2007-08 Team Preview: Ottawa Senators
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The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideThe Senators advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals this past spring. Although they were handled with surprising ease by the Anaheim Ducks, it should do nothing to take the luster off of what was in many ways a historic campaign. After enduring a rocky start under coach Bryan Murray, the Sens began to play more selfless, more responsible hockey, and they rolled into the playoffs as one of the best all-around teams in the NHL. Ottawa then vanquished many playoff ghosts by rolling through Pittsburgh, New Jersey and then the Presidents' Trophy winners from Buffalo en route to the finals. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of questions surrounding this team; chief among them, is it possible for it to take that next step forward, and who will supply secondary scoring? But for the first time in many years, the Sens start a season not having to make excuses for the previous season. OFFENSE
Throughout the playoffs, the trio of captain Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza was virtually unstoppable, finishing in a tie for the playoff scoring lead with 22 points each. Even though Heatley and Spezza endured a gruesome finals, the three have the potential to put up enormous numbers again this season -- provided new coach John Paddock decides to use them together. And therein lies the problem for the Sens. With the departure of Mike Comrie to Long Island, scoring depth will be a key concern, exacerbated by the fact that Mike Fisher arrived at camp with a wonky groin (although he should be ready to go at the start of the season). This makes moving backup Martin Gerber even more crucial to free up cap room before the trade deadline so Murray (now GM) can bring in some veteran scoring help up front. Shean Donovan once scored 18 goals for Calgary, so maybe he can help after arriving from Boston for Peter Schaefer. The contract status of Heatley (unrestricted) and Spezza (restricted), who can become free agents next summer, will be a constant distraction unless Murray can lock them up. DEFENSE
The Senators had the third-best defense in the East behind the Devils and the Rangers. That shouldn't change much this season with the emergence of Anton Volchenkov as a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate. Volchenkov and Chris Phillips combined to become a dominant force in the playoffs and gave the Sens terrific depth. The real question this season will surround Wade Redden, whose stock has fallen precipitously in the past year or so. Plagued by injuries, he played in only 64 games last season, then produced uneven play throughout the postseason. There have been inquires from other teams about Redden, who could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Trade rumors will only increase as the deadline approaches. GOALTENDING
Whatever questions were raised about Ray Emery's ability to shoulder the load as a No. 1 NHL netminder were answered last season. The soon-to-be 25-year-old stepped in as the starter when Gerber faltered, and he's never looked back. Emery finished the season 33-16-6 with a .918 save percentage and 2.47 GAA and followed with solid work throughout the playoffs (13-7, three shutouts). Emery underwent offseason wrist surgery and is missing some preseason time, but he says he'll be ready for Ottawa's Oct. 3 regular-season opener. Emery overslept and missed a team charter, later getting in a car accident trying to race to the airport. He also was involved in a road-rage incident before the start of camp, so there are some maturity issues that have to be resolved. The real issue for the Sens, though, is Gerber, who signed a three-year, $11.1 million deal (a lot to pay a guy to play 20 games). To be fair, Gerber actually played pretty well in relief down the stretch, but he has been a major disappointment. Murray will move him if he can, but it almost certainly would mean taking back another team's baggage in return. COACHING
Paddock, a longtime assistant and former coach of the Sens' AHL team in Binghamton, ascended to the top job in Ottawa in the offseason when Murray took over for dismissed GM John Muckler. Paddock hasn't been a head coach since the Jets were in Winnipeg, so there will be a period of transition. The fact Paddock coached many of the Sens' young players, including Spezza (with whom he has a good connection), will be a bonus. The question is whether he can maintain the all-for-one attitude that marked the team's turnaround midway through last season. One thing seems certain: Paddock will break up the Sens' super-line as Alfredsson will move to a second unit while someone such as Patrick Eaves will get a shot at playing with Heatley and Spezza. (Niko Dimitrakos got a look early in camp.) Murray tried the same thing last season, but ultimately reunited the trio for the playoffs. Time will tell whether Paddock can find a better mix that gives the Sens much-needed scoring depth. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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• Record: 48-25-9
• Division: Second in the Northeast
• Conference: Fourth in the East
• Playoffs: Beaten by Anaheim in Cup finals
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Does he travel with all his bags packed this season? Defenseman: Brian Lee
Can the ninth-overall pick in 2005 -- a 6-foot-3 defenseman who played for the University of North Dakota last season -- make a dent at training camp? Forward: Jason Spezza
The happy-go-lucky center took some criticism for his play in the finals. Can he bounce back to the form that saw him put up 87 regular-season points and 22 more in the playoffs?
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
It's not nice to slag the departed, but Brian Murray has been left a mountain of work by outgoing GM John Muckler. By the time next summer rolls around, Murray might wish he'd stayed behind the bench. Where Sens Will Finish
The Senators will finish first in the Northeast and second in the Eastern Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Ottawa Senators will finish this time around? Who will lead the Senators in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!