New Senators coach pumped for training camp

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

OTTAWA - As the 20th Senators training camp opens this weekend, the big question of this rebuilding team has to do with its return to respectability.

Exactly how long is that road?

New coach Paul MacLean delivered a smooth Yogi Berra-ism when it was presented to him by interrogators sounding like the child 60 minutes into a six-hour drive (“Are we there yet?”) Thursday at the team’s 18th annual charity golf tournament.

“We want to go fast,” said MacLean. “But we have to do it slowly.”

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Medicals and physical testing will be held Friday at Scotiabank Place Friday, assuming it’s safe to go back into the building. The 59 invitees will be on Sensplex ice, in three different groups, Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m-1:30 p.m.

A group of Senators will charter to Toronto for the first pre-season game (yes, already) that night. Six more exhibitions will enable MacLean and management to determine some pressing personnel matters, like who will be the Senators’ second-line centre and which two defencemen will remain in Ottawa with Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba and Matt Carkner — that is, if GM Bryan Murray doesn’t find a new home for one of the above.

And when the season starts Oct. 7, the Senators will be out to improve on an awful 2010-11 campaign, which saw them with the NHL’s fifth-lowest point total and second-worst offensive numbers.

Scoring goals should be their most daunting task again this season.

The best-case forecast for the Senators in 2011-12? That they somehow squeak into next spring’s playoffs. In any place other than Toronto, fans can be assured it’s going to happen again sooner or later.

“We might not go real fast at the start, but we’re trying to build a foundation for something,” said MacLean. “Not only starting this year, but we’re trying to build a foundation for down the road, where we are competing for the Stanley Cup on a consistent basis, and that’s starts with A, B and C.

“We’re going to go slow at the start, but by the time we’re done we’re going to go fast.”

Asked when the Cup might again be in sight, MacLean refused to set a timetable.

“All I know is where I want to go and I have a lot of people around me who want to go to the same place,” he said. “The process is the process, I know that’s not a great word to use, but it is a process and we have to learn how to do it. Once we learn, we’re going to be there and we’re all going to enjoy it.”

The Senators won 14 of their last 25 games after they acquired a goalie (Craig Anderson), who did not look new to the position (like Brian Elliott), and following the organizational decision to unload salaries and ride the youth.

While Ottawa missed the playoffs, the prospects went on to rally the Binghamton Senators to the AHL championships.

MacLean said that “bonding experience” should bode well for the team’s future.

“I think the league is pretty even,” Jason Spezza said when asked if the Senators were in for a tough season. “The familiarity of playing with those guys for 20-25 games gives us a bit of a jump start this year. They’re young guys, but they’re not really new faces. They had the benefit of having a run together and the chemistry you get there goes a long way. I think some of that chemistry will rub off on our team.

“It seems pretty seamless. We have a ton of changeover, but it doesn’t seem that way. We know everybody from the last 20 games.”

Spezza, the one legitimate 90-point threat on the team, knows he’s going to have to raise his game.

“There’s going to be a lot of responsibility on myself. I know I have to be good every night,” he said. “It’s a challenge that as a player you want, and I’m looking forward to it.”

MacLean spoke about his desire for the team to get “just a little bit” better every day. Will that be enough to bring the Senators back to the post-season? He wouldn’t hazard a guess.

“I think we can compete,” said Spezza. “We have a great goaltender and some veteran guys are coming off years we think we can improve on. And the young guys are excited to be here.

“We feel we can compete.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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