2011-12 season preview: Ottawa Senators

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2010-11 record: 32-40-10, 74 points; 5th in Northeast; 13th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Not that long ago, the Senators boasted one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, with a star-studded top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson supported by talents like Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat. (History is still trying to cope with what Wade Redden meant to those teams.)

The 2010-11 version was a far cry from those glory days. Heatley, Chara and Havlat are long gone while Spezza struggles to stay healthy and Alfredsson is likely a season or two from riding off into the sunset. GM Bryan Murray keeps firing coaches, but the hope is that former Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean can make magic with an ugly roster.

MacLean’s mustache is magical, if nothing else.

Offense

Only the New Jersey Devils (174 … seriously) scored fewer goals that Ottawa’s pitiful 192 last season. Despite missing 20 games, Spezza topped all Senators players with 57 points. Their second highest point producer was All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson (45). No one else broke the 40-point barrier. Yup, that edition was pathetic.

Nikita Filatov is the most notable offensive addition (stop laughing), unless you count first-round pick Mika Zibanejad. The one bright side – and expect this to be a running theme – is that the Senators basically have nowhere to go but up.

Defense

Well, uh … they still have Chris Phillips. Karlsson made the All-Star team, too. So they have that going for them.

The Senators probably wish they could take their logjam of defensemen and combine a few of them into a Frankenstein monster who could actually make a difference on this team. Imaginary mad science aside, there is at least one dream that isn’t totally crazy: maybe Sergei Gonchar can get his act together after an abysmal debut season. If Spezza and Alfredsson are healthy, the Senators might have a shot at putting a passable power play together with a rejiggered Gonchar, creating a combination that might help them steal a few games.

Goalies

Even though his contract is highly questionable, the Senators made a solid move in tabbing Craig Anderson as their goalie of the (near) future. Anderson struggled mightily last season after carrying a flawed Colorado team to the playoffs in 2009-10, but his previous work suggests that he can be at least an average starter in the NHL. That probably won’t be enough for next season, but if they can start putting things together, he should help them turn things around long-term.

Alex Auld has the chops to give Anderson a breather every know and then, which is a relief because Anderson hasn’t had a full-time workload very often in his career.

Coaching

MacLean matured as a coach in Detroit’s system and followed Mike Babcock around as his mustachioed right-hand man. A lot of teams are going the ‘hire the hot AHL coach’ route, but San Jose excelled nicely with the ‘hire a Red Wings assistant’ routine. Perhaps MacLean will produce similar results as mostly-successful Todd McLellan has.

Breakout candidate

Line combinations tend to change a lot in the NHL and there have been rumors that Alfredsson won’t play alongside Spezza this season (presumably to spread out the team’s offense and cover up for some lackluster depth). It wouldn’t be surprising if they found themselves together quite often next season, though, which could bode well for young winger Bobby Butler. He scored 10 goals in 36 NHL games last season and could very well flirt with 20-25 if he gets significant opportunities alongside Spezza and/or Alfredsson.

Best-case scenario

If you’re a season-ticket holder: MacLean motivates an unproven roster to provide depth for the team’s small stable of stars. Anderson stands on his head most nights, proving that last season was the fluke, not 2009-10. Spezza and Alfredsson put together healthy seasons and average close to a point-per-game each. The Senators make it to the playoffs and scare a division winner in the first round before bowing out in Game 6 or 7.

If you’re a big-picture fan: Spezza, Anderson and MacLean do just well enough to retain Murray’s faith for the near future. Alfredsson serves a greater purpose, whether it means showing young kids the ropes, retiring at the end of the season or producing a surprisingly strong trade package at the deadline. The Senators pull off the rare feat of being both respectable and a lottery team, allowing them to stock up on another set of prospects while earning a little patience from fans and the beer can hoarding media.

Reality

The Senators are a lousy team, although Spezza and Alfredsson could very well produce bounce-back years (while Gonchar could at least be functional). Anderson is a solid goalie who might hit some serious slumps behind a talent-poor squad, but should be given the leeway to stumble here and there.

Ottawa could flirt (at least briefly) with playoff contention, but it would be in their best interest to lay low in the cellar and re-stock the cupboard with young talent. This franchise is in a really tough spot, so making the postseason just to get bounced dismissively from the first round wouldn’t do them much good.

Yeo more surprised than anyone to learn of Stastny injury

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For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.

This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.

“It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.

“Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.

The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.

There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.

 

 

Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand

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Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.