Ottawa Senators season preview

Updated: October 3, 2005, 12:17 PM ET
ESPN.com

THE BOTTOM LINE

It was back to the drawing board for GM John Muckler after the Senators' last, gut-wrenching playoff loss to the hated Toronto Maple Leafs back in the spring of 2004. Four times since 2000, the Senators have been ousted by their provincial rivals.

The Marian Hossa deal, necessitated by the need to free up cap room next year in the hopes of locking up defensive anchors Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, will be closely monitored during the course of the season. Muckler traded his best offensive player, one whom scouts think is a top-five forward in the league, for a player who might ultimately be better but who brings with him a lot of mental and physical baggage.

Offense: Two years ago, Dany Heatley was behind the wheel of his Ferrari when it crashed into a brick pillar, killing Atlanta teammate and close friend Dan Snyder. Heatley returned to earn MVP honors at the 2004 World Championships, but his play has since slipped. He suffered a serious eye injury playing in Switzerland during the lockout and while he claims to be 100 percent recovered, scouts say his timing appears to have suffered as a result.

Heatley figures to start the season playing on a line with top draft pick Jason Spezza, who led the American Hockey League in scoring during the lockout and appears ready to step into the star role that's been predicted for him since he was 14. Talented Martin Havlat will likely fill out the team's top trio and he must answer questions about whether he's ready to take another step toward stardom.

Defense: The Senators remain one of the most talented defensive teams in the league. Chara was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2004, and Redden and Chris Phillips are both superior puck-movers, making the team dangerous on the transition.

Goaltending: Muckler and the rest of the Senators have spent a lot of time insisting they have no worries, but the bottom line is Dominik Hasek is 40 and played just 14 games during his ill-conceived return to the NHL in 2003-04, this after taking the entire 2002-03 season off. His unorthodox style of play demands that Hasek be in peak physical condition to succeed. If he hits the skids, Ray Emery is capable, but hardly the kind of netminder on whom you pin Stanley Cup hopes.


WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
4th YES … If Hasek holds up and if this talented, motivated cast plays to its potential, there's no reason the Senators won't be at or near the top of the conference.
BUT … If Hasek breaks down, the whole mindset of the team will change. If Heatley cannot return to form and if Spezza takes a step back in his development, the offense will suffer dramatically.

PLAYER TO WATCH
Jason Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001, has seen his development slowed in part by unreasonable expectations and in part by the cautiousness of former coach Jacques Martin. There are no excuses now.

HEY, COACH!
Muckler replaced the cerebral and under-stated Jacques Martin with Bryan Murray, a veteran coach and manager who likes a little sandpaper in his teams' play. Watch for Murray to provide a more demanding, vocal presence behind the bench, bringing more urgency to the proceedings.



FACEOFFS
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE --> CONSISTENCY
Acquiring Dany Heatley, left, for Marian Hossa. Not that Heatley is necessarily better. In fact, he's not right now. But Muckler got quality in return for a player he couldn't afford to keep.

WORST OFFSEASON MOVE --> GREAT WEIGHT
Every time the Senators get bounced by the Leafs in the playoffs, the cry goes out for a gritty, veteran leader in the mold of a Gary Roberts or Doug Gilmour. The Senators were unable to land such a player. If they don't find one by the trade deadline, that familiar refrain may well be heard again come springtime.

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Comings & Goings
Key Acquisitions:
G Dominik Hasek; C Steve Martins; RW Dany Heatley; D Lance Ward.

Key Departures:
RW Marian Hossa; D Greg de Vries; C Radek Bonk; C Todd White; D Todd Simpson; D Curtis Leschyshyn; G Patrick Lalime; G Martin Prusek; RW Rob Ray; RW Peter Bondra; C Shaun Van Allen; RW Josh Langfeld.

When we last saw them …
Marian Hossa, RW
Gone is Mr. Hossa, who had 82 points in 81 games during the 2003-04 season.
Patrick Lalime, G
Gone also is Mr. Lalime, who posted a 25-23-7 record in 2003-04
Quotables
Requesting a change of environment was an extremely difficult decision. … [but] it made the most sense to seek a change.
Dany Heatley on why he requested a trade out of Atlanta