If you can’t beat ’em, sign away their top defenseman. That must have been Ottawa’s thinking this offseason after watching their second consecutive playoff run end in the first round to Pittsburgh. The Senators signed veteran and former Penguin Sergei Gonchar to a three-year deal.
The Senators finished 44-21-6 with 94 points to earn the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference last season. In the playoffs they ran into the Penguins, who swept them in 2008. This time they pushed Pittsburgh to Game 6 before falling in the deciding game in overtime.
Coach Cory Clouston is entering his second full season with the team. A potential headache looms for Clouston with his goalie situation. Brian Elliott won the job midway through last season, but he had a complete meltdown in the playoffs against the Pens as he allowed 14 goals before being yanked in Game 4.
Elliott took over for Pascal Leclaire during the regular season after inconsistent play and injuries forced Leclaire to the bench, but Leclaire stepped back in for Elliott in the playoffs. Add promising 19-year old Robin Lehner to the mix and nobody is quite sure who will be the man in the crease for the majority of the season for Ottawa.
On the other end of the lineup, the aging Ottawa forwards are certainly a mixed bag. Jason Spezza (23 goals), Daniel Alfredsson (20 goals) and Alexei Kovalev (18 goals) hardly looked themselves last season. Winger Milan Michalek regressed in his first year in Ottawa last season. After three consecutive 55-plus point seasons with San Jose, Michalek scored 22 goals and 34 points last season.
Mike Fisher is coming off a 25-goal career year last season and 24-year old Peter Regin appears ready to take off after a 13-goal, 16-assist campaign last season. The forwards are a mixed bag. However, if they can put together any semblance of consistency Ottawa could end up with one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.
But as good as the offense may be it will be hard to ignore the defense. Last season it allowed 238 goals (compared to the 225 goals Ottawa scored) and there is little reason to believe the 18th-ranked defense will improve from last season. Second-year player Erik Karlsson had a huge rookie season and he will need to continue his development playing among veteran defensemen Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips, with Phillips entering his 12th season with the Senators but his first in quite some time not being on the same line as Anton Volchenkov.
The Ottawa Senators schedule opens Friday Oct. 8 at home against Buffalo. The Senators then hit the road for five of their next six games including a rematch at Pittsburgh on Oct. 18.
Gonchar was the big signing, but it came just as Volchenkov departs to New Jersey. Other losses include Matt Cullen (Minnesota) Jeremy Yablonski (New York Islanders) and Jonathan Cheechoo (Dallas).
Ottawa Senators Predictions: Outlook
Ottawa will have a good chance against anybody they play and the defensive situation could have a way of figuring itself out, especially with the steady presence of Gonchar. A goalie needs to emerge early in the season as the go-to guy for Ottawa or it could be a rocky road in October and November. Ottawa is a serious contender to challenge favorite Buffalo for the Northeast Division.
Ottawa Senators Futures Odds
The Senators are listed at +1500 to win the Eastern Conference and +3000 to win the Stanley Cup. Their NHL odds to win the division are +450. After winning 44 games last season the ‘over/under’ for Ottawa wins this season is 42.5
NHL Predictions for Ottawa Senators
Ottawa certainly has the talent to challenge for a division title this season regardless of the defensive questions. At the price of +450, Ottawa has plenty of value to win the Northeast Division.
Doc Moseman is one of the pioneers of the NHL handicapping industry. Check out his Web site for up-to-the-minute NHL Odds and his famous winning hockey picks.