The Ottawa Senators are supposed to be rebuilding. Someone forgot to tell that to the team itself.
Most hockey experts had the Senators pegged for dead in the 2011-12 season. This was a team that had very little working for it. From an aging core to limited experience…from troubles up front to troubles in goal…this team, if one listened to most pundits, was on its way to dark days before hockey in Canada’s capital would get any better.
The Senators had other ideas. While it was true some rebuilding was needed, there were already signs of life near the end of the 2010-11 campaign. The Sens dealt for journeyman goaltender Craig Anderson, swapping struggling netminder Brian Elliott to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Anderson’s services. It was a move that on the surface was little more than two goalies swapping bad teams. But the trade paid immediate dividends for the Senators, as Anderson put the young Senators on his back and showed that it wasn’t a full overhaul that was needed, it was just a few tweaks. Anderson went 11-5- 1 with a 2.05 goals-against-average and a .939 save percentage after the trade, as the Senators surged forward in the last few weeks of the season. Unfortunately, the Sens fell short of a postseason berth, despite the myriad of changes made to the roster at the trade deadline.
Few expected any different in the 2011-12 campaign. No one expected the Senators to be a contender for the postseason. After all, rebuilding teams aren’t supposed to challenge for the playoffs. The Senators, riding the goaltending of Anderson, and buoyed by the addition of Kyle Turris, a former third overall draft pick, from Phoenix, surged forward, proving their detractors wrong. Defenseman Erik Karlsson burst onto the scene in a big way, notching 78 points in 81 games, and winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s outstanding defenseman. Captain Daniel Alfredsson continued to turn back the clock, leading the Senators into the playoffs against the New York Rangers. He did this despite sustaining a concussion near the end of the season.
The Senators, the unforeseen eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, stretched the East champion Rangers to seven hard-fought games before eventually bowing out. Despite the first round loss, the Senators have proven they are much more than a league doormat, as many experts had them projected at the start. They may still be rebuilding, but the Ottawa squad has served notice that they will not be the easy two points many originally projected them to be.
The Senators have approximately $26 million in cap space going into the 2012-13 season, and are in a good spot to use some of that cap space in the coming July 1st free agency frenzy. Fans would also like to see the Senators active in the Rick Nash sweepstakes, although at this time, it’s believed the asking price for Nash may be too high.
The Senators are assembling a young, bright, quick team, and while there will still be some growing pains, there’s no reason to believe the Ottawa organization cannot compete for the Stanley Cup in the very near future. General manager Bryan Murray has done a fantastic job rebuilding the core of the Senators, and coach Paul MacLean has the players on the same page. The potential for great things is there in Canada’s capital. A few more pieces of the puzzle, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the Senators still playing hockey in May.
This writer’s humble prediction sees the Senators second in the Northeast Division, and fifth in the Eastern Conference.