On the eve of a new NHL season, here are some things I’m thinking about with regards to the Senators and the league as a whole in a two-part feature. Some serious, some not, this is where I’m at with the game right now. Part One features thoughts exclusively about the Senators.
1. I don’t like everything Eugene Melnyk does but there’s no question he’s an owner who’s a fan first. Here’s hoping he’s well enough to make the trip to the CTC for opening night.
2. This is Erik Karlsson’s year. Which sounds like a strange thing to say about a defenseman entering his age 25 season with two Norris trophies to his name, but here we are. We’re two and a half years on from his devastating Achilles injury and Marc Methot will be ready opening night. Before his run in with Matt Cooke in 2013, Karlsson was an early season Hart candidate. Think that’s the territory we’re about to enter again. It’s rarified air – enjoy it.
3. Veteran Erik Karlsson. There was some pouting when Karlsson was named captain before the start of last season but the decision was the right one at the time. Now suddenly he’s entering his seventh season in the league and is one of the longest-serving Senators. Sens fans spend a lot of time thinking about veteran presence on the team with the departures of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and the situations with Chris Phillips and Chris Neil that we forget there are other veterans to fill the void.
4. Mesmerizing skill is often mistaken as effortless and skill players are often maligned for not working hard enough. I’m reminded of this when Karlsson is occasionally criticized as lazy. For the record I don’t expect the effort we saw from him in OT Monday night’s preseason game during the regular season. But sometimes I think we forget his incredibly speedy recovery from his Achilles injury and the commitment to rehab that must have taken.
5. It’s never been clearer that we have the best Dave Cameron.
6. I don’t spend a lot of time watching junior hockey for a variety of reasons (that it’s not always available in HD is a large part of that) and I generally don’t salivate over prospects. So it’s safe to say unless the Sens have a lottery pick, I don’t have concrete footing to make a knowledgeable assessment of the team’s picks. However, the past month has gotten me quite excited to watch Thomas Chabut grow and mature.
7. Sens fans often look at the organization’s glut of replacement level NHL defenders and NHL-ready blueliners as a negative thing. Mark Borowiecki, Jared Cowen, and Chris Phillips aren’t providing anything special at the NHL level and are blocking the way of potential NHL candidates like Chris Wideman, Mikael Wikstrand, and Fredrik Claesson. The trio represent a variety of skill sets and Wideman and Wikstrand appear to have the inside track, not the least because they possess different skills (read: puck moving) than the trio currently filling out Ottawa’s bottom pairing. However, this depth also insulates the team from making decisions that aren’t in their long term interest. Thomas Chabut has dazzled since hearing his name called in the first round in June. While his skating and offensive instincts are most noticeable, he looked great with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa’s pre-season opener. However, Ottawa’s depth means it’s likely a couple years before he’s seriously got a chance at cracking the Senators’ blueline. That’s not a bad thing at all. On the contrary, the list of defenseman Ottawa has rushed to the NHL recently includes Cody Ceci and Jared Cowen, illustrating that it doesn’t always work out.
8. While he’s played in the NHL before, Mike Kostka doesn’t feel like a likely call-up in case of an injury. Lots of factors working against him, but I can’t imagine the organization wouldn’t prefer to insert Wideman, Wikstrand, Claesson or even Ben Harper first. Kostka’s there to bolster the ranks in Bingo and that’s fine. Insulating younger players at the AHL level is ok too.
9. Curtis Lazar gave an interview during the intermission of Monday night’s game and revealed his rooming with several Sens teammates this year, among them Chris Wideman. The defenseman had the inside track at landing the seventh spot on defense this season, his living arrangements seem to cement that assumption.
10. Whose health is more important for Ottawa’s success in 2015-16, Marc Methot or Craig Anderson? It’s easy to say Andy, after all, he’s frequently found himself on the shelf during his time in Ottawa and with the goalie situation clearer than it’s been in a long time, Anderson has the confidence of his coach and needs to roll with it. On top of that, there are still reasonable questions about what kind of backup goalie Andrew Hammond will be. Anderson’s game was one of the few highlights of Ottawa’s play under Paul MacLean last year and papered over the play of a porous defense. However, with Methot in the lineup, the Sens were a much improved team. It’s becoming increasingly more apparent that he’s the best partner for Erik Karlsson on the team and helps Ottawa pick up its play at both ends of the ice.
11. It’s no secret the Canadian dollar has taken a hit and it’s predicted to slide further. What that means for the Sens is a roster that currently costs almost $83M Canadian. Had he stayed in Ottawa, David Legwand’s a $4M CDN expenditure and along with Eric Gryba and Robin Lehner, Bryan Murray was able to shed just over $6M USD this summer, or about $8.4M CDN. That’s not nothing. It’s one of several, sneaky quiet good moves from the offseason.
12. I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Borowiecki’s game, but I’m interested to see what his game looks like away from Eric Gryba, who I found to be more problematic on the third pairing last year. Though his partner is most likely going to be Jared Cowen so I might miss more than Gryba’s beard.
13. Lost in the trendy Tim Murray is a Genius wave is that he overpaid for Robin Lehner. It’s not that a veteran like Legwand won’t be able to mentor young players like Jack Eichel and the Sabres certainly won’t miss the money they’re eating with the addition. It’s just that there were goalies, young, promising goalies, to spare as GMs met for the NHL draft and somehow Tim Murray gave up a first round pick and took a salary dump for a goalie I can’t imagine other organizations were willing to give up any more than a second round pick for. Add to it the fact that Murray the Elder insisted on the salary dump and the return package probably should have been less appealing. Murray the Younger’s familiarity with the Senators may have worked against him in case and prevented him from exploring other options. Lehner may develop into an elite goalie and this has a good chance to be a good trade for Buffalo, but it doesn’t change the fact that they probably could have given up less to acquire the player they wanted.
14. What’s a realistic point total for Kyle Turris in 2015-16? 70 is a big number in the low scoring NHL, but it’s just six more points than he had in 2014-15, when he didn’t really catch fire until the streak. A full season playing with Mark Stone at even strength and on the power play as well as a healthy season from Clarke MacArthur and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he hits 70+. I don’t think Turris has more goals in him, I think he’s a 20-25 goal range kind of player, but I could see chipping in a handful more assists with a maturing Stone on his wing.
15. Mike Hoffman still feels like the best answer to the question “the Senator most likely to”. Score 30. Spend more time in the bottom six than top six. Get left off the power play. Have great chemistry with Mika Zibanejad. Have contract issues. Be traded mid-season.
16. The New Deals. Lots has been written about how Bobby Ryan, with his new contract which will see him make $7.25M per season and his declining point totals, needs to step this season. Fair enough. But he’s not the only Sens veteran starting a lucrative new deal. Clarke MacArthur, who had a somewhat disappointing 2014-15 that was marred by a concussion late in the year, might be feeling the heat too. He’s on the wrong side of 30 (it happens to the best of us) and while his dear isn’t as big as Ryan’s, but the $4.65M AAV is a step up from the value deal he signed with the Senators in 2013.