OTTAWA - The expectations are low for the Senators. Not since 1992-93 — the season they entered the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning — have they been lower for the Senators as virtually every publication in the country has picked them to finish 15th in the Eastern Conference.
But, as they prepare to open the season against the Detroit Red Wings, at least one NHL insider doesn’t believe the Senators will be that bad. He didn’t go as far as predicting a playoff spot, but he insisted they may surprise. Here are his thoughts on a variety of topics:
ON JASON SPEZZA’S ROLE
The Senators gave him the ‘A’ because he’s ready for the next step in playing a leadership role. This is going to be an adjustment, but he bought in down the stretch last year. “It’s going to be a challenge because they’ve gone from being a Stanley Cup contender to a rebuild process,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how he handles that role.” Coach Paul MacLean has said Spezza will be used with different linemates. Some nights it could be Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson, while others it may be Nick Foligno, Nikita Filatov or Bobby Butler. “Some guys relish the role they’ve asked Spezza to play and some guys get frustrated by it,” he said. “They’re lucky to have him.”
ON THE SENATORS’ STRENGTHS
Rookie Mika Zibanejad has shown in training camp he’s a high-end prospect and that’s why he’s starting the season here. “A lot of people at the draft felt he was like Gabriel Landeskog and he was NHL ready,” he said. “He’s got high-end skill and he was chosen No. 6 overall for a reason.” Defenceman Jared Cowen had a strong camp, while David Rundblad came on late. Youngsters Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra have to pick up where they left off last season. Returning blueliner Erik Karlsson is only 21 and could have a breakout season. “The good news is they’ve got those kids. Nobody’s sure what role they’re all going to play, but they’re all prospects,” he said.
ON GOALIE CRAIG ANDERSON
He’s going to be counted on to carry the load and that means he’s going to have to play a lot of games because Alex Auld was brought here to be a backup. Anderson’s done it before with the Avs in 2009-10, but this is a different team. “Can Anderson handle it?” he asked. “The way I look at it, the situation is the same as it was in Colorado, he’s got absolutely nothing to lose. He seems to thrive in that scenario. There’s not a whole lot of pressure and he’s going to face some quality chances. He’s not like Carey Price, he doesn’t have to win. He’s not going to be under the microscope with expectations of winning.”
ON BEING SELECTED LAST BY EVERYONE
The Senators won’t have much pressure. Few people expect them to make the playoffs. The insider said the big difference will be coach Paul MacLean. “There’s going to be a good mood in the room, there’s going to be a good mood in practice and that’s something that has been drastically missing from that team the last few years,” he said. “The mood will be similar to when Bryan (Murray) was coaching ... that’s really important. This is a coach who is tough on the players, works with the players and has the respect of the players.”