It's always difficult to make predictions about your favourite team. It's hard to see past your own passion in order to make an objective evaluation of, in this case, the Ottawa Senators.
The magic word after last season's generally disappointing performance was 'optimism'. But such a simple word doesn't encapsulate the many questions that the Senators are facing with the 2009-10 season about four months away.
Question 1: Is Cory Clouston a legitimate NHL coach?
Despite showing great potential as game-time decision-make ("Martin Gerber? No thank you."), and an off-ice team builder (Haven't bought out any contracts recently...), it's difficult to say whether Clouston will be the savior that the Senators have been searching for since Bryan Murray moved into the front office.
I believe the key to this situation is patience. Even if the Senators start the season 5-15, Murray has to move his finger off the panic button and finally realize, after three new coaches in three seasons, coaching isn't the problem. Sens fans have to temper their enthusiasm until Clouston can make it through one whole season.
Answer: I sure hope so.
Question 2: Will Leclaire provide better stability in net?
My fellow Ottawa Senators fans, I celebrated extra hard this Canada Day because it meant the end of a horrifying era in Ottawa: Martin Gerber's reign of terror. Not only is he no longer anywhere near the team, he's not even on the books anymore! Pascal Leclaire is almost certainly an upgrade in net. At least, he will provide the knowledge that he won't be beat out for the starting job within two months. Backed up by Brian Elliott, the Sens should have the standard #1-#2 goalie relationship that most teams thrive on.
In this category, despite the questions, Senators fans have reason to be most optimistic. Even if Leclaire's groin explodes in the first game of the season, fans will at least know who's #1.
Answer: He's not Martin Gerber... so, yes.
Question 3: Will Kovalev improve the team?
He's the most significant free agent signing in the (short) history of the franchise, and I hope he's smart enough to understand that he'll be observed and analyzed like the only hot chick on a nude beach. It's difficult to say whether adding Alex Kovalev to last year's Senators would have been enough to push them into a playoff spot (hmmm.... probably not. Your thoughts?), but it's safe to say that even if he contributes only 20 goals to the Senators in 2009-10 (which some would consider a disappointment), he'll be the number 4 or 5 scorer on the team*.
Answer: You bet your ass.
When I began writing this blog, it had the headline "Senators will make playoffs"... but writing the story got me thinking about how much rests on Clouston being able to replicate his performance last year. And despite what Pierre McGuire yelled at us at the trade deadline last season, no one in Ottawa can really predict how well Leclaire will play for the Senators (especially in front of the Sens' increasingly young defenders) - he had 24 wins in 54 games with Columbus in 2007-08, but these stats can be transferred across teams and conferences.
One thing is for sure: It's going to be fun watching these questions be answered by the players and coaches when the puck drops.
*Foligno could score 25 this year... who knows?