If the Florida Panthers weren't the most surprising team in the NHL last season, then it was certainly the Ottawa Senators, a club that was supposed to be rebuilding and expected to languish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Instead, the Senators ended up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they pushed the top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the first round. The majority of the key figures are back, and more help from the farm system could be on the way.
2012-13 Senators Fantasy Team Preview
Under-valued: Kyle Turris – May finally have found his niche in Ottawa after notching 12 goals, 29 points and a plus-12 in 49 games last season. Will be the team’s No. 2 center going forward and at just 22, still has plenty of time to flourish.
Over-valued: Milan Michalek – Easily had his best season since joining Sens with 35 goals and 60 points, but struggled in playoffs (1 G, 1A in seven games). Will likely remain alongside Jason Spezza, but don’t pay for just his goals this season.
Sleeper: Guillaume Latendresse – Health has always been a major concern (has only appeared in 105 games over last three seasons), but in 82 games with Wild, Latendresse posted 33 goals and 52 points.
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Ottawa replaced top-pairing defenseman Filip Kuba with Marc Methot. After dealing top-six forward Nick Foligno to get Methot, he was replaced by Guillaume Latendresse on a one-year deal. Defenseman Matt Carkner signed a three-year contract with the New York Islanders, and Mike Lundin was acquired to replace him on a more team-friendly deal. The remaining position battles in training camp will depend on the readiness of a few top prospects.
Like the Panthers, the Senators will have to prove their work last season was not that of a one-hit wonder, but contributions from new young players and improvements from the established young guys could help Ottawa challenge the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
NOTES: Murray told NHL.com that Silfverberg, Zibanejad and Mark Stone could all compete for a chance to knock Greening from a spot on the top line and back to a more natural fit on the third unit. It looks like there are two spots at most open for those three, so Stone could end up back in Binghamton to start the year.
Neil had his best offensive season in years, but the new guys could force him and Smith into smaller roles -- Smith would do well to improve his faceoff percentage if he wants to not be in danger of being scratched some nights. If those kids are ready, it does start to get crowded at the bottom of the Senators' forward group. Regin and Condra have been regulars, and Kaspars Daugavins was last season. That's 15 guys, without counting Mike Hoffman or Stephane Da Costa, who could also be in the mix with a strong camp.
If Methot slides into Kuba's spot, the Senators' defense corps is set, with Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch likely to battle for the final spot on the roster. A more interesting duel will be between Bishop and Robin Lehner to backup Anderson. Both could see starts in the NHL this season.