Although it likely won't sink in for most Sens fans until the team takes the ice against the Sabres on October 4, the fact remains that Daniel Alfredsson is gone. Some fans have even dubbed 2013 as the worst offseason in franchise history, despite the fact that the team got better, at least on paper.
It's easy to see why Alfredsson meant so much. He spent all 17 years of his career to this point in Ottawa, and captained the team through its most successful seasons. The way he left was nothing short of heartbreaking. Once he announced he would not retire, it was assumed he would return for one more season with the up-and-coming Sens, not flee for veteran-laden Detroit, but he did. While fans will still linger on his departure, the 2013-14 squad may have what it takes to turn their attention to the bright future ahead.
Despite huge chunks of missed time from Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Craig Anderson, the Sens were still able to make the playoffs last season, where they made some noise when they knocked off the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the opening round. Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar are the only major offseason departures, and if Joe Corvo and Clarke MacArthur can have seasons similar to the ones they had last year, there shouldn't be any real loss of production.
The big addition of course happened when general manager Bryan Murray sent Jakob Silfverberg to Anaheim in exchange for Bobby Ryan. Ryan is still young at just 26 years old, and is already a proven scorer in the NHL, making him a much needed asset for the previously offensively challenged Senators.
There's no question at this point that the Senators are a playoff team. They are better on paper than they were a year ago, so if they can stay healthy, along with the addition of Ryan, the question becomes whether or not they are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Even though restricted free agent Jared Cowen has not been signed yet, the Sens have over $11 million in cap space at this point, so there's definitely room for an addition at the trade deadline if they want to try to make a deep playoff run.
The next step for this team is to be considered in the same class as Eastern Conference foes like the Bruins and the Penguins were last season. The sad part is that now that Alfredsson is gone, they may finally take that step.
The Big Guns
Erik Karlsson (D): Karlsson had one of the all-time great seasons in 2011-12 when he racked up 78 points in 81 games. He just turned 23, and even though he's coming off a major injury (torn Achilles' tendon), there's no reason not to rank him as by far the best defenseman on the draft board. After suffering the injury, it was expected that Karlsson would miss four-to-six months, but made an astounding return in just over two. He anchored the blue line in the playoffs, playing big minutes and captaining the power play once again. The eight points he notched in 10 playoff games should erase any doubts that he'll be fully healthy when the puck drops in October, and ready to prove once again that he's far and away the best offensive defenseman in the NHL.
Jason Spezza (C): Spezza missed all but five regular season games with back problems last season, but was effective even when playing through the pain. He was able to record two goals and three assists in those five games, so there's no reason to believe he can't return to his point-per-game form he displayed in 2011-12, especially considering the addition of Bobby Ryan to the team. While the lines haven't been sorted out yet, putting Ryan and Milan Michalek on the top line with Spezza would give the Sens a lethal top line made up of three players who each scored more than 30 goals two years ago. If they slide one of those wingers away from Spezza, that would take some of the attention off of the top line defensively and could perhaps open up more scoring chances. Either way the lines shake out, Spezza is still a fantasy point machine, and could have another big year in 2013-14.
Bobby Ryan (RW): The Senator fans found themselves heartbroken when longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson bolted for Detroit after 17 years in Ottawa. GM Bryan Murray quickly gave them cause for hope when he landed Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. The 26-year-old scored at least 30 goals in each of the four years prior to the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but became too expensive for Anaheim after the Ducks re-signed Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to huge contract extensions. Ryan will either play on a line centered by Jason Spezza or Kyle Turris this season. He could be the offensive weapon the Senators need to push them from playoff team to serious cup contender. While it's reasonable to expect a slight drop-off in points this season as Ryan gets acclimated to his new surroundings, the fact of the matter is he's an elite goal scorer who will get all the chances he needs to put the puck in the net. He should deliver another productive season for fantasy owners.
Craig Anderson (G): Anderson missed about a month-and-a-half of the shortened season in 2013, and it very well may have cost him the Vezina Trophy. He finished the regular season leading the NHL with a 1.69 GAA and a save percentage of .941. Despite those sparkling numbers, Anderson's record was just 12-9-2, which can be attributed to a mostly innocuous Senators offense that ranked 27th in the league at 2.33 goals-per-game. If the stars align, Anderson should get more offensive support in 2013-14. Robin Lehner, Ottawa's backup, played well last season, but has yet to be tested as a full-time backup through an 82-game NHL schedule. Since Anderson should get the majority of the starts between the pipes for the Sens, don't be surprised if Anderson is the first goalie off the board on draft day.
On The Rise
Kyle Turris (C): Turris turned in a decent season in 2013, posting 12 goals and 17 assists while playing all 48 games for the Senators. He's still just 23 years old, and was probably in over his head at times last season when he centered the top line in Jason Spezza's nearly season-long absence. There won't be as much pressure on him when he returns to the second line in 2013-14, and there's a good chance he could get to play with newly acquired Bobby Ryan. The Sens could potentially load the top line with Spezza, Ryan, and Milan Michalek, but it seems more logical to split up the firepower. Spezza and Michalek have been successful together before, and Ryan and Turris would make a young, potent combo that could take over the top line scoring duties in the future. The smart approach with Turris would be to pay attention to the Sens lines when training camp begins, because if Turris is indeed centering Ryan's line, Turris could be a lot more valuable than most fantasy owners think.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (C): Pageau came up for the playoffs at the ripe old age of 20 and proceeded to post impressive numbers with four goals and two assists in 10 playoff games. He'll get a shot to be an everyday player in Ottawa to start the year and his great speed could very well keep him in the big league. He's a high risk pick, but there's definitely potential to be found here.
Two To Watch
Milan Michalek (RW): Sometimes when you get one player back, you really get two. While playing alongside Spezza, Michalek was massively productive in 2011-12, racking up 35 goals and 25 assists in 77 games. Last season Michalek battled through a knee injury of his own managing to suit up for 23 games, but only scored four goals while adding 10 assists. His production only improved with Spezza's late season return. With his knee now surgically repaired and assuming Spezza is healthy for the full season, Michalek could very well return to his 2011-12 form. Most fantasy owners will probably overlook Michalek after his 2013 scoring dip, so there's big-time potential to be had at a good value if Michalek is available a few rounds into the draft.
Mika Zibanejad (C): Zibanejad registered seven goals and 13 assists in 42 games with the Senators in 2013, and is yet another part of the future in Ottawa. The 20-year-old has a promising career ahead of him, and could stake out a spot in the top six as the fourth winger behind Milan Michalek, Bobby Ryan, and Clarke MacArthur. If he stays at center, it will be with the third or fourth line, depending on what the team has planned for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Keep an eye on how the Sens are using him in training camp to see whether or not he'll get the increased opportunities of a top-six forward.
Cory Conacher (LW): Conacher looked like a future star in Tampa Bay before being dealt to the Senators in March in exchange for goalie Ben Bishop. The 23-year-old was leading the NHL in rookie scoring, but understandably faded after joining the struggling Senators offense. His future is still bright, but the additions of Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan mean the Senators will probably use Conacher in the bottom six, at least to start the year. He still finished the 2013 regular season with 24 points in 35 games. Even though he probably won't put up those kind of numbers again, Conacher should be a good option in deeper leagues, since he will probably be undervalued, and has shown that he does possess a scoring touch.
Joe Corvo (D): The Senators picked up Corvo off the free agent market this summer after losing their veteran blueliner from the 2013 season, Sergei Gonchar. Corvo signed on cheap at just $900,000 for one season, and will likely play the same role that Gonchar played last year, seeing some power-play time and being part of the second defensive pairing. Corvo has shown some offensive value in the past, but his best years are almost surely behind him. He was able to record six goals and 11 assists in 2013 with the Hurricanes, and that kind of production could certainly be valuable in most fantasy leagues.
Chris Phillips (D): Phillips is the veteran on the team at this point, having played over 1,000 career NHL games -- all with the Senators. Although he remains a solid player, he'll probably only provide around 15 points again in 2013-14. Nevertheless, he's durable and plays every game. You know exactly what you're getting if you draft him.
Patrick Wiercioch (D): Wiercioch had a solid year in 2013, posting five goals and 14 assists in 42 games with the Senators. He's just 22 years old, and should be a staple on the Ottawa blue line for years to come. He could be in line for a big year in 2013-14, but it's not safe to assume he'll have a huge impact. He's a risky pick at this point, but he has a lot of upside.
Robin Lehner (D): Lehner inspired enough confidence in GM Bryan Murray last season that he was willing to trade away backup Ben Bishop to the Lightning in exchange for Cory Conacher. Lehner played 12 games last season while starter Craig Anderson was injured and after Bishop was traded, and he recorded a stellar .938 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA. He'll be the full-time backup in 2013-14, and should get a decent number of starts, especially if Anderson gets hurt again. He's still just 22 years old, and is widely considered the Sens goalie of the future.
Curtis Lazar (C): The Senators took Lazar number 17 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, so he's definitely worth keeping an eye on this season. He's only 18, so he likely won't have an impact for a couple more years, but he's a big, strong power forward with great hands around the net. He racked up 38 goals and 23 assists in 72 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL last season. Although it probably won't be this year, eventually Lazar could be a very valuable fantasy player.
Cody Ceci (D): Ceci was the 15th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and is still just 19 years old. He racked up 64 points in 69 games in the OHL in 2012-13, and recorded a goal and an assist in three games with AHL Binghamton at the end of last season. If he keeps up his near point-per-game production in his first full season as a pro, it's certainly conceivable that he could come up to the NHL. It looks like a long shot at this point, as another year or two of seasoning before the NHL would probably help, but Ceci is certainly a player to keep an eye on for the future.