-minded defender on each pairing.
Ottawa's puck possession when Karlsson is on the ice is splendid, and the goal should be to find another player who can help drive it in the team's direction near to the ability he does. Ceci probably is the best hope currently in the organization.
Lehner has a .921 save percentage the past three seasons; Anderson's is 917. Anderson has had to play nearly three times as many games in that span, but at some point Lehner is going to ascend to starter status in Ottawa.
Last season the split for starts was 52-30 in favor of Anderson. If they remain healthy all season (and health has been an issue at times at this position for Ottawa), it's possible the split could creep a little closer to 41-41.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: SENATORS
Undervalued: Kyle Turris -- Turris had a breakout season for the Senators centering Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan and now has the full spotlight after Jason Spezza's departure. Ottawa doesn't have much scoring depth and will face an uphill battle for a postseason spot, but its top line could be even better if Ryan excels in his contract year. Turris, 24, was on the ice for 95 goals and 67 allowed last season. His power-play role will heighten and he'll be in position for 60-plus points and 230-plus shots on goal. He should be on your radar beginning in the 10th round, especially in keeper leagues.
Overvalued: Craig Anderson -- It wasn't long ago that Anderson was a top-tier fantasy goalie, but he's not in that realm given Ottawa's issues on the back end. The Senators allowed 34.7 shots per game last season, second-worst in the NHL. Anderson saw the majority of the starts (52) over young backup Robin Lehner, but there could be a shift in command with one year left on Anderson's contract. The 33-year-old had a decent even-strength save percentage (.925) but finished tied for the fifth-most goals allowed (150). Fantasy owners should consider quality timeshare goalies before Anderson.
Sleeper: Alex Chiasson -- Chiasson will log top-six minutes in Ottawa and will be centered by either Mika Zibanejad or David Legwand. The 23-year-old was a bright spot for the Dallas Stars' power play last season with 13 points in 3:21 of such ice time per game, so expect him to be called upon in those situations after Spezza's departure. Chiasson is by no means a complete player at this stage of his career and may be a plus-minus liability, but he could be a late-round pick or waiver-wire addition who scores 45-plus points with one-third of them coming on the power play.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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