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.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman to have hearing after illegal check to the head

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Ryan Hartman had a tough night at the office on Wednesday night and will have to answer to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety because of it.

Hartman’s hearing stems from a charging penalty he was assessed after lining up Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg‘s head with his shoulder at the 4:42 mark of the third period.

Soderberg was forced to leave the game after the play.

Earlier in the game, Hartman tried to line up Sven Andrighetto from a mile out in the second period but missed, prompting the latter to come and give Hartman some business, which included a stick below the belt to Hartman.

The Predators took Game 4 by a 3-2 margin, holding off a third-period comeback attempt from the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seinfeld’s Puddy attends Devils game to ‘support the team’

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The man known affectionately as Puddy (aka actor Patrick Warburton) was in New Jersey last night trying to rile up the Devils prior to Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You’ll remember Puddy, the face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody.’

That’s pretty much it, but he didn’t need to say much else to become an instant cult classic among Devils fans.

Warburton resurrected the character on Wednesdat night, doing his best to get the Devils and their fans amped up prior to the game.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the tactic didn’t pay off as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 3-1 win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Ducks wake-up call, Crosby passes Lemieux

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.
• For Ducks, getting swept should be a wake-up call (Los Angeles Times)

• Takeaways: an unlikely hero emerges as Sharks sweep Ducks (San Jose Mercury News)

Sidney Crosby passes Mario Lemieux for Penguins’ playoff points lead (USA Today)

• The Penguins are still too much for the Flyers (SB Nation)

• Hey, Saint Patrick. It’s a sin you missed how Avs refused to quit in 3-2 loss against Nashville. (Denver Post)

• In defying odds, Golden Knights’ success is not so good for sports books (USA Today)

Marc-Andre Fleury‘s ex-teammates with Penguins happy for his success in playoffs (NHL.com)

• Bodog: Golden Knights are Cup favourites (TSN.ca)

• Foligno brothers savouring first simultaneous NHL post-season (Toronto Star)

Blake Wheeler‘s path to being an elite player in the NHL took a winding road (Winnipeg Sun)

• How a financial advisor became the NHL’s only active black official (Sportsnet)

• Bill Peters has the inside track in Calgary, but there’s a lot of local blood to consider (The Hockey News)

• Von Miller just discovered hockey and he is WAY into it (The Loop)

• Humboldt Broncos tribute concert aims to bring in NHL players, alumni (Sportsnet)

• Town puts ‘giant hockey stick on our porch’ in Humboldt tribute (CBC)

• The case for each Vezina Trophy finalist — and a few snubs (The Hockey News)

• Why the Stanley Cup gets names removed every 13 years (Sportsnet)

• Up top, watch how the Penguins are coming alive in the postseason and the energy being displayed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be worrying their opponents.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Humboldt Broncos fundraising campaign ends with $15 million raised

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Almost two weeks after the tragic bus crash that took the lives of 16 players and staff of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, the GoFundMe campaign to help the families of the victims and those who survived has ended after raising over $15 million.

Sylvie Kellington, a Humboldt resident whose son played for the Broncos Bantam A team this season, started the fundraiser the night of the April 6 bus crash. Through word of mouth and the power of social media, support for the team spread and reached people all over the world. Eventually, the goal hit $4 million, but that was quickly surpassed and the total money donated skyrocketed.

The campaign ended Wednesday night with $15,185,700 raised from over 142,000 donations.

“We are all blown away,” Kellington told the Toronto Sun Wednesday. “I keep getting kudos for starting this page. I just want it to be clear that the people who opened their hearts with their generosity are the ones who made it successful. We are moving along one day at a time, one moment at a time. I think the outpour of support our community has received this past week is helping us and will continue to help everyone heal.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Earlier this week, Broncos’ President Kevin Garinger shared the next steps in the process:

The funds donated through the GoFundMe campaign will be transferred to a newly created non-profit corporation known as “Humboldt Broncos Memorial Fund Inc.” to be allocated for their intended purpose.

An advisory committee is being established to make a recommendation for the allocation of these funds, which will be held in trust until that allocation occurs. Once we have formalized the composition of this committee, we will provide you with an update.

Since the accident, support has poured in for the Broncos. Teams from various leagues, including the NHL, held moments of silence in the days following the crash and made donations to the Broncos’ fund. Driver D.J. Kennington put the Broncos’ logo on his hood for a race at Bristol and will now auction it off for the team. #PutYourStickOut, an idea from a friend of TSN broadcaster Brian Munz, went viral with current and former hockey players ranging from youth to professional taking part.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League resumed play eight days after the crash after a unanimous decision by the board. The Broncos were on their way to Nipawin, Saskatchewan for Game 5 of their series when the crash occurred. The league decided in the aftermath of the accident that Nipawin would play the best-of-seven Canalta Cup Final against the Estevan Bruins. The series is currently tied 2-2 with Game 5 Friday night.

“It really is (theraputic),” said Nipawin captain Carter Doerksen. “It’s getting back to hockey and doing what we love. That’s how we deal with things.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.