2013-14 Season Preview : Ottawa Senators

Today we are going to double down on Canadian teams and take a look at the Ottawa Senators.

Earlier today we previewed the Montreal Canadiens, now we will look at the team who knocked them out of the playoffs; the Ottawa Senators. Two years ago, Ottawa was picked to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference but Paul MacLean got his team into the playoffs where they took the top seeded New York Rangers to seven games. MacLean worked his magic again and got the Senators back to the post season despite a rash of injuries to many key players.

The Senators made the biggest trade of the offseason when they acquired young goal scorer Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks for Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Nosen. They signed free agents Clarke MacArthur and lifelong scumbag Joe Corvo as well.

I have asked Mark Parisi from Silver Seven to give a better look into what hockey fans in Ottawa have to look forward to this year.

Despite a ton of injuries last year the Sens still got to the second round of the playoffs last year. How does Paul MacLean keep doing it and is he the best coach in the NHL?

The biased fan in me says yes, while the unbiased me says there might be a few, like Mike Babcock, who are better--because they've had more success over a longer span. I think the best answer is that MacLean is the best possible coach for a young Ottawa Senators team.

MacLean's success can be summed up in one word: Communication. I believe he's completely transparent with his players, and that does wonders. There's never any doubt about what they're supposed to do and why they're supposed to do it--and it helps that the callups from Binghamton are playing the exact same system, because MacLean communicates with Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson as well. MacLean is a player's coach, but only to a point--he won't play you if you're not going to do things his way. He just makes sure you understand what his way accomplishes instead of demanding blind obedience. This Cory Conacher goal is a good example of MacLean's coaching:

Conacher had been benched for a long stretch of the third period for some brutal turnovers, and MacLean gave him a shot at redemption with less than a minute left in the game and needing a goal. How could you not be motivated? We're seeing something similar with the selection of a new captain. MacLean has made it clear his staff will be making the selection, and that a player vote won't be held--but he's also been soliciting player input the whole time.

Ultimately, it looks like MacLean always knows the right buttons to push because he's always communicating with his team. He gets the best of both worlds in that he gets the final say, but also gets to make informed decisions. The end result is that he keeps putting his players in a position to succeed regardless of their experience level. It's really fun to watch, so much so that we've named the process "Trustache."

What are your thoughts on Daniel Alfredsson moving on to Detroit and how the situation was handled overall? Do you expect cheers or boos when he returns to Ottawa this year?

It still hasn't really set in that he won't be in Ottawa at the start of the season. Considering that Alfie had ample opportunities to leave the team over the previous seasons and chose not to, I don't think the possibility of him playing for another team was really a part of reality for Senators fans.

Personally, I believe Alfredsson has earned the right to finish his career on his own terms, and I can't bring myself to resent that decision, even if I don't agree with it. I think the situation was a disgrace all around, and considering that he wound up signing in Detroit for just $1M more than Ottawa's initial offer, I'm absolutely stunned the sides weren't able to come to an agreement. Ottawa badly misjudged his mindset, and he chose to make a decision he himself characterized as "selfish." Those two things probably would be dead last on my list of ways I envisioned his time in Ottawa ending.

As for his return, I really have no idea. It was such a polarizing event among fans. I'd put my money on a mix of boos and cheers, turning more to cheers as the game goes on. I don't think fans will be able stay angry at him once they see him play again. There's too much good history.

Can Erik Karlsson win another Norris Trophy this season?

Yes. I believe the Senators are more talented than when he won in 2011-12, and he was showing good defensive improvement before getting Matt Cooked last season. I think he won his Norris primarily on the gap between him and other defensemen, so I don't think he'll win another one--but I do expect him to return to form and put up another ridiculous point total. I would be very surprised if that doesn't at least get him a finalist nod. But if he laps the field--a real possibility--again, I think that would be tough for voters to ignore.

Who should wear the C left void by Alfredsson and why?

Jason Spezza is the frontrunner and I think he's going to get it. He was an alternate last year (and the past few years) and one of the people MacLean turned to as a communicator when he took over the head coaching job. Spezza approached MacLean asking for more responsibility, MacLean gave it to him, and Spezza ran with it. Since then, he's been very active in leadership roles, handling things like organizing the rookie dinners. While Alfredsson was a very determined, lead-by-example type of captain, Spezza is much more the gregarious and friendly type. Of course, he also has the talent to lead by example on the ice. He's the right guy for the job--serious when he has to be, friendly the rest of the time.

I am huge fan of Craig Anderson because I live in Park Ridge, IL and its great to see a local guy do well. There is no way can repeat is 1.69 GAA and .941 save% over an 82 game season, is there?

Nope, sorry. It's just small sample size at work. In 2010-11, Anderson had a 2.05 GAA and .939 save percentage over 18 games with Ottawa. Last year's numbers were over 24 games. When he played 63 games in 2011-12, his numbers were more pedestrian: 2.85 GAA and .914 save percentage.

The good news is that while his statistics might suffer over a longer season, we don't expect his play to. Anderson has found some kind of zen puck-tracking state, because he's seemingly always in the right position. The team is comfortable giving up a lot of shots because they trust Anderson to read plays and be in the right position to make saves. There's no reason to think that won't continue.

The Senators made a big move by acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. How excited are you with the move and do you think the price paid for Ryan was fair?

I'm terribly giddy about having Bobby Ryan on the team. We've already seen what Jason Spezza can do with a player like Dany Heatley, and Ryan has never had the chance to play with someone like Karlsson. Combine those things with MacLean's ability to put players in a position to succeed and I think Ryan has a fantastic opportunity to exceed expectations. I think Ryan is going to play prime minutes and find either lots of open ice or an open, talented teammate somewhere on the ice, and I think he's shown he's got the skills to make those things work in his favor.

The price? Sucks if he doesn't sign a contract extension. Jakob Silfverberg was instantly well-liked in Ottawa, and showed flashes of Daniel Alfredsson in his play. Stefan Noesen was the kind of talented, all-around forward that was going to fit on any line. It's unpleasant to lose him, though the team appears to have replaced him with Curtis Lazar in this year's draft. I think the deal was fair for both sides. Ottawa paid for what they believe Ryan CAN do in their system, and Anaheim got two talented young players (and a draft pick), one of whom is ready to contribute immediately. If Ryan sticks around for, say, the next 9 years, both teams will see exactly the dividends they were hoping to get. If Ryan chooses to explore unrestricted free agency after 2014-15, Ottawa better have won a Cup in the meantime, or they'll have nothing to show for the move.

Does Kyle Turris have to have Jason Spezza next to him in order to produce or was his numbers without Spezza just an anomaly?

Great question. Turris' numbers when Spezza was also in the lineup last season were obscene: 8P (6G, 2A) in 8G, and Turris is going to be playing with more talented linemates this season. Still last year represented a tie for Turris' career high in points, and he did it in one fewer game than 2011-12 all while playing against opponents' top lines, rather than their second lines, as in 2011-12. So, I don't know if I'd consider the numbers an anomaly per se--is breaking even against better competition an improvement?

In addition, Turris didn't have the luxury of playing with the same linemates as Spezza. Milan Michalek missed most of the year with a knee issue, and Silfverberg and Alfredsson flip-flopped on the right wing the whole season, meaning that Turris was playing with a turnstile of lesser talent. So, there are some factors to consider beyond his point total when looking at his point total.

That said, I don't think Turris has ever shown the ability to be a point-per-game center in the mold of Spezza, despite his high draft pick status. I think there are some interesting reasons for that, namely that he's behind on his development--this year will be the first training camp Turris has been a part of in three years, for instance--and the kid has basically been forced to sink or swim for much of the early part of his career. Some of that is definitely his own fault, thanks to his holdout in Phoenix, and some of that is just circumstances, since he was the next man up when Spezza went down. He showed major improvements in offseason training last year, and those habits should have carried over this year, so this is really his first chance to ease off the throttle a little bit and just develop. He's going to have a full camp to work with the coaching staff, he's going to have stable linemates, and luck prevailing, a stable position all year as the second-line center.

Ultimately, though, I think Turris is a much better player when Spezza is soaking up the hardest competition.

Thanks to Mark for answering our questions and helping us out with our preview.  The Senators come to Chicago on October 29th and the Hawks visit Canada's capital city on March 28th.