2013-14 Ottawa Senators Preview

Taken as a whole, the 2013 free agent market offered little in surprises or exciting moments. The one exception came when Daniel Alfredsson did the unthinkable and traded in his Ottawa Senators' sweater for the one bearing the famous "winged wheel."

On July 5, the hockey world was shocked to learn Alfredsson agreed to a one- year, $5.5 million with the Detroit Red Wings, ending an affiliation with Ottawa that began way back in 1994, when the Swede was taken in the sixth round of the draft.

For nearly two decades, the man known as "Alfie" was the face of the franchise, a player who exuded class both on and off the ice. He had served as the team captain for over a decade and it seemed like the 40-year-old Alfredsson was destined to be an Ottawa lifer, not unlike Joe Sakic was with the Quebec/Colorado franchise.

Ottawa's brass claims it would've done whatever it took to retain Alfredsson's services for the upcoming season, but the winger admitted his move to Detroit was motivated by his desire to finally win a Stanley Cup. The thing is, even without Alfredsson, the Senators don't seem to be that far behind the Red Wings in terms of contending for a Cup.

The fact that Detroit is moving West-to-East, conference wise, to join the newly-formed Atlantic Division, which includes Ottawa, should make for some interesting regular-season battles. To his credit, Alfredsson has already said he expects an icy reception when the teams meet in Ottawa for the first time this season.

Although Senators general manager Bryan Murray seemed genuinely shocked by Alfredsson's decision, he reacted quickly by landing power forward Bobby Ryan from Anaheim on the same day his captain made the decision to head across the border into Michigan. There is little doubt Ryan, who is a four-time 30-goal scorer at the ripe age of 26, offers more production than Alfredsson at this stage of his career, but will the Senators be able to replace his leadership?

Jason Spezza has the unenviable task of replacing Alfredsson as captain, but in light of how his predecessor left Ottawa, the new leader will have Canada's capital city firmly in his corner as he takes on the role.

Along with the Boston Bruins, the Senators and Red Wings figure to be the main combatants for the Atlantic's three automatic playoff bids, and with the drama surrounding two of those teams this summer it should be fun to watch how this storyline plays out.

FORWARDS - The Senators relied heavily on team defense and goaltending to earn their second straight trip to the postseason last spring. The formula worked in Ottawa's dominant opening-round win over Montreal, but the Sens simply didn't have enough firepower to hang with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

While stopping the other team from scoring will still be a priority, the Sens hope Ryan's goal-scoring ability will make them a little more dangerous on the offensive side of things. It shouldn't be too hard to improve the offense, however, because Ottawa finished 27th in the NHL last season with an average of only 2.33 goals per game.

Ottawa is obviously expecting big things from Ryan, who cost the Senators not only a first-round pick in 2014 but also a pair of top-flight forward prospects in forward Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen.

Although the 2013 lockout-shortened season made reaching 30 goals for a fifth straight season a tough proposition for Ryan, his 11-goal output in 46 games was disappointing nonetheless. Still, the American winger has managed to record 30 goals in every NHL season in which he played in 64 or more games.

Spezza figures to center the top line along with Ryan and left winger Milan Michalek. The new captain is looking for a bounce-back season in 2013-14 after a back injury caused him to miss all but eight games during the regular season and playoffs combined. Spezza had one of his finest NHL campaigns in 2011-12 when he had 84 points on 34 goals and 50 assists. He had five points (2G, 3A) in five regular-season contests last season and one assist in three playoff outings.

Michalek is another guy who has battled injuries during his time in Ottawa. Last season was no different as the 28-year-old Czech played in only 23 games while recording four goals and 10 assists.

If health isn't an issue with the first line, the second unit will likely be centered by Kyle Turris, who led the low-scoring Sens with 29 points (12G, 17A) in 48 games last season. Turris also had 12 goals and 17 assists in a 49- game run with the Senators in 2011-12, when he came over in a mid-season trade with Phoenix.

Newcomer Clarke MacArthur could see action on the second line after signing a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the Sens this summer. MacArthur, who posted 20 or more goals in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 for Toronto, had eight goals and 12 assists for the Maple Leafs in 40 games last year.

Ottawa may use Cory Conacher as another winger on the second line. Overall, Conacher had an impressive rookie season in 2013, recording 11 goals and 29 points over 47 games. However, he had 24 points (9G, 15A) in 35 games with Tampa Bay and just two goals and three assists in 12 contests after coming to Ottawa in the trade that sent goaltender Ben Bishop to the Lightning.

Conacher did manage to post three goals in eight playoff games for the Sens and the club is hoping for good things in his first full season in Ottawa.

The Sens would benefit greatly if prospects Mika Zibanejad and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who both enter this season as 20 year olds, can break through in 2013-14.

Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick by Ottawa in 2011, showed flashes of brilliance in 2013, scoring seven goals and adding 13 assists in 42 games. Pageau, a fourth-round pick in 2011, had two goals and two assists in nine regular-season games before turning heads with four goals and six points in 10 playoff games.

DEFENSE - Ottawa finished second in the NHL with 2.08 goals per game last season and the defense is expected to be a strength once again.

Although he's not known as a shutdown guy, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson leads the way at the back end and is quite possibly the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the NHL.

The Norris Trophy winner in 2011-12, Karlsson was possibly on his way to winning the award again before a freak injury caused him to miss over two months during the regular season. The 23-year-old Swede suffered a laceration to his left Achilles in mid-February when Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins stepped on the back of his leg. Although Karlsson was expected to miss 4-to-6 months of action due to the injury he was back before the end of the regular season, returning to the ice a mere 10 weeks after sustaining the cut.

Karlsson had 14 points (6G, 8A) in 17 regular-season games and added one goal and seven assists during the playoffs. The injury may have led to him struggling in his own zone during the postseason, but Ottawa expects him to be at the top of his game heading into 2013-14.

Marc Methot, a steady, stay-at-home blueliner, has proven to be the perfect partner for the free-wheeling Karlsson. The fact that the 28-year-old defenseman added two goals and nine assists in way of offense is only a bonus.

Ottawa's depth on defense is hurt a bit by the offseason departure of veteran Sergei Gonchar, but there is still plenty of reliability on the back end with Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch. Joe Corvo was also re- signed to provide further depth should the injury bug bite.

GOALTENDING - In addition to losing Karlsson for a big chunk of the season, the Senators were also forced to play a sizeable stretch of the campaign without No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson.

Anderson was looking like a strong contender for the Vezina Trophy before an ankle injury suffered in late February caused him to miss the entire month of March. All told, the 32-year-old American went 12-9-2 with a 1.69 goals against average and .941 save percentage in 24 outings during the regular season.

Although Anderson's GAA skyrocketed to 3.01 during the playoffs, he still managed to register a solid .918 save percentage over his 10 postseason outings.

With Bishop gone, Robin Lehner is installed as the undisputed backup option in Ottawa. The 22-year-old Swede is coming off a solid 2013, when he went 5-3-4 with a 2.20 GAA and .936 save percentage.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Under head coach Paul MacLean the Senators have proven to be one of the most resilient teams in the NHL. Big injuries to Karlsson and Anderson last season couldn't manage to derail the team's playoff push and the loss of Alfredsson shouldn't keep the team from making a third straight trip to the postseason. In fact, if Ryan is able to take this offense to the next level it's not a stretch to think of the Sens as a potential Stanley Cup contender. Although, if a championship run isn't in the cards, beating Alfredsson and the Red Wings as often as possible would be a solid consolation prize.