It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
Last season, the Ottawa Senators went 32-40-10 for 74 points, finishing two points out of the Eastern Conference basement (thanks, Florida). The Sens suffered through underwhelming performances by free-agent acquisitions and rookies; injuries to players like Daniel Alfredsson; and a month (January) during which they had a single victory.
Coach Cory Clouston was fired, along with his assistants. GM Bryan Murray, rumored to be out the door as well, was retained and given the task of rebuilding this team into a playoff contender.
It's going to be quite a task.
Nikita Filatov never could find his game or a place in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets, so the former No. 6 overall pick was traded to the Sens for a third-round pick.
Zenon Konopka, who came over from the Islanders, is a true hockey oddity: faceoff ace, penalty-minute leader and owner of company that makes Vin-Aire, an instant wine aerator that expedites the decanting process of red wine.
Goalie Alex Auld (1 year), winger Mark Parrish (1 year), goalie Mike McKenna (1 year) and defenseman Tim Conboy (1 year) were all signed as free agents. Lee Sweatt was signed by the Senators for two years … and promptly retired before camp.
Among the players who signed elsewhere were Derek Smith (Calgary), Cody Bass (Columbus), Ryan Potulny (Washington), Curtis McElhinney (Phoenix) and Ryan Shannon (Tampa Bay). Goalie Pascal Leclaire, winger Marek Svatos and defenseman David Hale were unsigned.
At forward, Daniel Alfredsson returns after scoring 31 points (14 goals) in 54 games, his season limited and then cut short by a back injury. He has two years left on his contract … well, OK, he has this year and then a year with a $1 million cap-hit-massaging salary, to be technical about it.
Jason Spezza led the Sens with 21 goals and 57 points last season, leading all forwards with 20:11 TOI in 62 games. He saw time with AHL call-ups Colin Greening (13 points in 24 games) and Bobby Butler (21 points in 36 games) last season.
Behind Spezza at second-line center … well, that was one of the big questions heading into camp. Peter Regin showed promise in 2009-10, and then scored 3 goals in 55 games last season. Stephane Da Costa was a college free agent coup for the Sens last season. Mika Zibanejad was the sixth overall pick in the 2011 and the face on one of our favorite NHL Draft photos.
Nick Foligno (34 points) was third on the Sens in scoring, to go along with 119 PIMs and a minus-19. Milan Michalek was fourth in points with 33, but had a minus-12.
What kind of ice time will Nikita Filatov earn? He projects as a top six forward … he's just never been able to consistently play as one.
Erik Condra had 11 points in 26 games and skated on the penalty kill. Jesse Winchester played 72 games and had 101 hits. Francis Lessard didn't produce a point in 24 games last season, earning 78 PIMs. Jesse Winchester will be in the mix as well.
Veteran Mark Parrish joins his fifth team in five seasons. Konopka will be a valuable presence down the lineup for his defense and physicality. Chris Neil (210 PIMs) will provide his usual brand of whimsy.
On defense, Erik Karlsson was first on the Senators with 23:30 TOI and was second in scoring with 45 points. Chris Phillips signed a new 3-year deal weeks before the trade deadline; he'll look for redemption after a minus-35 season that saw him tally just 9 points in 82 games.
Filip Kuba has a year at $3.7 million left on his deal, and was a terrible minus-26 in 64 injury-riddled games last season. Last summer's big free-agent prize, Sergei Gonchar, had 27 points in 67 games, including 20 on the power play. He suffered a late-season concussion, but that shouldn't affect his ability to collect $5.5 million this season.
One of the big hopes this season is that former first-round pick Jared Cowen (9th overall, 2009) can make the cut. He's a 6-foot-5 physical D-man with a nasty streak. (Ed. Note: Michael in the comments notes we spaced on David Rundblad, a talented defenseman moving over from Sweden after being named top D-man in his League.)
Matt Carkner had 136 PIMs in 50 games last season. Brian Lee also played in 50 games, skating to a minus-10. Patrick Wiercioch was up for eight games last season, and his last name is an anagram for Hi Rice Cow.
In goal, Craig Anderson was tantalizingly good in his 18 games with the Senators, winning 11 and posting a sterling 2.05 GAA and a .940 save percentage. With a four-year, $12.75-million contract, Anderson will be the man between the pipes for the Sens, and he seems pretty happy about that: "It's Canada, and hockey is Canada, as opposed to playing in Florida and Colorado." (Uh, ouch, Denver.)
Alex Auld will back him up, while Robin Lehner and Mike McKenna appear AHL bound.
"The Phantom Menace." In which a legendary sage and an underwhelming rookie embark on an epic adventure that's ruined by tedious scenes involving Senators.
Paul MacLean was an assistant coach for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock for the last several years. His last head coaching job? That would be 2002, with the Quad City Mallards. The hope here is that MacLean's the right coach to work with the team's multitude of young players while also instilling some of the virtues preached by Babcock's teams. In simple terms: To give a little Red Wings rub to the Senators.
Things were looking a little bleak for GM Bryan Murray — remember the flirtation with Pierre McGuire to become Sens GM? — but he was given a new 3-year deal in April to begin cleaning up the mess he made rebuilding the team.
Erik Karlsson was an NHL All-Star last season, but there was still a sizable "wait, who?!" factor. Expect that the change quickly: At just 21, Karlsson had 45 points last season, including 21 points on the power play. Entering his third NHL season, he's one of the top young D-men in hockey, wants to be a leader for this team and, god-willing, will be better than his minus-30 last season.
"YOUR MANAGEMENT STINKS AND YOUR BEAT WRITERS TRAVEL WITH DUFFLE BAGS FULL OF BEER. AND *THAT'S* WHY I WAS TERRIBLE."
Sergei Gonchar is now 37 years old and was a minus-15 last season. No one expected he'd lead the league in defensive scoring. But as the years advance and his role decreases, one imagines his numbers will too. On the stat sheet, not in his contract.
This "journey through the tumultuous life of two Ottawa Senators fans during the 2010-11 season" is probably the greatest combination of the NHL and the Backstreet Boys we've ever witnessed.
If Craig Anderson carries the entire team on his back. Anderson has played on a less-than-stellar team or two during his time in the NHL, facing a ton of shots and getting little help. The only shot the Senators have at a sniff of contention is if he steals a multitude of victories from otherwise certain defeat.
"Yield for Yakupov"?
The Senators are being picked by some to finish last in the National Hockey League, as they're in the midst of a serious rebuild. MacLean brings considerable experience but nothing in the way of NHL head-coaching experience. There are still a few shining lights on the roster. But overall, this is a team building for tomorrow … one that will be well-represented in the lottery, but far from the postseason.