Breaking down the Ottawa Senators ahead of NHL Free Agency.
Updated: Tuesday, July 1
Pending free agents
Unrestricted: 10 | Restricted: 6 | See full list
After playing deeper into the spring than any other Canadian NHL franchise in 2012 and 2013, those pesky Senators appeared poised to make a serious bid for the Eastern Conference crown in 2013-14. Core players Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson were healthy, and they had essentially swapped out a swan-song Daniel Alfredsson for a dangerous scorer 14 years younger in Bobby Ryan. This team on the come-up was guided by Jack Adams winner Paul MacLean.
Things couldn’t have looked more promising… until the puck dropped. Ryan failed to find chemistry on Spezza’s wing and finished with less than 30 goals for the first time playing a full season in the NHL. Karlsson’s 74 points were head and shoulders above all NHL blueliners, but sloppy defending led to the Sens surrendering almost 35 shots a game. Only the Leafs gave up more chances. Goaltenders Anderson and Robin Lehner saw too much rubber to get on a roll. And Alfie’s leadership turned out to be missed more than anticipated. Despite being a buyer at the NHL Trade Deadline — snatching up pending unrestricted free agent Ales Hemsky — the Sens whiffed on the post-season and finished in 20th place. Now Hemsky will walk, and captain-for-a-minute Spezza wants to be traded out of Canada and out of the spotlight.
Ottawa doesn’t have money to burn, so the Sens are happy that the Kyle Turris-Clarke MacArthur duo has exceeded expectations. But general manager Bryan Murray didn’t re-sign with the club to oversee a rebuild at age 71. Make no mistake, this team will aim to retool with aspirations of returning to the playoffs in 2015.
|Click player positions to see depth chart|
Areas to address
Murray’s No. 1 priority will be getting as much as possible in return for Spezza, an injury-plagued 31-year-old who has scored 32 goals or more in four separate campaigns. Spezza, who holds a limited no-trade clause, would reportedly like to go to the St. Louis Blues (second choice: Anaheim Ducks), a club with a super-deep defence corps Murray could be happy to help deplete. The Blues were rumoured to be offering forward Patrik Berglund — a 26-year-old with 20-goal potential — up in a possible deal.
Replacing Spezza’s point production is a tall order.
“Let me assure you, we’re looking to satisfy our hockey team. We’re looking to win here,” Murray told reporters last week. The GM said two teams have made serious offers. “We’re trying to get return that will give us that chance”
The Senators’ defence needs healthy, reliable bodies to limit shots on Anderson and Lehner (a must re-sign restricted free agent) and let Karlsson take his chances to generate offence from the back end. Dan Boyle, Matt Niskanen, Ron Hainsey and Brooks Orpik are out there. Another experienced presence could stabilize things; Sergei Gonchar, who flew to Dallas, was missed last season.
Ottawa cannot afford to have things go off the rails early next season, which is a contract year for Ryan, Anderson, Methot and MacArthur. If some of those guys feel this team is in decline, they could jump ship.
The Sens have already offered a deal to UFA Milan Michalek and have confidence he’ll return. Mike Hoffman will be back on a two-way deal. And centre Stephane Da Costa turned down an offer by the Senators and appears ready to jump to the KHL.
Possible signing targets
Robin Lehner (G): A goaltending market flush with backups should help Murray re-sign his talented RFA for a reasonable rate. MacLean has no problem tapping Lehner’s shoulder when Anderson gets hurt or under-performs, and the door could open for the Swede to seize the No. 1 role here.
Milan Michalek (RW): Sounds like Michalek likes Ottawa, and since the UFA is coming off a down year, scoring just 17 goals, which works in Murray’s favour at the bargaining table.
Matt Moulson (LW): No way Moulson re-signs in Minnesota, and the natural net-filler seems content to be a key contributor to small-market teams.
Mike Cammalleri (LW): With the big spenders surely eyeing available blue-chip centres like Spezza, Joe Thornton, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny, Ottawa would be wise to take a crack at Cammalleri, who might be tempted by the team’s playoff potential.
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