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2011-12 Ottawa Senators Preview

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray's actions time elite club has decided it's time to rebuild.

Murray was given orders by team owner Eugene Melnyk to dismantle the struggling club. The GM's task would be to get some prospects in return for veterans and Murray did his best while dealing guys like Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and others.

In the end, Ottawa finished 13th in the Eastern Conference and 26th in the NHL. The club's 74 points were its lowest total since the franchise managed just 41 points in 1995-96 and the Sens found themselves out of the playoffs for the second time in three years after qualifying for the postseason in each of the previous 11 campaigns.

Although Ottawa's roster is still peppered with notable names like Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar, the club, which will be led by rookie NHL head coach Paul MacLean, is expected to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings in 2011-12.

FORWARDS - The Senators finished 29th out of 30 NHL teams in offense last season, averaging a dismal 2.32 points per game.

Although he played in just 62 games in 2010-11, Spezza led the Senators in both goals (21) and assists (36) last season. The 28-year-old has missed 42 games over the last two seasons and needs to be healthy if Ottawa hopes to exceed even the meager expectations laid out for them in 2011-12.

Although he is nowhere near the player he once was, the 38-year-old Alfredsson will still be a top-line winger for Ottawa this season if he can stay healthy.

Alfredsson, the club's longtime captain, had 14 goals and 17 assists in just 54 games, but he hopes offseason back surgery will allow him to play more often this season. Still, one suspects that Ottawa's all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points doesn't have much left in the tank,

Yet another injury risk on Ottawa's roster is top-line left wing Milan Michalek, who has suited up in just 66 games in each of his two seasons with the Sens. Last year, Michalek recorded 18 goals and 33 points after notching 22 markers and one more point in 2009-10.

If Spezza, Alfredsson and Michalek can stay healthy, and judging by last year that's a big if, Ottawa has the makings of a solid No. 1 line. The problem is that there's not much depth after the first unit, but the Sens will at least get a chance to see what some of their younger players can do.

Nick Foligno is expected to be Ottawa's second-line left winger and is coming off a career-best 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists), but the 28th overall pick of the 2006 draft will be called on to score more goals in 2011-12.

Bobby Butler, an undrafted 24-year-old, turned some heads with 21 points (10g, 11a) in just 36 games as a rookie last year. His short 2010-11 campaign is not much to go on, but the Sens don't have a better option to play right wing on the second line.

With the departure of Fisher and Kelly, Ottawa's next-best centerman after Spezza appears to be Peter Regin, who had just 17 points (3g, 14a) in 55 games last year. After Regin, the Senators have centermen Zack Smith (4g, 5a, in 55 games) and Zenon Konopka, who was signed to a one-year deal after posting nine points and 307 penalty minutes in 82 games with the Islanders last season.

The lack of depth down the middle could open the door for 18-year-old Swede Mika Zibanejad to make the team. The sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft played 26 games in the Swedish Elite League and he will be given a chance to earn spot in training camp.

The Sens also took a flier on the talented, but enigmatic Nikita Filatov, acquiring the 21-year-old left winger for a third-round pick on draft day. Filatov was selected sixth overall by Columbus in 2008, but has only managed to tally six goals and seven assists over 44 NHL games. With few scoring options up front, one expects Filatov to get plenty of ice-time to start the season.

Journeyman forward Mark Parrish has also been brought into the mix and could garner some playing time.

Also back for Ottawa this year is tough guy Chris Neil, who had 210 penalty minutes and a respectable 16 points in 80 games last season.

DEFENSE - The biggest disappointment for Ottawa last year had to be the awful first season Gonchar turned in after signing a three-year, $16 million contract with the Sens last summer.

The 37-year-old Gonchar was considered one of the best all-around defenseman in the league while playing with Pittsburgh from 2005-10. However, after recording 50 points in just 62 games with the Penguins in 2009-10, the Russian had just 27 points (7g, 20a) and a minus-15 rating in 67 games with the Sens. Obviously, Ottawa expects the veteran to put forth a much better effort in 2011-12.

One of the bright spots for Ottawa last year was the play of young blueliner Erik Karlsson, who was the Senators' lone representative at last year's All- Star Game. Still just 21 years of age, Karlsson is coming off a 13-goal, 32- assist campaign that placed him second on Ottawa in scoring. All signs point to the 15th overall pick of the 2008 draft taking another step forward this year.

With Gonchar and Karlsson penciled in as the top pairing, the Senators also have a solid second tandem in Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips, although the duo combined for a minus-61 rating in 2010-11. Of course, sometimes a poor plus/minus is unavoidable when playing for a bad team and Ottawa hopes Kuba and Phillips can do better in their own end in 2011-12.

Brian Lee is back after notching three assists in 50 games last year, but he could have his minutes pilfered by either Jared Cowen or David Rundblad, who could both make the team as rookies. Cowen, who has tremendous size at 6- foot-5, 228 points, was the picked by Ottawa with the ninth overall selection in 2009 and Rundblad was taken the same year by St. Louis in the 17th spot.

GOALTENDING - The Senators feel good about starting goaltender Craig Anderson and they should considering the way he played last year after coming over in a trade with Colorado.

Anderson, who was signed to a four-year extension after the trade, played in 18 games for Ottawa last year and went 11-5-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. All told, Anderson was 24-20-4 with a 2.83 GAA and a .913 save percentage in 51 games with the Senators and Avalanche.

After spending last year in Montreal, Alex Auld is back for his second tour of duty in Ottawa. Auld started 38 games for the Senators in 2008-09, but he is clearly the No. 2 option behind Anderson. The 30-year-old Auld compiled a 6-2-2 record to go with a 2.64 GAA and .914 save percentage with the Canadiens in 2010-11.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - There's nothing good about being counted out of playoff contention by most folks before the season even starts, but, after a long period as one of the East's better clubs, the Senators have no choice but to try and re-stock the shelves. Ottawa is in for a rough season, but on the bright side it won't be too difficult for the Senators to clear the low-bar that has been set.

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