Sens’ biggest question: Defensemen not named Karlsson

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Let’s face it: most teams would see a big drop-off between Erik Karlsson and the rest of their defensemen.

Even so, whether by choice or budgetary constraints, it seems like “same old, same old” for the Ottawa Senators’ blueline beyond their Swedish superstar.

(OK, that’s unfair to a very nice defenseman in Marc Methot, but the general outlook remains pretty shaky.)

Take a peek at their projected pairings, via the Ottawa Sun:

Methot – Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Phillips

Other options who might bump depth guys: Chris Wideman and Jared Cowen

That doesn’t exactly jump out as a group that will smother the opposition (or consistently, effectively move the puck out of the zone failing that), does it?

It’s not just a matter of looking iffy on paper, as the Senators range from middle-of-the-pack to the bottom 10 in various defensive stats. After all, we can only really speculate regarding just how much Andrew Hammond’s fast-food Cinderella streak truly covered up some own-zone blemishes in 2014-15.

Even if you make the case for the occasional piece beyond Karlsson and Methot, it’s tough to imagine an honest GM being happy staying pat with this group. The Senators seem like they’ll need to live with “Karlsson and everyone else” for another year, nonetheless.

With the emergence of Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, Ottawa’s offense seems far more formidable, and Craig Anderson + Hammond make for an intriguing combo in net.

As brilliant as Karlsson is, you get the impression that this defense may force the Sens to outscore their problems.

Poll: Anderson or Hamburglar in Ottawa’s net?

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Now that they shipped Robin Lehner to Buffalo, the Ottawa Senators face a more typical situation in net.

On paper, it’s actually pretty straightforward, especially if you’re looking at money. Craig Anderson is, theoretically, the clear No. 1 while Andrew Hammond stands as the probable backup.

Of course, the No. 2 guy also happened to save the Senators’ 2014-15 season and earn a lifetime supply of Mc-whatever-he’d-likes, so perhaps it’s not that simple.

A quick breakdown of Anderson vs. Hammond

Again, one would assume that Anderson, 34, at least gets the early edge.

With far more experience and a $4.2 million cap hit for the next three seasons, he makes the most logical sense. He’s also upped his game since coming to Ottawa, averaging a .920 save percentage in that span.

That said, you sort of know what you’re getting with Anderson, while “The Hamburglar” looms behind a mask of intrigue. Hammond only boasts 24 games of NHL experience at age 27, yet he was sensational. Ottawa needed just about all of his 20-1-2 run to make the playoffs, and that cannot be forgotten.

It’s plausible that this could end up being a platoon situation at times, but let’s narrow things down a bit: when Dave Cameron needs a win, which goalie should be turn to? Who should be in the net in a win-and-you’re-in regular season situation or a Game 7 in the playoffs?

Note: in tribute to Hammond’s out-of-left-field run in 2014-15, you can write in a different choice if you feel like the Senators have another random sensation waiting in the pipeline.

Looking to make the leap: Matt Puempel

Matt Puempel got a taste last year. Now he wants more.

Puempel, taken by Ottawa in the first round (24th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, made his big-league debut last season and looked as though he’d stick around — only to suffer a high ankle sprain after 13 games, and miss the rest of the season.

“I’m actually impressed with how strong and how good it feels,” Puempel told the Ottawa Sun in July, while attending his fifth (!!) prospect development camp. “It probably bugged me until the middle of May with all the workouts and the rehab. I’ve been working out on it. The recovery is different for everybody.

“With a high ankle sprain, the ligaments inside have to heal and I have no restrictions on it now.”

A former standout with OHL Peterborough, Puempel has shown well at the AHL level over the last couple of years. Prior to his call-up last season, he had 12 goals and 32 points in 51 games, and there is hope in Ottawa that he can transition to the NHL like other past scorers in Bingo, such as Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, the rookie duo that carried the Sens at time last season.

It certainly seems like Ottawa’s brass thinks Puempel can produce at the NHL level.

In his brief cameo last season he skated on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan. But the way Puempel sees it, he needs to keep working, have a good camp, and make the Sens’ opening-night roster before thinking about potential linemates for this season.

“When you’re playing on a line with Mika and Bobby it’s a pretty cool thrill but at the same time it’s a job,” he explained. “You have to do your job and you can’t be wowed by anything out there.

“By that time I was more used to the lifestyle and the pace of the game and how I felt. I was confident for sure and felt good.”

Under Pressure: Bobby Ryan

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When you’re bringing home the biggest paychecks on your team, people are going to expect big results.

Most won’t demand team-best play from Bobby Ryan, as just about anyone realizes that the Ottawa Senators go as far as Erik Karlsson can take them.

That said, many are going to expect Ryan, 28, to score more than 18 goals now that his hefty contract is kicking in. Disappointing playoff results aren’t going to cut it, either.

His $7.25 million cap hit tops all Senators, and it’s a lengthy deal (the overall cost: seven years, $50.75 million). It’s a contract that could elicit some serious groans in little time, particularly if Ryan doesn’t find a way to be more than the 20-ish goal scorer we’ve seen lately.

Snipers have it tough in a lot of ways, as even the best hit cold streaks, sometimes based largely on bad luck. Even so, Ryan hasn’t exactly given himself a lot of leeway with fans who may otherwise hand him some benefit of the doubt:

It probably doesn’t help the American winger’s cause that the Senators employed cheaper players who produced similar results last season.

He only ranked sixth on the team in goals with those 18, as Mike Hoffman (27 goals, $2 million next season), Mark Stone (26 goals, $3.5M), Kyle Turris (24 goals, $3.5M), Karlsson (21 goals, $6.5M) and Mika Zibanejad (20 goals, $2.625M) all lit the lamp more often than Ryan.

As uncomfortable as that might be considering Ryan’s price tag, it could also stand as a “good problem to have” … at least if the Senators make the playoffs. (Although he’d probably be the first to admit that his 2015 postseason performance was underwhelming, too.)

If that isn’t the case, Ryan will be put under far more scrutiny, and people will again wonder about his ability to spell intensity. Ultimately, it all reads as a high-pressure situation for Ryan.

It’s Ottawa Senators day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa’s 2014-15 campaign was one for the record books.

Thanks to a remarkable 23-4-4 run down the stretch, the Sens staged a furious comeback to make the playoffs, becoming the first team in NHL history to qualify for the postseason after sitting 14 points back.

“It was special,” said Kyle Turris, per Sportsnet. “So many things happened and so many guys stepped up. It was a real special run and we won’t forget and we’ll learn from ultimately going forward.”

It was a special run indeed, and one filled with emotion. The Sens dealt with adversity throughout the way; GM Bryan Murray was diagnosed with colon cancer, assistant coach Mark Reeds passed away just before the playoffs and owner Eugene Melnyk was gravely ill before a successful liver transplant.

From that adversity, some new stars came shining through.

Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond went from obscure backup goalie to one of the NHL’s best stories, posting a 20-1-2 record with a .929 save percentage. The rookie tandem of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone carried the club offensively at times, with Stone finishing the runner-up for the Calder. Erik Karlsson won his second career Norris trophy, and Turris continued to emerge as a bonafide No. 1, playmaking center.

In light of all that, Ottawa’s season had to be considered a success, even with its disappointing opening-round playoff loss to Montreal.

Off-season recap

It was a quiet summer in Ottawa. All of the club’s young skaters — Hammond, Stone, Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Alex Chiasson — were re-signed, and Murray did little in free agency.

At the draft, Murray sent goalie Robin Lehner to Buffalo (along with David Legwand), which gave him two first-round picks; the Sens then proceeded to select Quebec League d-man Thomas Chabot, and USNTDP product Colin White.