(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
Fans in Ottawa spent the entire year waiting for the sky to fall. It never really did, despite a bunch of reasons it should have.
After an early run of play that had him looking like a Vezina candidate, Craig Anderson succumbed to injury. Erik Karlsson did too, stepped on either accidentally or as part of a brilliant, brilliant scheme by Matt Cooke. Milan Michalek missed time. So did Jared Cowen. And five games into the year, Jason Spezza had to go in for surgery on his back. He didn't return to the Senators lineup until the second round of the playoffs.
That's correct: The second round of the playoffs.
Somehow, despite all this bad luck, Ottawa remained in playoff contention and even won a round. It was absurd. We've said before that the Jack Adams goes to the team that exceeded expectation the most, and with the expectation being that Ottawa was going to lose every game for the foreseeable future, two rounds of playoffs was more than enough for Paul MacLean to get his.
So the sky never fell. That is, until the season officially ended, free agency opened, and career Senator Daniel Alfredsson signed in Detroit. Somehow, even with the club landing elite scorer (except according to ESPN) Bobby Ryan, Alfie's departure overshadowed all.
Alfredsson says he made the move because he believes Detroit had a better chance to win. But we're not so sure that's true. The Senators, especially now that they're healthy, look pretty good.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau's playoff hat trick was just an extraordinary postseason performance.
The Senators' original plan was to get Bobby Ryan to play with Daniel Alfredsson. Instead, after negotiations with Alfredsson went nowhere, he shocked the hockey world, leaving the Senators for the Red Wings and the five and a half million dollars they were offering. That was a gut punch for Ottawa fans.
On the bright side, they do have a fresh new four-time 30-goal scorer in the fold in Ryan, and he might be able to help them get over Alfie. In exchange for his services, the Senators sent impressive young forward Jakob Silfverberg, who stepped up in a big way for the club during all the injuries, to the Ducks.
The Senators also added Clarke MacArthur in unrestricted free agency, and if they're lucky, he'll be able to replace Alfredsson's contributions, meaning Ryan can just be a massive upgrade on their top line. If Ryan can click with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, the Senators could have the second coming of The Pizza Line.
Andre Benoit and Mike Lundin have left the blueline. Incoming is Joe Corvo, who loves going back to places he's already played, so this is great for him!
Forward: It's Jason Spezza's team now, as the centre has been handed Alfredsson's vacated captaincy. After playing just 5 games in the 2012-13 season, can he put the injury troubles behind him and be the elite guy the club is going to need to combat the other elite centres in the Atlantic? In 2011-12, his last full season, Spezza had 84 points in 80 games. Can he top that?
It's definitely possible, especially with Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan skating alongside him. Both are coming off disappointing seasons, the former due to injury troubles, the latter just because, but if this line clicks, they could be one of the league's best.
Kyle Turris came into his own last season, carrying the load for the Senators in Spezza's absence. Now he's back to being the second guy, and in what will be his first full season as a Senator (thanks for nothing, lockout), he might be able to hit 20 goals. He's shown some early-season chemistry with Clarke MacArthur, which might be a tandem we see throughout the season. Who will be the third forward? Cory Conacher seems a safe bet, but Mark Stone or Mika Zibanejad could grab the spot as well.
Colin Greening could get a shot as well, but during the playoffs, he looked strong on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Erik Condra. That could conceivably be the Senators' third line again this year.
And, of course, Chris Neil will continue to provide toughness and leadership and grit and whatnot on line four.
Defense: This is Erik Karlsson's crew. Sadly, a skate cut robbed us of seeing what he'd do as a follow-up to his Norris trophy-winning season, but he's healthy now, and when he's on the ice, he changes everything. He's a shot machine, and a nearly point per game player from the backend. Unheard of in today's NHL.
If you're looking for a sleeper fantasy pick, grab Patrick Wiercioch, who will be Karlsson's partner, according to Paul MacLean.
"We feel that Patrick Wiercioch is ready to take on that role," coach Paul MacLean said in the hours leading up to Thursday's pre-season tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Right now, Patrick and Erik are going to anchor the first unit, and we're going to give them really every opportunity to show that they can do it.
"We anticipate that they're going to be very good."
That leaves Marc Methot to play with Jared Cowen and his fancy new contract on pairing two, with Chris Phillips anchoring a veteran third pairing alongside Joe Corvo, Eric Gryba or Mark Borowiecki, unless Cody Ceci really impresses in camp.
Goalies: Craig Anderson played 24 games for the Senators last year, and he was downright incredible in most of them, posting a 1.69 goals against average and a .949 save percentage. It seems unlikely he'll be able to replicate those statistics, but if the Senators get anything even close, he could be in contention for the Vezina his own mortality stole from him in 2013. Robin Lehner will back him up.
Paul MacLean comes armed with a three-year contract extension, a Jack Adams trophy as the league's top coach, and the world's dopest moustache. The walrus has done an incredible job with this club. They're in good hands.
General Manager Bryan Murray had a busy and stressful summer, handling the Bobby Ryan trade and the Alfredsson exodus, but the man still whistles while he works.
Give it up for the Joynt. Every team should have a Joynt.
Erik Karlsson. The Senators -- and hockey fans everywhere -- survived life without Karlsson for, one of the league's most dynamic players, for most of last season. Hopefully that never happens again. He's awesome.
The first line. Spezza, Michalek and Ryan could be lethal in their first year together, especially considering all three are looking for bounceback years. That's a recipe for success.
Paul MacLean. He is the walrus. He's also one of the league's best and most beloved coaches. Plus he has that lookalike. That guy rules.
Expectations. After last season, it's reasonable to assume that the now-healthy Senators are bound for glory. But MacLean has warned off the high expectations. This is still a team developing a lot of young players. Despite last season's promise, a step backward isn't out of the questions, especially since this is the first time in MacLean's tenure they've come into the season with actual expectations. Hopefully their weight is something the Sens can shoulder.
I think they can. The Bruins will likely be the class of the Atlantic Division, with the Red Wings not far behind, but Ottawa has the star power and the depth to keep pace with them at best and, at worst, snatch one of the last two postseason tickets. This is a playoff team.