With that out of the way, it's time for the first entry in Round 2 of the SensChirp Search. In this round, our three finalists will go head to head to head, writing about topics suggested by the readers of SensChirp.
Today's entry is on projecting the Sens rebuild. There was no word limit in this round so entries will be a little longer. Love the creativity shown by today's contributor. Check it out!Dateline – Tuesday April 8, 2015 (Bell Sensplex)
The Senators wrapped up their final practice at the Bell Sensplex this morning in preparation for their first round matchup of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, which kicks off tomorrow night at Scotiabank Place.
GM Tim Murray, Executive VP Bryan Murray and Assistant GM Pierre Dorion were all smiles this morning as they watched Paul MacLean run his troops through a fast-paced practice. And why would they not be smiling, as the three men were enjoying the fruits of their labour, which has been a work in progress since the Anaheim Ducks skated around the Honda Center with the Stanley Cup in June 2007. Having their Senators enter these playoffs as the number 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and being the favourite in a playoff series for the first time since their run to the Cup Finals in 2007 is very satisfying. Getting back into the playoffs last year after a 4 year absence was a great experience-builder for this young group, but this time around they are looking for more, much more. The success they have had in Binghamton, the success through the draft and the success at moving out aging veterans for picks and prospects has led to the creation of a young, dynamic and deep team in both Ottawa and Binghamton.
This team has Murray’s and Dorian’s fingerprints all over it, as it is made up primarily of players that were drafted or produced within their own system. There is no better example of this then on the back end. The strength of this team is their group of puck moving defensemen. Led by Assistant Captain Eric Karlsson, who is coming off yet another 60+ point season, and fellow countryman David Rundblad, a finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2011-12, these two make up one of the top offensive duos in the league. Complementing these sweet Swedes is the pairing of Assistant Captain Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki, who have become as good a shutdown tandem as you will find in the NHL today. Other teams hate these guys as they are extremely difficult to play against, and they remind many Sens fans of the glory years of Chara and Phillips. These four are a big reason why the Senators finished the season in the top five on the powerplay and in the top five on the penalty kill. Filling out the d-core are Patrick Wiercoch and 2012 first round pick Ryan Murray, making this group the only homegrown defensive core in the league, and honestly if you have these six, why would you look anywhere else?
Up front the Sens continue to be led by Captain Jason Spezza, the sole remaining player from that 2007 Stanley Cup Final team. ‘Giggles’ has matured into a great leader over the last few seasons, and since taking over the ‘C’ from Daniel Alfredsson at the beginning of last year, he is set to take his young team on a deep playoff run. He will continue to be flanked by Nikita Filatov and Colin Greening, a line that has both skill and strength. Spezza finished with a point-per-game average yet again and Filatov had 25+ goals for the fourth year in a row since becoming a Senator at the Entry Draft in 2011. Greening is the perfect complement on this line as he loves the dirty areas and throws his body around to make room for Spezza and Filatov to work their chemistry.
The second line, centred by Mika Zibanejad, is almost a carbon copy of the top line. Matt Puempel has continued to benefit from his centreman’s great play making ability and is coming off another 25+ goal season, his second in a row. Jakob Silfverberg is to the second line what Greening is to the top line, and then some. Not only does he make space and time for Z-Bad and Puempel to put the puck in the net, but Silfverberg also adds a defensive conscience to this line, as his two linemates are very much fixated on the offensive end. His second 20+ goal season this year was not too shabby either.
Ottawa’s bottom six is a great mix of youth, speed and grit. Stefan Noesen, Bobby Butler and Shane Prince make up a very defensively responsible third line that can contribute on the scoresheet any given night, while the fourth line, made up of Eric Condra, Zach Smith and Mark Stone can change the flow of any game with a hit, fight or timely goal. The added benefit of these six is that any of them can step up into the top six if an injury were to occur, and we saw that this year as Noesen, Prince, Butler and Stone all saw top six minutes during injuries.
The playoffs have, and always will, be decided by the player between the pipes, and in Robin Lehner the Sens have a confident giant that has shown he can win at all levels. After spending two seasons in Binghamton, where he led his team to back-to-back Calder Cup Championships, Lehner spent most of the last two seasons as a back up to starter Craig Anderson. This season Lehner was able to hunt down and dethrone Anderson as the number one, and it became official when the Sens moved Anderson at the trade deadline, leaving the net to Lehner and Lehner alone. Since the trade of Anderson Lehner has been dominant and is clearly happy that his time has finally come.
When asked about the Binghamton’s chances this season Dorion joked that he hoped there would not be anyone heading down there anytime soon, like there had been over the past 4 seasons. However, even though he does not plan on an influx of players heading down to Bingo in the next 2-4weeks, he thinks they will be just fine. He spoke of the leadership of Captain Eric Gryba, Andre Petersson, Louie Caporusso, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mike Hoffman and Ben Blood to name just a few. All of these guys saw time with the big club this season and it will definitely be an interesting training camp in September, as all of them have shown they are NHL ready and are hungry to make the jump.
The Senators have stayed away from the July 1st free agent frenzy over the last few years, choosing to keep spots available for their own home grown talent to gain experience, or picking up the odd role player, who they would flip for a pick at the deadline (ie:Konopka). Depending on what happens this spring will definitely help in deciding if they need to add a player or two on Canada Day. They again have stockpiled draft picks, with a minimum of 9 for the fifth year in a row. This year they added picks in the Anderson and Foligno deals, and don’t be surprised if they try to move up and grab the guy they want, like they did to get Karlsson and Puempel, and of course in 2012 to grab Ryan Murray, trading their 1st rounder (8th overall) and Regin for the 2nd overall pick.
So here we sit on the eve of the best time of the year. It has been a long road for the team with the big ‘O’ on their jersey, but they have come full circle from the 2007 team that was pushed around in the SCF by a bigger and deeper Anaheim squad. The rebuild is complete, the core is intact and it is time to see if this is the team that finally gets it done and brings Stanley back home.