Daniel Alfredsson led the Ottawa Senators in scoring for the second straight season at age 37, proving he still was the leader on and off the ice. The longtime captain and face of the franchise continues to be revitalized by the heightened scoring after the lockout and remains an excellent source of production in the middle rounds. If your league passes over him way too many times due to concerns over his durability be sure to pull the trigger.
His longtime linemate Jason Spezza finished second in scoring with a meager 57 points. At times Spezza allowed Matt Cullen, Peter Regin and Mike Fisher to replace him on the depth chart due to either injuries or inconsistency. His 24 points in his last 19 games indicate that Spezza should bounce back nicely nice season. With a deep center position, he too could fall low enough to make him a high value selection.
Other forwards like Alexei Kovalev, Milan Michalek, Ryan Shannon, Fisher and the rookie Regin helped the Senators score in bunches. At two different times the team went on extended winning streaks with these players evenly and effectively spreading out the scoring. Michalek maintains the most long term value as the forward with the most pedigree and the most likely to start on the top line. Regin could find himself playing wing on the second line and post similar numbers to a similar two-way player: Antoine Vermette.
The Sens helped their blueline by signing veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar. When you consider Filip Kuba finished the season with four goals and 28 points, the team really needed a face lift. At one point the team placed both Chris Campoli and Alexandre Picard on their top powerplay unit and actually utilized them. Of course this success would be short lived as Erik Karlsson became the player he was tabbed to be late in the season and into the playoffs.
Next season expect Karlsson to continue to roll on the top powerplay unit. This time he will have one of the top powerplay quarterback in the league to mentor and tutor him as his game develops. Karlsson should be a top keeper in most leagues as he should continue to increase his point totals. If the young Swede falters, the veteran Kuba can easily fill in as well.
Brian Lee could also see increased time with Anton Volchenkov leaving for New Jersey. In addition, bruising d-man Matt Carkner held value for most of the season after he played his way onto the team. If you need to carry a PIM boosting player, a defenseman makes more sense as they generally score less. Carkner still chipped in with two goals and 11 points.
The job was given to Pascal Leclaire and only he could lose it. His mediocre showing and inability to stay healthy made sure he lost it to Brian Elliott– as Elliott started in 55 games. For some reason the Sens chose to not stick with Elliott despite the team failing to show up behind the inconsistent Leclaire. Perhaps because the team had to give Vermette to the Blue Jackets to acquire their supposed stud, they refuse to give up on him. Most indications show Elliott and maybe even Mike Brodeur to be a better netminder.
Going into this season, Leclaire looks like the incumbent starter. Elliott and/or Brodeur will take over once he shows the inability to stay healthy or maintain a higher level of play. The Sens, like every season, need better goaltending and recently signed Rick Wamsley to right the ship.
On the Bench:
Cory Clouston got a lot more out of this team than expected. After surviving the entire Dany Heatley fiasco, the second year coach helped the team actually play as a team which made them look like the Senators of the past. With a strong veteran core consisting of Alfredsson, Fisher, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil; Clouston will continue to lead the team without worrying about his job. He needs to continue to grow his young players like Regin and Nick Foligno so they can continue to keep this team succeed for a few years.
The Bottom Line:
The Senators may have played above expectations, but many teams did this past season. Players like Alfredsson and Gonchar will remain constants offensively as the team brings in more exciting young players. In a few years, the Senators may have the best blue line in the league if Patrick Wiercioch, David Rundblad and Jared Cowen pan out. Look for a mediocre team like last years to sneak into the playoffs. However, with other teams in the Eastern Conference drastically improving their teams, Clouston and the Sens need to stick together and play a complete and consistent game to stay in the race.