Stuck in the middle?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Will the Senators have to go looking for a man in the middle?

That is the million-dollar question as they return from the lockout and begin the road to the Stanley Cup on Oct. 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the Senators used to boast about having plenty of depth, that all changed after the elimination from the playoffs against the Leafs on April 20, 2004.

GM John Muckler decided he needed change and he wasn't going to sit still.

With new coach Bryan Murray at the helm, long-time centre Radek Bonk was swept out the door to Montreal (via Los Angeles) and local boy Todd White was moved to the Minnesota Wild.

Now, it's going to be up to flashy centre Jason Spezza to carry the ball in the middle as the No. 1 man, while Bryan Smolinski is at the No. 2 spot. If that doesn't work out, then the club might go looking elsewhere.

The big test for Spezza will be opening night when he goes head-to-head with Toronto captain Mats Sundin.

"The big thing we need from these two guys is consistency," said Muckler. "Jason Spezza had a chance to play last year in the AHL and he got a chance to mature. Now, he has to bring his game to the next level.

"I really think a guy like Smolinski can be our No. 2 centre ... all he has to show is consistency. I don't think there's any question that this guy has got the ability to be a strong centre for us. He just has to be able to do it all the time."

The Senators don't have any concerns about No. 3 centre Mike Fisher. He brings his gritty style to the rink and works hard every day.

He's expected to play a big role on the penalty-killing units and could be used to try to shut down some of the opposition's big-name players.

As for Antoine Vermette, he's being used in the No. 4 role at the moment, but could get bumped to the left wing if the Senators decide to give Chris Kelly a look.


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