Can the Sens become a Stanley Cup contender?

CHRIS STEVENSON Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

Itís been a while since an Ottawa Senators team has had as many unanswered questions hanging over it heading into a regular season.

From the net on out, it seems, there is one uncertainty after another.

The answers will reveal themselves, some pretty quickly and others not until much later in the season.

Thatís the fun of the whole thing, right?

Here are the 10 questions that first come to mind...

Can Pascal Leclaire spend more time with his teammates than the team doctors? Thereís no question Leclaire has the potential to be the best goaltender the Senators have had. But two of his last three seasons have ended under the knife and not on the roster. If the Senators are going to return to the playoffs, they need Leclaire performing near the top of his ability for 60 games.

Is there enough fresh air? One of the knocks on the Senators since their trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2007 was the smell in the dressing room wasnít only coming from underwear. Several questionable characters have been exorcised from the room. Can the Senators once again become a team and somehow become more than the sum of its parts?

Will winging it work for Mike Fisher and help create the elusive second line that can score? The gritty forward has been used on the wing before with spotty results, but heís over there now to give rookie Peter Regin the chance to show he can do the job in the middle of the second line. If Regin canít get the job done with help from Fisher and Alex Kovalev, the whole forward mix could be shaken up.

Which AK27 are the Senators getting? Kovalev, the part-time pilot, has been flying under the radar with all the other stories going on in camp (remember that Heatley thing?) The 36-year-old has been notoriously up-and-down, season-to-season, week-to-week, game-to-game. But he has also been capable of summoning up great seasons after heís been written off. His 35 goals two seasons ago was his most since 2000-01. He dropped to 26 last season, so ...

How much does Erik Karlsson really weigh? And can he pull his weight at the NHL level? Thereís no questioning the rookie defencemanís mad offensive skills. Heís already the best guy the Senators have with the puck on the blue line. But can his slender frame stand up to the rigours of an NHL season? He hasnít played anything close to an NHL schedule before in Sweden (70 games including playoffs last year). Dig into the meatballs, kid.

Will ďCory Clouston, Part Deux,Ē be as good as the original? Sequels always have trouble measuring up to the first go-round. The rookie coach starts his first full season after taking the Sens to an 19-11-4 record after replacing Craig Hartsburg as coach last year. Will he be able to keep the Senators performing at close to the same level?

Will this be a break-even season for Matt Carkner? The defenceman finally made it onto an NHL roster to start the season after spending the first eight seasons of his pro career in the minors. He finally makes an NHL team and itís pretty much in his hometown. How much is he going to have to spend on tickets for family and friends from Winchester? He makes ďonlyĒ $500,000 a year. That doesnít go far with a top ticket of $240 a pop. Can the captain lead the way to the promised land? Daniel Alfredsson is the NHLís longest-serving captain. Seems like only yesterday he was walking around as a young player in white dress shoes ó drawing abuse from his teammates. Now he is being counted on to lead this team back to the playoffs. In other words, just another year at the office.

Can you win with a fourth line that has a cap hit of $5.4 million? That is the combined impact on the cap of the salaries of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil, who look like theyíll start on the fourth line. The answer is yes if the GM and his staff have found cheaper players capable of doing the job higher up on the roster.

Will the ex-Sharks have some teeth? Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo came over from San Jose for Dany Heatley. Maybe some fans are just happy to see Heatley go. Fact is those two chew up about $7 million worth of cap space and for that kind of jack, you need production. They need to get at least the 39 goals Heatley gave Ottawa last season. Thatís not out of the question.


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