NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Ottawa Senators are at a crossroads as they embark on the 2014-15 season. Will they continue along the path of inconsistent play that plagued them throughout last season and ultimately left them short of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in the past six years, or will they recover to become the "Pesky Sens" that advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2013?
Ottawa followed up a season-opening win with just three more victories in its next 13 games (3-6-4). The Senators went 7-10-3 from mid-November until late December, and a 7-2 road loss to the Boston Bruins before the break for the Sochi Olympics began another bad run. Their ill-timed 2-8-2 skid included a crushing 5-4 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on March 15, when Ottawa blew a three-goal lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third period.
A 9-2-1 run to finish the season came too late, and the Senators finished fifth in the Atlantic Division with a 37-31-14 record for 88 points, five points out of the playoffs despite winning their final five games.
Too many penalties. Too many goals allowed.
"We let it slip early, and we never got it back," general manager Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Citizen. "It has to do with discipline, it has to do with work ethic, it has to do with being ready to play the low-level teams as well as the good teams."
After enduring the stunning loss of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson to free agency following the 2012-13 season, Ottawa once again faces a changeover in leadership this season after Alfredsson's successor as captain, high-scoring center Jason Spezza, asked to be traded during the offseason.
With Spezza dealt to the Dallas Stars, the Senators are moving forward having lost a pair of the most productive players in team history in successive years.
That said, Ottawa boasts a superstar defenseman in 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson to build around. And many of the elements the Senators already have in place measure up to a solid team that looks to contend for a return to the playoffs.
"Everything bad comes with some good, that's what they say," Karlsson told the Ottawa Citizen. "I learned a lot of things from last year, and last year, in the long run, is going to do us some good."
SENATORS AMONG FANTASY TOP 275
The 2014-15 season is drawing closer by the day, so NHL.com has you covered with all the fantasy hockey advice you'll need on draft day.
Below are Ottawa Senators players who qualified for NHL.com's top 275 fantasy list. Each player's aggregate spot was determined by averaging the individual rankings of Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen and Matt Sitkoff. Also listed are each player's Yahoo position eligibility and any offseason NHL.com fantasy content that breaks down projected value for 2014-15.
19. Erik Karlsson, D (No. 2 among 'D'
80. Bobby Ryan, LW/RW (Bounce-back
92. Kyle Turris, C (Undervalued
153. Clarke MacArthur, LW
177. Craig Anderson, G (Overvalued
261. Mika Zibanejad, C/RW
267. Robin Lehner, G
Veteran left wing Clarke MacArthur was one of the bright lights that emerged in Ottawa last season. The 29-year-old earned a five-year, $22.25-million contract extension after he clicked on a line with center Kyle Turris and right wing Bobby Ryan. MacArthur finished fourth in team scoring with 55 points, including a career-high 24 goals. That was second on the team to Turris, who had career highs in goals (26), assists (32) and points (58) while playing all 82 games.
Ryan scored 23 goals in 70 games before he was shut down to have season-ending sports hernia surgery in late March. Ryan, who is entering the final year of a five-year, $25.5 million contract he signed with the Anaheim Ducks, sustained the injury in November and tried to play through it, but his offensive production clearly suffered. He had 29 points in his final 53 games after starting off with 19 points in his first 17 games with the Senators.
Despite the departures of linemates Spezza and Ales Hemsky, left wing Milan Michalek signed a three-year, $12 million contract to remain in Ottawa. The 29-year-old Czech figures to be on whatever develops into coach Paul MacLean's second line, with newcomers David Legwand and Alex Chiasson in the mix along with Mika Zibanejad.
"From what I remember, he's a real big strong player that isn't afraid to go to the net," Turris said about Chiasson, acquired from Dallas in the Spezza trade. "It's always nice to have a player like that on your team and causing havoc in front of the net, making the goalies think a little more. He'll add a big presence up front, and I'm excited to get him into Ottawa as well and get started."
Expect veteran right wing Chris Neil to line up once again with center Zack Smith and left wing Colin Greening on a solid third line. Rounding out the forwards, left wing Mike Hoffman, centers Derek Grant and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and right wings Mark Stone and Erik Condra will face competition from center Curtis Lazar, who will be bidding to stick with the Senators as a 19-year-old after leading the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League to the 2014 Memorial Cup.
Karlsson led the Senators and all NHL defensemen with 74 points, including a career-high 20 goals. The 24-year-old Swede played all 82 games in a strong return from surgery to repair a lacerated Achilles tendon.
ADDITIONS: C David Legwand (free agent, Detroit), RW Alex Chiasson (trade, Dallas)
SUBTRACTIONS: C Jason Spezza (trade, Dallas), RW Ales Hemsky (free agent, Dallas), RW Stephane Da Costa (free agent, CSKA Moscow), LW Matt Kassian (free agent, unsigned), G Nathan Lawson (free agent, unsigned)
PROMOTION CANDIDATES: C Curtis Lazar, RW Mark Stone, D Mark Borowiecki, C Derek Grant, G Andrew Hammond, D Fredrik Claesson, LW Matt Puempel
"I feel great," Karlsson told the Ottawa Citizen. "This summer has been really good for me. It's sad to say, but a long summer for me is probably good for me. I made a lot of progress. I feel way better than I did at this point last year. I'm doing some things this summer that I couldn't do last year. By the time the season starts, I should be miles ahead of where I was last year."
The Senators will feel great if Jared Cowen measures up to partnering with Karlsson as the team's first defensive pair. The ninth pick of the 2009 draft, Cowen, 23, embarks on his fourth NHL season with big things expected from him.
While Cowen struggled last season, Marc Methot spent significant time with Karlsson. The 29-year-old Ottawa native enters the final season of a four-year, $12-million contract he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Veteran Chris Phillips is a frontrunner along with Karlsson to take over the vacant captaincy. Phillips took rookie Cody Ceci under his wing last season when the then 19-year-old was recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis in mid-December, and made a strong enough impression to stick with Ottawa and play 49 games through the end of the season.
Eric Gryba got the lion's share of the remaining ice time over Patrick Wiercioch, and the signing of Mark Borowiecki to a three-year, $3.3 million extension means the Senators have seven defensemen with one-way NHL contracts plus Ceci in the mix heading into the season.
Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner each re-signed over the summer, and the 10-year age difference between Anderson, 33, and Lehner, 23, makes for a comfortable distinction between Ottawa's No. 1 goalie of the present, and its No. 1 goalie of the future.
Anderson signed a three-year, $12.6 million contract extension shortly after Lehner received a three-year contract worth a total of $6.675 million.
Each is looking to bounce back from a subpar season. Anderson's 3.00 goals-against average ranked 44th among 51 eligible NHL goaltenders last season, and Lehner's 3.06 GAA was 46th.
Despite his struggles, Anderson was 25-16-8 record with a .911 save percentage in 53 games. He expects the Senators will reduce the staggering 258 goals they allowed, 27th in the League ahead of only the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers.
"One thing you do have control over is how tough you are to play against and how tough you play defensively, and I think we were that team a few years ago," Anderson told the Ottawa Citizen. "We didn't know who was going to step up and score goals. People were injured. It was one of those things where, 'if they don't score, they can't win and let's work our tails off to make it next to impossible for other teams to score on us.'
"I can tell you right now, we're not the type of team that's going to win games 6-5. We're going to have to get into the mindset that we're going to win games 1-0 or 2-1."