Sens need to step up

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

For years, everyone has expected amazing things from the Senators. After all, they were firmly situated on the cusp of greatness.

Most observers remain cautiously optimistic about this year's season, in spite of some relevant roster changes this summer.

Those alterations in personnel, combined with the banner season produced by a number of Sens will only lead to higher expectations. For different reasons, a number of Ottawa players will need to rise to the occasion, more than ever before.

Chris Phillips: The defenceman is one of the prominent veterans on the squad -- appreciated the most when he's noticed the least, particularly during the playoffs. But in spite of his size and surprising speed, Phillips has never been considered a physical threat. With the loss of Zdeno Chara to free agency, No. 4 will need to step up the intimidation factor, in an attempt to pick up where Chara left off. Chara's departure also leaves open an assistant captain position that Phillips will likely inherit. Given his ability to lead by example, this shouldn't be a difficult transition for Phillips to make.

Chris Neil: Neil's efforts in the past, while appreciated, had consistently fallen under the category of a one-dimensional pugilist. Enter coach Bryan Murray with a freewheeling offensive style that many Sens benefited from, including Neil. The 27-year-old blossomed last season, providing a secondary scoring element with a career-high 33 points. Neil was rewarded for his progress this summer when he landed a three-year, $3.3-million US deal. Now comes the hard part: Proving his offensive worth by demonstrating that last year's point totals were not an aberration.

Anton Volchenkov: In a season plagued by inconsistency, Ottawa's feisty Russian defenceman saw his spotlight diminish with the arrival of Andrej Meszaros. The 24-year-old suffered further by beginning the playoffs on the wrong foot due to several injuries and eventually a sense of hesitation began to pervade his play. Worse still, the last memorable moment from his season involved a brutal giveaway to Mike Grier in Game 1 against Buffalo during the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Grier neatly passed the puck to teammate Chris Drury, and Drury lifted the puck past Volchenkov's stick for the overtime goal. It's a memory that the Senator would rather forget. There's no doubt that he has potential, but he will need a strong start this year, with consistency remaining paramount. The defenceman's name has repeatedly come up in trade discussions, and it will continue, until Volchenkov can regain his confidence.

Denis Hamel: Although Hamel is not a part of Ottawa's regular roster, the 29-year-old is well known to Senators fans as one of the AHL's elite players. Hamel finished last season in Binghamton with 91 points, and took home the Willie Marshall Award as the league's leading goal-scorer. His offensive firepower, speed and feisty nature are a seemingly perfect fit for the new-school NHL. However, whenever the winger receives the inevitable call-up to replace an injured player, Hamel tends to underwhelm. In his four games with the Ottawa team last year, he bagged only one point. In 2003-04, he spent five games away from the Baby Sens. Points scored with the NHL team -- zero. Hamel's window to crack the roster is closing rapidly, and the problem is complicated by the Senators' depth, which makes the likelihood of including prospects on a permanent basis unlikely. If Hamel is unable to score a roster spot on this year's team, it makes it difficult to justify his potential as a prospect.

All of the Senators will be facing higher expectations in various forms.

How they choose to deal with them remains to be seen.

AD HOCK: Have you seen Wendel Clark's painful acting attempt in a commercial for a sports-themed restaurant lately? Was Dan Daoust not available?

ZOO-ISLANDER: Rick DiPietro appeared in an amusing photo the day after his mind-boggling 15-year contract was announced -- hair slicked, and cheeks sucked in. He slightly resembled Zoolander -- a "model" made famous by Ben Stiller, who played the character. It only seems appropriate, seeing as models simply show up to work, pose awkwardly on occasion, but do little otherwise. DiPietro will be doing the same thing for the rest of his career.

BELINDA TIES ONE ON?: Liberal MP Belinda Stronach is rumoured to be dating Tie Domi, after the two were spotted together at various Toronto hotspots. Stronach isn't a short woman, and if she is seeing Domi, she should be grateful that flat shoes are back in vogue.


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