Now that the Dany Heatley gong show is over, the Senators can focus on getting back to the playoffs.
Heatley, who was traded to San Jose for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, demanded to be moved out of Ottawa because he thought his offence was being stifled by coach Cory Clouston. A trip to the post-season isn't a given for Ottawa, which missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. But if the Senators can find some secondary scoring and finally get NHL-quality goaltending ... well, anything's possible.
Sun Media enlisted the help of an NHL executive who provided this analysis of this season's Senators.
The Senators have complained about a lack of balanced scoring the past few seasons. They relied on Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Heatley to share the offensive load. Michalek has plenty of upside potential. Cheechoo is a major concern with a lot to prove and he hasn't done much the last two years. Mike Fisher always works hard, but struggles to be consistent offensively. The concern is the Senators were forced to deal away a guy who is going to score 40 goals without even thinking about it. That's tough to replace, but maybe they'll have two lines that can score. A big question.
You hear this all the time, but the Senators haven't been the same since they lost Zdeno Chara. They've never recovered from it. He had a big, physical presence. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov have been thrust into the role as the No. 1 pairing and that doesn't work for them. Then, the Senators have a bunch of guys -- Chris Campoli, Brian Lee, Filip Kuba, Alex Picard and even top pick Erik Karlsson -- who like to play a finesse type of game. Jason Smith retiring was good news, but the Senators are going to need somebody who will make the opponent pay the price going to the net. Chara used to do it all the time.
It's all on Pascal Leclaire's shoulders. He has been a top goalie when he's in the net, but hasn't been able to stay in the lineup because of various ailments. He's coming off major ankle surgery and the pressure of playing in a Canadian market is going to be a lot different than anything he faced in Columbus. Backup Brian Elliott showed last season he's not ready for a prime-time role and if Leclaire gets hurt, trouble awaits.
Clouston heads into his first full season behind the bench. He did a good job after he took over last season, but did those final 34 games mean anything for a team out of the playoffs and will the players continue to respond positively? GM Brian Murray had better hope so. He's in the final year of his contract and the pressure is on. The club has drafted well under Murray, but the future is always now in Ottawa. That's just the way it works.
The Senators' culture has changed. This isn't the same old crew. A lot of the core has moved on or been moved out. They should be able to compete for a playoff spot, but their concern is a lot of other teams in the East have improved.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
FANTASY POOL HERO: Alexei Kovalev
UNSUNG HERO: Nick Foligno
TOUGH GUY: Chris Neil
SLEEPER: Mike Fisher
ROOKIE TO WATCH: Erik Karlsson
ON THE DECLINE: Chris Kelly