Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators

20th anniversary may be rough for the Ottawa Senators

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Milestone anniversaries are supposed to be joyous occasions of reflection and celebration. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens, this will be a single year affair where the team honors the awful first team since the franchise was reborn in 1992-93. They’ll unveil new alternative jerseys with a retro-type feel and they’ll host the NHL All-Star Game on January 29. By all accounts, it should be a special year for the fans in Ottawa with all of the special events the organization has planned. If nothing else, the season will start off with a bang when Dany Heatley makes his triumphant return to Ottawa with his new team, the Minnesota Wild.

From the team’s official website:

“This will be a special season for Senators fans,” said Senators president Cyril Leeder. “From the all-star game to a new heritage jersey and special promotions and tributes, we look to recognize the great moments from the last 20 years, while embracing why hockey makes us such big Senators fans.”

“Canada is the home of hockey and our city is proud to have the Senators as such an important part of our community,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “The Sens’ 20th anniversary season will be a celebration of a great partnership between the people of Ottawa and the team.”

Let’s be honest: another great way for the Sens to celebrate the occasion and honor the fans would be to win a few more games than they did last year. Unfortunately, Mike Brophy of Rogers SportsNet has a harsh dose of reality for any fans expecting greatness this season:

“While many teams will kick off the year hoping to win the Stanley Cup, the Senators’ realistic goal will be to simply make the playoffs. Coming off a season in which they finished 26th overall, the Senators are a heck of a lot closer to that 1992-93 team that finished with a 10-70-4 record than they are to the team that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-07, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games.”

That’s rough. But hey, at least they have some good videos to get the fans pumped for the anniversary next season!

There’s no question the rebuilding effort started in earnest in the middle of last season. When it became apparent to GM Bryan Murray that the team was not competitive in the Eastern Conference, he started a fire sale that laid the groundwork for the future. Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Alexei Kovalev, and Chris Campoli were all sent out of town for a collection of draft picks. The void created by the jettisoned Senators gave guys like Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, and Erik Condra an opportunity to prove they could hang in the NHL. And they did. Oh, and the draft picks? When all of Murray’s wheeling and dealing was done, he ended up with three 1st round selections in this year’s entry draft that turned into Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel.

With the plethora of moves, Murray has the Senators in a position they haven’t experienced in a while: hope for the future. He’s done an enviable job of acquiring draft picks and assembling an AHL affiliate in Binghamton that won the Calder Cup last season. They may not have the most formidable NHL roster this season, but fans can take solace in the idea that help is on the way.

As far as this season goes, the Senators are going to need career years from some of their best players if they want to compete. Jason Spezza will have to continue to be a #1 center and feed youngsters like Bobby Butler and Colin Greening. Captain Daniel Alfredsson will have to fully recover from back surgery and channel his inner-2007 Alfredsson on the ice. Sergei Gonchar will have to recapture the magic that made him an elite defenseman and Erik Karlsson will have to continue his march towards the same elite status. But most importantly, goaltender Craig Anderson will have to show everyone why the Senators signed him to a 4-year contract extension after acquiring him in February from Colorado. He’ll have to play like the guy who almost single-handedly carried the Avalanche to a playoff spot in 2009-10. In short, he’ll have to steal more than a few games.

Even if the team struggles next year in the Northeast Division against the likes of the Boston Bruins and new-look Buffalo Sabres, at least they have a few young prospects in the pipeline to make for a brighter future. Now, if people are comparing the team to the original Senators in five years, then there will be some serious cause for concern.

After reportedly trying to trade him, Rangers put McIlrath on waivers

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Dylan McIlrath #6 of the New York Rangers takes the puck as Matt Moulson #26 of the Buffalo Sabres defends at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers are rolling the dice that Dylan McIlrath won’t get claimed. They’ve put the 24-year-old defenseman on waivers, not long after reportedly trying to trade him.

McIlrath was the 10th overall draft pick in 2010, a selection that many felt was a reach by the Rangers. Six years later, he’s yet to establish himself as a regular in head coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup.

The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it. Vigneault seems to have chosen offseason trade acquisition Nick Holden over McIlrath.

Despite the Rangers’ inability to trade him, it would not be a huge surprise if McIlrath gets claimed. His possession stats were solid last season, and defensemen with size and toughness are still coveted in today’s faster NHL.

McIlrath’s cap hit is $800,000. He can become a restricted free agent this summer.

Blues put Paajarvi on waivers

Magnus Paajarvi
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The return of Jori Lehtera was a welcome development in St. Louis — well, welcome for everybody but Magnus Paajarvi.

With the Blues needing to clear a roster spot for Lehtera, Paajarvi was placed on waivers on Thursday, per Sportsnet.

The decision comes after Paajarvi appeared in three games for St. Louis this season, scoring once while averaging just over nine minutes per game.

He has not dressed since an OT loss in Vancouver back on Oct. 18, though, as the team has recently opted to play Dmitrij Jaskin up front.

(Ty Rattie, who’s also been out of the lineup since the Vancouver game, is apparently sticking around St. Louis for the time being.)

Paajarvi has been down the waiver road before, getting exposed by the Blues on a few occasions. Even though he’s still relatively young (25 years old), on a cap-friendly contract ($700,000) and has nearly 300 games of NHL experience, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he gets claimed — especially since teams have had the opportunity to snag him before, and passed.

Not long after news of the Paajarvi waiving broke, the Blues announced Lehtera was officially activated from IR. He’ll be available for selection tonight when St. Louis hosts the streaking Red Wings, who’ve won five straight.

A group wants to build an arena in Scottsdale, but the Coyotes don’t seem interested

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes still don’t have a place to play next season, and based on a report, they don’t seem very interested in working with a group that wants to build a new arena in Scottsdale.

From Arizona Sports:

Multiple sources said the developer group working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had a meeting scheduled with the Coyotes the day after the team’s Faceoff Luncheon and the day before the season opener on Oct. 15 to discuss the possibility of the Coyotes playing there, but the Coyotes cancelled the meeting at the last minute for unspecified reasons. No make-up date has been scheduled.

When reached Wednesday evening, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc had this to say: “Throughout this process we have had a number of groups solicit our involvement. This particular group and site are not one with which the Coyotes are working.”

Why the Coyotes don’t have interest in this particular project isn’t clear. It may be they’re 100 percent focused on another site, or it may be the deal just isn’t right for them.

But they’ll need to figure something out soon. Their lease at Gila River Arena expires after this season, and while they could probably extend that for a few years while a new arena gets built, they’ve been adamant that they’ll be leaving Glendale as soon as possible.

Certainly, this week’s news out of Seattle won’t quell the speculation that the Coyotes could be on the move, even if ownership has insisted over and over that the team has a bright future in the desert.

Sens: Lazar will ‘benefit’ from AHL stint, no timetable for return to Ottawa

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 11: Curtis Lazar #27 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Colorado Avalanche during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 11, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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This probably isn’t the way Curtis Lazar saw things going.

Lazar, who Ottawa took 17th overall in 2013, is currently plying his trade for the Sens’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, after missing extensive time during training camp and the preseason with mono.

He was sent down on Oct. 11, and he might as well get comfortable.

Despite the fact he’s played nearly 150 career games at the NHL level, there’s no plan to bring Lazar back anytime soon.

“We’re not going to make any immediate decisions on Curtis,” Sens GM Pierre Dorion said, per the Citizen. “the best thing for Curtis is to go down there and play, and play as well as he can play.

“He can play in all situations, and I think it’s the right thing to do. Let him get confidence and when the time comes we’ll call him back up, but there’s no timetable to call up Curtis.”

Dorion acknowledged the club had previously toyed with the idea of sending Lazar down to the minors.  The 21-year-old was drafted to be an “impact” player for the Sens but, through his rookie and sophomore campaigns, played in more of a complimentary role, scoring just six goals per season while averaging 12:54 and 13:52 TOI per game.

So far, the plan of growing Lazar’s presence and role in Bingo seems to be working. He has two goals through four games, and scored the game-winner against Utica earlier this week.