Going from the team-to-beat to the team that collapsed to the team that drifted through an NHL season isn’t really the norm in the parity-riddled system, but it’s the exact journey the Ottawa Senators have embarked upon in these past few seasons.
In 2005-06, they finished with 113 points and atop the Eastern Conference. (Nothing happened in the playoffs).
In 2006-07, they finished with 105 points and good enough for fourth in the East. (Lost in Cup final).
In 2007-08, they finished with 94 points and seventh in the East after dominating opponents in the first half of the season. (Swept in first round).
In 2008-09, they had an irrelevant 83 point season and didn’t advance to the playoffs.
They’re the bipolar NHL franchise, but are poised to have a strong 2009-10 season, despite all that’s gone on thus far in the off-season, i.e. the Dany Heatley saga.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the two-time 50-goal scorer, Heatley, announced his displeasure with head coach Cory Clouston. That would’ve almost been tolerable, but Heatley went one step further–he demanded a trade. That, too, would’ve almost been tolerable, but, again, he went one step further–he refused to waive his no-trade-clause after management agreed on a package with the Edmonton Oilers.
The drama has similarly continued throughout the off-season, but as training camp rolls around, Heatley is still an Ottawa Senator.
So are Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. And so is newly-acquired Alexei Kovalev. When that type of talent fills a dressing room, good news, while not inevitable, is nonetheless plausible.
The offense has what it takes to be potent, especially if Heatley remains with the team and buys into what the coaching staff might demand from the boys. Even if Heatley gets dealt, the ROI might be impressive enough to salvage the loss of talent with organizational depth (and skill).
The defense, however, might be a different story. It’s a quintessential hit-or-miss D-corps. One could make arguments, both in favor and against the stability, balance and effectiveness of the defense, but many questions might be answered in training camp.
Both the offense and defense will be important for the Senators to have a productive season, but the Senators won’t have a chance at success unless newly-acquired Pascal Leclaire delivers in goal in his first sting with Ottawa.
He had an impressive 2007-08 with Columbus, going 24-17-6 wih a 2.25 GAA and .919 save percentage. He would need to post similar numbers to get the Senators to where they want to be.
They’re bipolar, those Senators are. Last year they didn’t do so well. Look out!