Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Are the Sens that bad? Part one: Forwards

I've seen a lot of low expectations for the Senators this season. Heard a lot of negative talk, and come across a lot of prognostications of incredible, unavoidable failure.

Through it all, I've had to wonder whether or not I am a crazy homerized fan, simply looking at the situation with the ultimate in optimism. I've liked the deals that GM Bryan Murray has made so far this off-season, and I'm pretty confident in how competitive the 2008-09 team is going to be.

Then I saw it. Vindication. The incredibly optimistic 2008-09 The Score Sports Forecaster magazine. Not only did they predict Daniel Alfredsson to win the Selke Trophy, and Dany Heatley to be the Rocket Richard Trophy winner, and those two, along with Jason Spezza, to finish in the league's top eight in scoring. They predicted that the Sens would win the Northeast Division--ahead of the surging Montreal Canadiens and the reborn Boston Bruins--and finish third in the conference. That even strikes me as optimistic, but if a few things go right, I think that it's completely within the realm of possibility. After all, where have the Sens gotten worse since their NHL-record incredible start last season? And why can't they re-establish themselves as the dominant team that set that record?


The Sens lost three forwards from last season, and four if you include Patrick Eaves. We could prehaps have placed high hopes on Eaves, but his injury problems were well-known, and his offensive potential was likely limited. Nothing personal with Randy Robitaille, but his output will not be missed, and will be easily replace by a full season of Nick Foligno. And Brian McGrattan's presence may be missed, but he rarely played even when he wasn't scratched last season. The only argument, really, that you can make is regarding late-season acquisition Cory Stillman. His offensive abilities would certainly have been useful in spreading out the offensive load, and he had some chemistry with Mike Fisher.

But Stillman wasn't present during the Sens best times of the year, notably that first 15-20 games. The hopes seem to be on Jarkko Ruutu to add some grit, and to draw penalties so the top PP unit--likely Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza with, I would guess, Christoph Schubert and Filip Kuba on the points--can get some easy playing time. Antoine Vermette will, once again, be given an opportunity to get serious playing time in the top-six, and with some powerplay time. After Ruutu and Vermette, a lot is going to fall on the young shoulders of Foligno, Jesse Winchester, and Cody Bass. Although the three will (possibly) enter their first full seasons as NHLers, Foligno and Bass both demonstrated their maturity last year, and Winchester is almost 25 and has graduated university after leading his ECAC team for four years--a certain sign of maturity.

Replacing Robitaille and McGrattan with rounded players should be an improvement for this season. Although Stillman will be missed, increased production by Vermette, a more consistent effort by Chris Neil, and a full season of properly-utilized Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan, along with some rookie contributions, should complement the pesty nature of Ruutu to give the Sens an improved offensive line. Perhaps not as improved as it would be had they signed Marian Hossa or one of the other free agents, but improved nonetheless.

(I'll be posting parts two and three, on defence and goaltending, in the coming days.)
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