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  • Next Move Ottawa Senators

    The 2010-2011 season for the Ottawa Senators was a complete disaster. At the start of the season hopes were high, fueled by the promise of a healthy Pascal Leclaire and Jason Spezza to lead the team. The off-season free agent acquisition of Sergei Gonchar promised to make the power play lethal. The wheels came off early and the Sens were out of a playoff contention before the trade deadline. As a result GM Brian Murray who appeared to be under a mandate to dump salary purged the roster.

    The main reasons for the poor season were mainly poor goalkeeping from the oft injured Leclaire, inconsistent play of Brian Elliott and injuries to key players like Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and others. The nightmare season was capped off at the draft lottery where the Sens went from dreaming of a top three pick in this summers draft to slipping all the way down to sixth.

    The Sens can look back on some positives however. First and foremost the promising play from several key young players. Erik Karlsson finished with a very exciting 13 goals and 32 assists (never mind the -30 for now). Goalie Robin Lehner saw some time out of injury need and desperation and played very well. He is the goalie of the future no doubt. And the late season free agent signing of the most sought-after NCAA star Stephane Da Costa. Rookies Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Erik Condra and Bobby Butler also had late season auditions after the aforementioned roster purging and all played well. Greening and Smith were recently re-signed.

    The roster purge also cleared up some cap space. The departure of Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Chris Campoli, Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev created over 14 million in cap space. The Sens will likely gain another 4.6 M by not signing Leclaire or Marek Svatos. The Sens have approximately $45.3 M committed for 17 players.

    So what holes do the Sens have to fill?

    First and foremost they need to hire a coach. This will be a young team for sure. Expectations will be lower than last season of course. Failure to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years will be tolerated as long as the team shows promise and potential. Candidates may include Kirk Muller, Craig MacTavish or even Pat Quinn. (At time of publish Ottawa has hired Paul McLean as their head coach).

    Next is a second line center. Spezza is a great #1 but you can count on him to go down with injury and miss close to 20 games. This means the second line center must be able to carry the load in his absence. Look for the Sens to fill this void the draft and trade. Free agent candidates may include Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich or Jason Arnott.

    The defense needs improvement also. Both Gonchar and Filip Kuba were a major disappointment last year. Gonchar's $5 M cap hit and age make him unmovable. Look for Murray to shop Kuba hard this summer and if he is unable to find a taker for Kuba's $3.7 M then either waivers with a demotion to minors or a buyout are all possibilities. The exile of Kuba is further fueled by the emergence of promising rookies such as David Rundblad, Jared Cowen, and Patrick Wiercioch. One or even two of these players will be in the NHL next season.

    Back-up goaltending needs to be addressed. Murray pulled off one of last seasons best trades swapping Elliot for Craig Anderson then promptly re-signing Anderson giving the Sens a legit #1 goalie. A new back-up will be required as Lehner needs more seasoning in the AHL. Look for a journeymen back-up from free agency to fill this void.

    Here are some predictions on what this all means and what may be in store as the Sens next move.

    Murray said on TSN at the draft lottery they had a player they liked if they end up with one of the top three picks, but they got the sixth pick. Look for Murray to go hard after that guy. He can trade up using the sixth overall pick and the 21st pick from the Nashville Predators or his own second round pick.

    Kuba gets a buy out. Cap hit would be $1.233 M for two seasons.

    Brian Lee is traded to the Minnesota Wild or sent to minors.

    Rookies to make the team are Rundblad, Cowen, Da Costa, Condra, Greening, and Butler.

    Making an impact in the AHL. Jakob Silfverberg, Lehner, Wiercioch

    The Bottom line. Sens are a team in rebuild right now, it will not take them as long as it will the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Edmonton Oilers. However, they will be a competitive team next season. They will be aggressive in acquiring some veteran top six forwards this summer. A second line center, a top three winger either by trade or free agency. The goaltending will be a strength for the first time in franchise history.

    The Sens next moves are:

    • Hire a coach (completed).
    • Draft a franchise player.
    • Fill holes at forward.
    • Develop an impressive crop of talented young players.

    Pete Harling is and always has been passionate about hockey. He loves to watch it, play it but what he loves the most is fantasy hockey. Email Coach Harling at [email protected].
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