Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.
A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.
Ottawa is our 26th-ranked team.
2013-14 finish: 37-31-14, 88 points, 21st overall; missed playoffs
Leading scorer: Erik Karlsson (74 points)
General manager: Bryan Murray
Head coach: Paul MacLean
Captain: Erik Karlsson
Opening night starter: Craig Anderson
Key acquisitions: David Legwand, Alex Chiasson
Key departures: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Stephane Da Costa, Matt Kassian, Joe Corvo
Off-season grade: C. Any summer where a franchise player requests a trade is bound to be a tough one. The Senators did what they could with the Jason Spezza deal, but the No. 1 centre will be missed. At least Chiasson, acquired from Dallas for the former captain, has a bright future ahead and might be capable of stepping into a top-six role right away.
Greatest strengths: For all of the talk about players who have moved on, Erik Karlsson is still here. The silky-smooth defenceman is only 24 years old and believes he’s finally put a scary Achilles laceration injury behind him. He’s also a puck-possession maestro. While Ottawa lacks star power beyond the Swede, it makes up for this deficiency with a solid, under-rated roster that looks capable of surprising opponents.
Greatest weaknesses: You can’t help but wonder how the Senators will manage down the middle, with Kyle Turris poised to assume Spezza’s role as the team’s top centre and 21-year-old Mika Zibanejad a possibility to slot in behind him. That’s a lot to ask of those players. It also remains to be seen what Legwand, at age 33, has left in the tank. Goaltending shouldn’t be considered a weakness for this group, but it is a question mark following a down season from Craig Anderson and with a backup in Robin Lehner who still must prove he can shoulder the load should Anderson struggle again.
Biggest story line to watch: What will Bobby Ryan do? Though Ryan re-signed before puck drop, the question is still relevant on the ice — where Ryan is Ottawa’s most offensively gifted forward. Ryan scored 23 goals during his first season in the nation’s capital and will be expected to boost that production in Year 2.
2014-15 prediction: Under MacLean, this is a team that has performed best when it’s been overlooked and counted out. Few will have the pesky Sens on their radar this season, but I believe they can rally together and sneak into one of the Eastern Conference’s wild card spots.