Ottawa Senators, 44-28-10, lost in conference finals, $5.7 million in cap space
Biggest changes: The Senators had to have known that if they left rock-solid defenseman Marc Methot exposed in the expansion draft, he’d be snatched up by the Vegas Golden Knights. So when that happened, general manager Pierre Dorion lured two-time Stanley Cup winner Johnny Oduya, who will turn 36 on Oct. 1, with a one-year, $1 million “show-me” contract. And the Senators are hoping he shows them all the way into the Stanley Cup Final after a Game 7 double-overtime knockout in the 2017 conference finals to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Oduya is penciled in as a partner for Erik Karlsson, which means he might need to skate with an oxygen mask. No player in the Eastern Conference logged more ice time than Karlsson last season (26:50), and it took its toll. Karlsson, who finished behind Brent Burns in Norris Trophy voting after posting 17 goals and 54 assists, played with two hairline fractures in his left heel during the playoffs and had torn tendons in the same foot repaired on June 14. He was not cleared for the early part of training camp and could miss the start of the season. Oduya, meanwhile, averaged just 18:16 with the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars last season and will be counted on to play solid in his own end and kill penalties. The only other significant change came at checking-line center, where free-agent acquisition and faceoff specialist Nate Thompson was brought in following the departures of Viktor Stalberg (who left for the KHL), Tommy Wingels (who was signed by the Blackhawks) and Chris Neil (who retired).
Case for: No one expected the 2016-17 Senators to make a 13-point jump and return to the playoffs, not to mention come within a goal of facing the Nashville Predators in the Cup Final. The biggest reason for Ottawa’s surge was its commitment to team defense under first-year coach Guy Boucher, who deserved to be a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. If the Senators can once again frustrate teams with their passive 1-3-1 and defend-like-crazy system, they’ll be right back where they were last season. To do so, they’ll need Bobby Ryan to score goals during the regular season like he did in the playoffs. Ryan was ninth in team scoring during the regular season with 13 goals and 25 assists, then exploded for six goals and 15 points in 19 playoff games, second only to Karlsson (two goals, 18 points). Mike Hoffman (six goals, 11 points) also was a factor in the playoffs, as was Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who led the Sens with eight playoff goals after scoring 12 in the regular season. If Pageau can springboard that kind of production into the regular season and Craig Anderson continues to play like a Vezina candidate, Ottawa could challenge the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning for the division title in a very unsettled Atlantic Division.
Case against: When a team does not get even marginally better in an offseason, it means it has gotten worse. The Senators needed to make a play for a 25- to 30-goal scorer, and that didn’t happen. That will put additional pressure on a group of top-six forwards that failed to land anyone in the top 35 in goals (Kyle Turris led with 27) or points (Hoffman led with 61). Injuries are another issue dogging the Senators. In addition to Karlsson being questionable for the Oct. 5 season opener, center Derick Brassard is nursing a shoulder injury, veteran Clarke MacArthur, who returned to the lineup late last season after missing nearly two full seasons with concussions, was not cleared to participate in the early part of training camp, and Ryan Dzingel, who emerged as a 14-goal scorer last season, could miss the start of the season with a lingering wrist injury. At full strength, the Senators can go places this season, but they are not deep enough — especially at the forward position — to sustain any long-term injuries.
Trade bait: Turris ($3.5 million) and Anderson ($4.2 million) are entering the final season of their contracts. Both have played well enough to warrant extensions, but if they are not extended before the trade deadline, they could draw considerable interest — and return value. Otherwise, the Sens stand the chance of losing them to free agency.
Goalie situation rating: 7. Anderson rebounded nicely from a mediocre 2015-16 season, posting an impressive 25-11-4 record with a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage while shepherding his wife through cancer treatments. However, anything short of a return to the postseason could signal the end of Anderson’s eight-year run in Ottawa. Meanwhile, backup Mike Condon begins the first year of a three-year, $7.2 million extension that could allow him to eventually challenge for the starting job. With a career mark of 40-39-12, Condon has proved to be a capable stopgap during long absences by Carey Price while in Montreal, and Anderson.
Scout’s take: “The adjustments Ottawa made systematically under Boucher paid significant dividends. For them to continue the progress they made last season, they’ll need to get healthy early in the season. They’re going in with some injuries and that will be a real good test for their organizational depth. If they’re healthy, they can be where they finished last year. Otherwise, it’s going to be a real organizational test for them.”
Prediction: 5th in Atlantic