Back to the Future: Sens lineup to have whole new look

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

Call it Plan B.

After a trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2007, the Senators felt they had the pieces in place to get back, and maybe even win this time, with a little bit of tinkering.

But after minimal roster changes, the spring of 2008 saw them eliminated in a first-round sweep by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in 2009, with more minor alterations, they didn’t even make the playoffs.

Last season, injuries and the fact they just weren’t good enough saw them go down to the Penguins in Round 1 again. So, in the tail end of a disastrous current campaign, the decision was simple. It was time to tear it down and start over again.

“Younger, quicker, better-balanced and hard-working is the type of team we want,” GM Bryan Murray said of Plan B. “To do so we have to draft well and do a good job in player development.”

Some key decisions will also have to be made before, during and after the summer.

So, in the spirit of that great eighties movie Back to the Future, it’s time to rev up the DeLorean (hey, we can dream, can’t we?) and spring ahead a few months.

Goalie Craig Anderson has to be re-signed. He was on management’s radar months ago as an upcoming free agent who could look very good in a Senators shirt. A slick trade to get him out of Colorado before that has proven the Senators right with their hunch.

In six games, Anderson has looked very much like a goalie the Senators can build around — at least until Robin Lehner is ready to become a full-time, No. 1 NHL ’tender.

Plan B includes going forward with a young and talented group of defencemen. But what will the Ottawa blue line look like next season?

Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson will be the top three names on the depth chart, in some order. And Matt Carkner will occupy a spot on the 5-6 combo.

But then it gets tricky. Jared Cowen and David Rundblad are expected to be stars of the future, and could be ready in 2011-12. If they are, that could leave Filip Kuba and Brian Lee out of the picture.

Lee has an easy-to-take salary ($875,000) that could make him attractive trade bait, especially as he’s starting to prove himself as a capable NHL regular. Kuba makes $3.7 million and the Senators would love to move him, but there is currently no interest.

If they don’t buy Kuba out — which has to be a consideration — here’s a guess at what the pairings will look like to start, at least, in 2011-12: Phillips-Karlsson, Rundblad-Gonchar, Kuba-Carkner. Cowan could start the season in the minors and Lee, if not moved, would be an extra guy who could be rotated in with Kuba, Rundblad and Carkner.

Up front, the Senators are shaping up for an interesting training camp.

Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, Chris Neil, Bobby Butler, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Zack Smith will take up nine spots. Looking very much like they belong these days are Colin Greening and Erik Condra.

A decision will have to be made on UFA-eligible Ryan Shannon, as well as Marek Svatos. The plan is to add one Top 6 forward from the outside world.

There’s not much to jump up and down about on the list of UFAs available July 1, provided the Senators don’t pull a shocker and pursue Brad Richards. So they’ll be looking to make a trade at or around the draft.

Unless they do something dramatic and sign New Jersey RFA Zach Parise to an offer sheet (a fun thought), they’ll look at teams with cap issues heading into next season and try to pull off a deal similar to the invasions the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs made on the Chicago Blackhawks roster last year.

Philadelphia’s situation will be closely monitored, as will what Vancouver has to do to stay under the ceiling.

Depending on where they are at the end of the 2011-12 season, forwards the Senators could keep an eye on for the free-agent period starting 16 months from now are Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky of the Oilers.

Unless, of course, something goes terribly wrong in the meantime that sees the Senators turn to a Plan C.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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