Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.
Who's In: Jarkko Ruutu, F (FA - PIT), Filip Kuba, D (Trade - TPA), Alex Auld , G (FA-BOS), Jason Smith, D (FA-PHI), Brendan Bell, D (FA-PHX), Ryan Shannon, F (Trade -VAN), Brad Isbister, F (FA-VAN)
Who's Out: Ray Emery, G (FA - KHL), Andrej Mezaros, D (Trade - TPA), Cory Stillman, F (FA - Florida), Luke Richardson, D (UFA - Unsigned), Wade Redden, D (FA - NYR), Brian McGrattan, F (FA - PHX), Mike Commodore, D (FA - CBJ), Lawrence Nycholat, D (Trade - VAN)
What's Changed: The Blue Line, that's for sure. Redden's departure was written in the stars last fall, so there's no surprise there. We'll see how well he handles the pressure of playing in New York, since we all saw how well he handled it in Ottawa. If you think this team is Cup material, consider this addition by subtraction. Then again, one has to have a defense to even get to the playoffs, and Redden is solid enough to get you there.
Couple that with The Lisp holding the line on contract numbers with Mezaros and we have the first trade of the Cap Era forced by the threat of an RFA Offer Sheet. So, out go two of the team's Top 4 defensemen (not to mention rental Mike Commodore) and in return come Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and war-horse Jason Smith. What's changed is that Ottawa's blue line will be meaner than previous versions as both Mezaros and Redden are not what you'd call physically dominant.
Alex Auld was brought in to back up the Gerbatross as pre-eminent distraction and Human Rebound Machine Ray Emery was allowed to pursue his fortune in the land of Vodka and Oil (or is that redunant?).
None of the forwards brought in will have an impact on the Top 6 or even the Top 9. Make no mistake, this Sens club is going to be edgy, but will it do so to it's own distraction?
Who's on the Hook: After last year's meltdown and sweep at the hands of the Pens I'd have to say everyone who was involved with last year's team. Top to bottom. I wish I could tell you that I have some great insight as to what went on, but I tuned out of the 2nd half of last season along with the Sens. Given the extent of the meltdown, though, the focus has to be on GM Bryan Murray especially in light of the Mezaros negotiaions, if this team isn't better come November I wouldn't be surprised if owner Eugene Melnyk made a change. Of course, Murray could pre-empt that move by firing new Coach Craig Hartsburg like he did with John Paddock last year and put himself behind the bench, ala Evil Lou. But, I have to wonder just how many times he can get away with that, given that he's the one who picked this group.
In preparation for this post I popped around Sens blogdom and what comes up most often is the idea of moving captain Daniel Alfredsson to a line without Mike Fisher to create more balanced scoring. By all reports in the pre-season it looks like that is what is happening. Fisher is centering uber-pests Ruutu and Neil, while Antoine Vermette is centering Alfie and Chris Kelly.
Where They'll Finish: The Sens look to be built around playoff lines, a solid (if not explosive) Top 6 with nothing but sandpaper and toxic waste in the Lower 6. The defense is the area of concern to me. Jason Smith is not a Top 4 d-man anymore, if he was Philly would have kept him. He should be considered a #5 guy and a mentor for Lee and Picard. He can still play, especially on the PK, and he's a great presence, but if one of the young guys doesn't step up to play with Kuba on the 2nd pair, Gerber better get ready for a lot of work. In my mind an injury to either Phillips or Volchenkov means this could be a long season for Ottawa.
But, I'll play it safe and say that the defense gels, there's enough offense and goaltending to go along with wanting to put behind them last year's problems to say they are a solid middle seed in a tight Northeast Division.
Blogs to Watch: Scarlett Ice, Black Aces, The Battle of Ontario, SensUnderground, Five for Smiting, Sens Army
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Doug Benc, Getty Images
Gerry Broome, AP
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Dave Reginek, Getty Images
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Bjorn Larsson Rosvall, SCANPIX / AP