NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Erik Karlsson has watched as the longtime face of the Ottawa Senators has changed during the past 15 months.
The changes began when Daniel Alfredsson stunned many who thought he would sport the Senators crest for life when he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings on July 5, 2013. This summer the Senators honored the trade request of Jason Spezza, who had succeeded Alfredsson as captain, sending him to the Dallas Stars.
With two key members of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final team having moved on and the Senators trying to build their way back to being a title contender, Karlsson made clear during the NHL Player Media Tour earlier this month that he's thrilled to be in Ottawa and envisions himself finishing his career there.
"Yeah, definitely, I'm happy with everything in Ottawa. I love the city, I love the fans, I love the organization," Karlsson said. "The city of Ottawa has been nothing but good to me. It's a great organization. It's a competitive market and that's the way I want it to be. I'm very fortunate to be able to play for a Canadian team where everybody's so passionate about hockey. It's a lot of expectations on you, but that's great and it can be very rewarding. … I think we're moving in the right direction and I can definitely see myself spending my entire [career] in Ottawa."
Karlsson is signed for five more years, and the Senators would be thrilled if he keeps producing at the rate he did in 2013-14. Coming off an Achilles injury that cost him most of the previous season, he played all 82 games for the first time in his five-year career, scored a career-high 20 goals and finished four off his career high with 74 points.
Karlsson also had a star showing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics; he scored four goals and finished with eight points in six games to help Sweden win the silver medal. His season ended with the Senators finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference, five points out of the conference's final wild-card spot. It led to a long offseason, but one that may end up proving beneficial.
"I had personally a great summer," he said. "Got a lot of traveling done, and workout-wise for me it was good to be able to be in the gym for a long time and really work on my body and coming back from the [Achilles] injury I needed a long summer personally. But it's not something that I wished for, or if I could I would have traded for a short summer."
Two seasons ago the Senators not only made the playoffs but upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. In order to flip the script back in their favor, they'll need to improve on a 3.15 team goals-against average that ranked 27th in the League last season. They were 11th in goals at 2.79 per game, but will be challenged to match or better that in Spezza's absence.
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 54 | PTS: 74
SOG: 257 | +/-: -15
Veteran forwards Bobby Ryan
, Kyle Turris
, Milan Michalek
and Clarke MacArthur
all return, and there's young talent in Mika Zibanejad
and Mark Stone
that will be needed to take the next step. Also in that group is young forward Alex Chiasson
, acquired in the Spezza trade.
Karlsson is confident the defense, which still boasts stalwart Chris Phillips, another veteran in Marc Methot and developing stars in Jared Cowen and Cody Ceci, will get the job done. And he applauded the front office's decision to sign goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner to three-year contracts during the summer. Anderson turned 33 in May; Lehner is 23. Karlsson sees them as a winning tandem.
"I think that might be the strongest part of our team," he said. "We have a veteran goalie that's been around for a long time and has been playing great for us and he has the experience, and we have Robin who's younger and he's eager to get more time in the net. That's where I think we feel really confident that we have two great guys and they complement each other real well and get along. And they help each other out to become better players. Whoever gets to play, I think we're satisfied with what we have behind us."
Although he was sad to see some of the franchise's fixtures depart during the past two seasons, Karlsson is confident this group will create an identity and hopefully discover some of the same success.
"That's the unfortunate way in our business; you're going to see guys leave and come and go, and you're going to meet a lot of new, great players," he said. "For us, I think [Alfredsson] leaving and now Spezza, it's been two key players for a long time and obviously that's going to change the look of our dressing room and we're going to miss them, but at the same time I think everybody's excited to move forward and build something new.
"That's what we have to do, I think, look forward. That's what we do every season, and I think the atmosphere in the room is great. All the guys are very excited coming into the season. I've spoken to pretty much everybody on the team, and everybody's had a great summer and everybody's looking forward to coming back and seeing what [this season] brings us."