September 21, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Eleventh in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Northeast Division (36-35-11, 83 points). Replaced retread Craig Hartsburg with spiffy newcomer Cory Clouston from the AHL, who promptly went on a 19-11-4 tear that had the Ottawa Senators flirting with a miraculous run to a playoff berth before falling 10 points short. And then the fun began.
News of Dany Heatley's(notes) trade demand began spreading in early June, as one of the League's elite snipers asked out after just one year of his six-year, $45 million contract extension. This led to a summer of silence from Heatley and one of frustration for the Senators, as his demand, and their inability to deal him, handcuffed the franchise for most of the offseason.
A trade to the Edmonton Oilers for forward Dustin Penner(notes), centre Andrew Cogliano(notes) and defenseman Ladislav Smid(notes) was nixed by Heatley's no-trade clause and the unilateral desire of all NHL stars to never play in Edmonton. When he finally did address the motivation for his mutiny, his reasoning spanned from the vague (a "diminished role" on the team) to the silly (his ego was bruised when news about his trade demand leaked to the media ... as if it wouldn't eventually when he was traded.)
The advantage of doing these previews throughout September is that we no longer have to write two previews for the Senators: One for the team that's there and some hypothetical "if Dany does play ..." shadow preview. He's with the San Jose Sharks now, meaning that the Senators gain Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) and Milan Michalek(notes) and lose both a potential 50-goal scorer and a locker room problem that couldn't be solved.
The Heatley Saga is complete, which means the focus can be squarely placed on whether Clouston's impressive resurrection of this team last season can carry over into 82 games this season ... and whether some interesting personnel decisions in the last year will bolster his chances.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Michalek's not much of a mystery. He's good for goals in the 20s and 55-65 points, and he's seen time on the team's top line this preseason already.
Mystery, thy name is Cheechoo.
The 56 goals are a distant memory, and the 37 (in a row?) he scored in the following season aren't far behind. Jonathan Cheechoo had 12 goals and 29 points in 66 games last season for the Sharks. That's six points more than former Sens defenseman Brendan Bell(notes) had in 53 games. If Cheechoo can regain his scoring touch and consistency playing on a second line with (in theory) Mike Fisher(notes) and Alexei Kovalev, the Heatley trade becomes something more than a desperation move by a handcuffed GM.
Like Cheechoo, perhaps Kovalev just needs a change of address and responsibilities. Infamously sent home last season after an ineffective stretch for the Montreal Canadiens, the 17-year NHLer is two years removed from a stellar 84-point season; but he's more in the 65-70 point range typically. Is that enough for a $5 million cap hit? Hey, if Daniel Alfredsson's(notes) dazzled by his stick-handling skills, maybe there's something left in the tank.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Ottawa loses a lot of baggage in Heatley, but a lot of offense too. The Alfredsson/Spezza Heatley line was instant offense, a dominating trio and one of the most creatively named units in hockey (the Pizza Line). Bringing him back would have created a TMZ-on-skates level of tabloid scrutiny; but his offense will be missed.
The rest of the losses included goalie Alex Auld(notes) (Dallas), defenseman Brendan Bell (St. Louis) and center Mike Comrie(notes) (Edmonton), whose absence no doubt decreases the chances for an American Idol/Lizzie McGuire duet at the Sens' holiday party.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza(notes) are the last men standing on the team's top line. Alfie averaged 2.21 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey last season, a better average than Heatley (2.20) in a season that saw his point total drop from 89 to 74. Spezza (32-41-73) had a steep stats decline from the previous three seasons, in which he averaged 89.7 points.
So both players are looking for a Dwight Howard-sized rebound from the previous season, and are seeking to do so with a new linemate. The only time Alfredsson's gone over 90 points was in his blockbuster 103-point season in 2005-06, a.k.a. the year after the lockout. Spezza, on the other hand, can be a 90-point player again this season if the Senators come out of the blocks well and the top line can find chemistry with a new member.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): One of the valid criticisms of the Heatley trade was that it didn't address a pressing need for Ottawa: The blueline, and specifically a puck-moving defenseman for it.
Erik Karlsson(notes) could be the player that fills the need. The 19-year-old Swede appears primed to make the Senators out of camp and has skated with Filip Kuba(notes) in the preseason. Yes, there's a danger that a crowded blueline filled with one-way contracts could keep him down on the farm. But he could force the issue, too.
Plus, Alfredsson is the Mario to his Sidney. The like playing Tiger Woods together. How precious.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Karlsson would join a defense that saw one player score over 40 points (Kuba) while the rest scored under 25. Kuba has a fresh new contract with the Sens after that outstanding season, in which they rescued him from Tampa.
Kuba saw time with both Alexandre Picard (6-8-14) and Brian Lee(notes) (2-11-13) last season. Both Picard and Lee, who's listed at 6-2 and 202 pounds, have seen time with Chris Campoli(notes) in the preseason. Campoli, the former New York Islanders D-man, is one to watch: a solid offensive defenseman whose career has been hampered by injuries, but one that posted 13 points in 25 games for Ottawa last season.
It's a little mind-blowing to think that Chris Phillips(notes) is going to be a 12-year NHL veteran this season, but the career Senator is back again, hoping to turn it around after only the second minus-season of his career. Anton Volchenkov(notes), in a contract year, is looking to do the same.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): Pascal Leclaire(notes) lost his job and lost his franchise last season, as the Columbus Blue Jackets traded what appeared to be their goalie of the moment to Ottawa for Antoine Vermette(notes) after Steve Mason(notes) decided to win the Calder.
Injuries limited him 13 games last season, but he's healthy entering 2009-10. His resume has one tantalizing highlight: 2.25 GAA and a .919 save percentage two years ago. All Leclaire needs to prove is that those numbers aren't mutually exclusive with Ken Hitchcock's system, and that he won't just be the next name on the Senators' goaltending tombstone.
The Inventor (The Coach): Did Clouston's head-butting with Heatley force him out? Does it matter? Until proven otherwise, Clouston is actually more important to this franchise than Heatley was: He turned a moribund season around, and outside of one blockbuster move forced by a disgruntled star, management kept the team intact to see what the sophomore coach can do with it.
His aggressive forechecking system gave Senators fans a reason to believe in their young coach. Will it translate over the course of a full season? And can he manage his roster as effectively as he did after taking over the bench last season?
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Forwards A- (There's some quality depth at forward on this team.)
Goaltending: C+ (Sorry, just not a believer in Leclair. Hope we're proven wrong.)
Special Teams: (Will the effective power play grow or regress minus Heatley?)
"Given the question marks surrounding this team, we think it's asinine to predict how this team can/can't fair this year. Given those circumstances, Tim and I have edited a quote from the movie 'Beautiful Girls' to fit with what we're saying. Here it is:
"The Senators are an organization that can make you dizzy, like you've been drinking Jack and Coke all morning. But this season is built to make you feel a high full of the single greatest commodity known to sports fans - promise. Despite trading Dany Heatley, we have promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. Promise that this team can't possibly suck as much balls as it did last season. This particular aura can be found in the gait of a new roster - Kovalev the Enigma; Cheechoo the former Rocket Richard trophy winner; Michalek the key to 'The Deal' , Karlsson the rookie who lives in Alfie's basement; and Leclaire the Quebecoise goalie not named Lalime.
"The promise to make seasons gone by, every rotten one of them, seem forgotten and about make everything else seem like it's going to be okay. Like drinking Jack and Coke in the morning, we don't know how the day nor the season will end. We just hope we don't have to switch to doubles next season."
"2008-09 was like a soap opera for the Sens and their fans. If I would have told you everything that would have happened to this team over the last 2 seasons right after the cup run in 2007, you wouldn't have believed it. Multiple coaches fired, our starting goalie was bought out and banished to russia, our other goalie was sent to the AHL, only to re-appear in the hated Leafs jersey, there were drug rumors and of course the guy who needed options, though when there was only one (the one he wanted all along), he took it and ran. I couldn't even make this stuff up.
"I guess what to expect is optimistic pessimism. We have a lot of potential with our new acquisitions. For the first time in years, we have forward depth and a possible franchise goalie, along with several excellent prospects. If they all perform to their capabilities, we could use the underdog position we're in and we could shock the league. On the other hand, maybe I'm just looking at us through rose colored glasses. Either way, we have enough talent to finish ahead of the Habs and Leafs and that's a start."
"If I've learned one thing watching the Senators these past two seasons, it's to expect the unexpected. With so many players with so much to prove, including Alex Kovalev(notes), Jonathan Cheechoo, and Pascal Leclaire--not to mention returning players coming off disappointing seasons like Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, and Brian Elliott -- this team has the potential to surprise a lot of people, or to epically fail in trying."
"While all of the Senators' recent drama has taken place in front of the blueline, their defensive issues are a far meatier storyline as we head into 2009-10. Previously recognized as one of the strongest cores in the league, Ottawa's defencemen -- and its system -- have completely lost their potency. Christoph Schubert(notes) seems destined for the waiver wire, sooner rather than later. Filip Kuba serves as a warm body in the offensive role. Alexandre Picard and Chris Campoli are rarely going to be taken with any semblance of seriousness by the opposition. Highly touted No. 1 prospect Brian Lee (9th overall in the 2005 draft) has yet to show any significant strides forward, while shutdown workhorse Chris Phillips isn't getting any younger. Do you need some icing on that cake? Anton Volchenkov is scheduled to be a UFA at the end of this season.
"Still, there are glimmers of hope to come. Taken 9th overall in this year's entry draft, Jared Cowen(notes) is marked to be the Sens' future stay-at-home big man. However, one blueliner in particular is closer to breaking the final roster. He is Ottawa's next great hope: 19-year-old Erik Karlsson. Drafted 15th overall in 2008, the young Swede has already captured the hearts of Sens fans, who are desperate for an identity at the offensive defenceman position. Will the desire to put Karlsson on the fast track hamper the development of this blue-chip prospect? It's up to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray to decide if he wants to take that risk."
"I find it very funny that you phrased your email 'we're looking for one or two lines about what to expect from this year's Senators' because as a Senators fan I'm also looking for one or two lines that I can expect something, anything from this season.
"Other things I expect...
"To get significantly lower mileage from my #15 jersey of he who shall not be named. (It will look especially good in my closet hanging next to the #40 Lalime jersey, sadly I'm not joking.)
"That my moniker will wear out pretty quickly now though I'm not sure I'm witty/motivated enough to change it. Some suggestions include Danyheatleymovingvan, Danyheatleyscapegoat, Cheechoo Dinning Car or CheeChoo Chrain. Please send all future naming suggestions to your friendly Senators blogger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"So clearly you can see I'm not expecting a lot. Sadly following this team all these years has just left my expectations crushed come April/May/June (please circle appropriate month) so maybe having no expectations will just cushion the blow."
Don Draper Says ...
"You're seeing Dany Heatley leave and you're telling yourselves, 'This is all there is and I feel like it's slipping through my fingers like a handful of sand.' And then you look at your feet and you're standing on beachfront property."
Results May Vary (Biggest Issues Facing the Team): Can Clouston's system continue to push the offensive tempo, and can the right chemistry create more than one dangerous line on this team on a nightly basis (with players like Kovalev and Nick Foligno(notes))? Is Leclaire the real deal away from a defensive system? Will the players who played poorly last season (Mike Fisher chief among them) turn it around this year?
Warranty Expires (Prediction): With the Boston Bruins expected back on top of the division, the Senators will battle the Canadiens and Sabres for a playoff berth (assuming the Leafs don't muscle their way into shocking the conference). On paper, this is a playoff team: Balanced scoring, good goaltending and a crowded but dependable defense. But as Heatley showed last spring, one can never take anything for granted in Ottawa.
OK, outside of the fact that Ruutu is a carnivore. Take that to the bank.