As 17 months worth of rust falls off a bandwagon that has never reached its desired destination, the cold yet clear perspective from where we sit is this:
In 2005-06, the Senators will go as far as Ray Emery can carry them.
Love some of the changes GM John Muckler has made since the last time his team was bowing meekly to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs.
Love the frank and firm Bryan Murray taking over the coaching reins dropped by Jacques Martin.
Love the insertion to the lineup of young Brian, uh, Barclay, er, Billy Bob, ah, Brandon Bochenski and Patrick Eaves, if mostly for the fact they represent new hope that the Senators can finally learn to score goals when needed in the playoffs.
Love the addition of Brian McGrattan, who should lessen if not completely eliminate any of Tie Domi's intimidation tactics.
Like the addition of sniper Dany Heatley, but remain apprehensive about loving it -- partly because of the question marks that surround his physical and mental well-being, but mostly because of the fact that he arrives at the expense of Marian Hossa, who, for our money, is one of the top three two-way forwards in the NHL.
Commend Muckler for being able to keep his top three defencemen - Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips -- and convince the clean-up hitter of the blue line, Anton Volchenkov, to return rather than play in his homeland.
Also, anxiously look forward to the emergence of Jason Spezza as a serious threat to win the Art Ross Trophy, the development of Mike Fisher as one of the game's top power forwards, plus a couple of old favourites: the electrifying abilities of Martin Havlat and the smoking one-timers off the stick of Daniel Alfredsson.
All the good, plus the hunger to have big-league hockey back, is almost enough to make one forget that this is a team that traded its top two centres and No. 1 netminder for a grand total of three lousy draft picks -- a third and two fourths. Almost, but not quite.
GAMBLE WITH GOALTENDING
Yes, there's plenty of reason for optimism in Ottawa this NHL season, but there's also great cause for concern. Like, how could the Senators build such a strong team of skaters and take such a huge gamble with their goaltending?
How can Muckler be so sure a 40-year-old with a history of groin troubles is going to be able to go the distance?
What makes him think a Dominik Hasek who has only played 14 games in 3 1/2 years is going to even remotely resemble the Dominator he used to be? I don't think he will.
I think the Senators would have been better off with Patrick Lalime back between the pipes. Sure, he was La-lame his last night seen in an Ottawa jersey, giving up three flimsy goals in the Game 7 loss to Toronto 17 months ago. But I'd still take my chances on him bouncing back over Hasek rediscovering his greatness.
Lalime is only 31 with only four seasons of experience as a starter in the NHL. He still has upside. He was also the most popular individual in the Senators dressing room both before and after his meltdown that April 2004 night in Hogtown. The other Ottawa players loved him.
If you believe at all in team chemistry or in skaters playing harder for a goalie they want to protect, you have to worry about the effect his departure will have in the long haul, especially when he is being replaced by a guy whose history includes violent explosions and temper tantrums.
Hasek's past is also loaded with honours and awards, but he hasn't done squat since the 2001-02 season -- back when he could squat with full knowledge that his groin wouldn't give out on him.
As insurance, the Senators have a young man who has played in a grand total of six NHL regular season games and turns all of 23 tomorrow. They'd better hope Ray Emery has a good year.