Risk Factors: Ottawa Senators edition

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Ottawa Senators

1. Are they running headfirst into a goaltending controversy?

There’s obvious value in having two strong goaltenders as opposed to just one and that’s what Ottawa thinks they have after inking Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner to three-year deals (Anderson’s doesn’t start until 2015-16) over the summer. The problem is that having two netminders that feel like they should be the starter can lead to tension and ultimately become a distraction.

So far both goaltenders have said all the right things. Anderson spoke in August about how this competition will bring out the best in both of them and when Anderson was named as the team’s starter at the beginning of training camp, Robin Lehner took the news in stride. But that’s what’s happened so far, before a game of consequence in the life of their new contracts has been played.

What happens if Anderson, whose deal is worth almost double Lehner’s, doesn’t bounce back after his rough 2013-14 campaign in the way that Ottawa’s hoping? Will he be comfortable warming the bench most nights? He won’t be a free agent again until the summer of 2018 when he’s 37, so if Lehner has a breakout season and firmly takes the starting job, then that might mark the end of Anderson’s days as a starting goaltender. Unless of course he asks to be traded.

What if Lehner is clearly outplaying Anderson, but still doesn’t get regular starts. How long will he be comfortable with that?

This could prove to be a headache for coach Paul MacLean as his handling of the goaltending situation will be heavily dissected by the media. Granted, that’s not a unique scenario, but it’s one that’s amplified when a team puts itself in this kind of situation.

2. Can Paul MacLean right this ship?

An argument could be made that it’s unfair to put the Ottawa Senators’ shortcomings last season on MacLean. Sure, they didn’t make the playoffs, but they weren’t a great team on paper to begin with. Yes, they regressed compared to their lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, but they almost certainly overperformed that season, especially when their injuries were factored in.

There is a reason why MacLean got the Jack Adams Award for his work guiding the battered, underdog Senators in 2013 and because of that, you might assume that his job is secure. As we’ve seen in the past though, winning the Jack Adams Award doesn’t buy a coach immunity. For that matter, the talent-level of the team isn’t always a acceptable excuse either — or at least that sometimes seems to be the case in the eyes of general managers. Sure, the Senators will have a tough time making the playoffs with their roster, but will MacLean be made an example of anyways if they fall short?

That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that MacLean wasn’t able to get the most out of his relatively young group last season and if he can’t fix that going forward, they’ll continue to underwhelm.

“Every day we come to work, it’s ‘why don’t we play harder, why aren’t we a better group?’ That’s the things that we discuss every day, and we’re still searching for a solution,” MacLean remarked back in March. Is it the fault of the players for not trying hard enough or at a certain point does it become the fault of the coach for not sufficiently motivating them?

Later that month, GM Bryan Murray passed on the opportunity to put his support behind the bench boss, which can be interpreted as a signal that he didn’t view MacLean as blameless for the Senators’ shortcomings.

It is worth adding that the Senators finished the season with a five-game winning streak, but they were all-but eliminated already when they got hot. Winning when the pressure’s off is one thing. Let’s see if MacLean’s Senators can consistently perform when it really matters.

3. They were 11th in goals per game last season, but their top-six looks pretty underwhelming.

Ottawa has one amazing offensive threat on its roster and that’s defenseman Erik Karlsson. The top line though will be a shadow of the Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfreddson, and Jason Spezza glory days. With the last player of that once dynamic trio gone, Ottawa doesn’t have a forward on its roster that reached the 30-goal or 60-point mark last season.

At this point Kyle Turris is looking like the top center and while he both has potential and has been progressing nicely, he’s still not a forward that’s likely to lead a squad to the playoffs. Bobby Ryan has a more impressive resume with four 30-plus goal seasons under his belt and the Senators clearly felt they couldn’t afford to let him walk, but his first season with Ottawa was nevertheless underwhelming.

Even if we assume that Turris still has another level in him after recording a career-high 58 points last season and Ryan’s struggles last season were primarily due to the sports hernia he was playing with for most of the campaign, they still have plenty of major question marks on their top two lines.

The Senators aren’t in a dire position offensively, but there’s no question that losing Spezza and Ales Hemsky over the summer hurt. Given that they were a facing an uphill battle to begin with, they really can’t afford to regress in this area despite their losses.

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.