The Ottawa Senators longest off-season in a decade has culminated in the team undergoing an extreme makeover from players to coaches. Craig Hartsburg takes over from general manger Bryan Murray whose sole focus is once again managing the club.
After a disappointing end to 2007-08, Murray has revamped his line-up. The additions of agitator Jarkko Ruutu, Filip Kuba and defenseman Jason Smith, who has been a captain of both the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, has addressed the major issue of concern for the Senators, grit and leadership. The team also added veteran back up Alex Auld, to not only backup Martin Gerber, but challenge for the number one spot as well. Those key additions will look to replace some of the production of the nine players that the Senators let go in the off-season, including long-time defenseman Wade Redden and goaltender Ray Emery.
The rest of the vacancies remaining on the club will need to be filled by players already in the Senators organization, like rookie defenseman Brian Lee and possibly Ryan Shannon, both of whom will be called upon regularly. Up front, the big three of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley are once again expected to shoulder the load offensively. Murray had hoped to add another top six forward, but for now that spot will have to be filled with someone on the roster. The loss of Andrej Meszaros will definitely hurt, but with strong play from Kuba, it won’t hurt as much.
For the third straight season, the club will have a new man behind the bench when the club begins this October. Craig Hartsburg takes over from Bryan Murray, who replaced John Paddock midway through the year, and has previously held coaching positions with Chicago in 1995-98 and Anaheim in 1998-2000. Last year, he coached the Sault saint Marie Grey Hounds and won his third Olympic gold medal by guiding Canada to a victory over Sweden in the gold medal game.
Hartsburg is known for his ability to get the most out of every player and is expected to do so with the Senators. He is also expected to help patch some of the differences between the players in the dressing room.
Jarkko Ruutu was acquired via unrestricted free agency after inking a three-year deal with the Senators worth $3.9 million. Jarkko is a gritty agitator and is a super pest who can get under the skin of almost anyone, but he is also a fighter recording 138 penalty minutes during the 2007-08 campaign. Ruutu will also be expected to put up some offensive numbers after scoring six goals and ten assists last season. he will probably open up the season on a line with Chris Kelly and Chris Neil. But if the big line struggles early on, expect to see Ruutu skating a couple shifts alongside Heatley and Spezza.
Jason Smith, who has been the captain of two NHL teams before the Oilers and Flyers, has addressed the concern of grit and veteran leadership. Smith, a defensive specialist, spent last season with the Flyers and recorded a goal and nine assists but also had 204 blocked shots to go along with 142 hits. Smith should fit in quite nicely with the Senators and will likely be paired with either Brian Lee or Brendan Bell. Smith will be looked upon to take on a mentor role to help develop Lee and Bell.
Alex Auld is a very capable backup who was signed to a two-year contract by the Senators on July 1st. Auld has previously guarded the net in Phoenix, Boston, Vancouver, and Florida and is expected to play between 20-30 games this season; he might even give Gerber a run for the number one role. He had a decent year last season recording 12 wins to go along with 13 losses. But he didn’t have very much offensive support playing for the defensively oriented Boston squad that scored 215 goals while allowing the same amount.
Filip Kuba is a big strong defenseman who could possibly be factored into a shutdown guy. He also has a bit of an offensive side to him, which will probably translate into him quarterbacking the power play. Kuba will probably fit into a second tier defenseman role, playing with either Jason Smith or Brendan Bell. Kuba’s cap hit is just $3 million, which is a bonus to the Sens because they are already right up against the limit.
Here’s a review of the players who have departed Ottawa this summer. The Senators lost some key players who will be hard to replace. Wade Redden, a longtime Senator, was not offered a contract after his point production dipped considerably as well as his once superior defensive skills. He was a fan favorite as well on the Sens blue line and has suffered the last two seasons dealing with family issues and reportedly drug problems. During Redden’s last couple of seasons, he even drew boos from the fans that once worshiped him. He will surely be missed, as he was the power play quarterback and played big minutes every night. Jason Smith should help by covering some of Reddens minutes but others will be expected to take on a bigger role.
Brian McGrattan, the Senators enforcer and another fan favorite was traded to Phoenix for a fourth round draft pick. All Ottawa fans knew this one was coming having watched McGrattan be scratched for 25 straight games at one point and when he did play, he was on for just four to six minutes while on the fourth line.
McGrattan is one of the best enforcers in the game today and just another example of how these types of players are being forced out of the game completely. With McGrattan gone, it will now give some of the new kids a chance to play a full time shift and will give the team more salary cap room because they won’t have to pay someone to sit in the press box.
Cory Stillman signed a three-year; $9 million deal with the Florida Panthers. Stillman was a second line proven offensive player who came to Ottawa in a trade deadline deal with Hurricanes, who sent Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves the other way. Stillman`s production dipped slightly after being acquired, registering just three goals and 16 points while he had previously scored 25 goals and 26 assists in 54 games. Stillman provided big minutes for the Senators, who will have to spread throughout the team with Nick Foligno expected to take on about 50% of them.
Mike Commodore departed for the Blue Jackets after the offered him a five-year contract worth $18.75 million. Commodore was a big physical presence on the blue line for his bone-crushing hits and strong play in his own end. He had a hard time fitting into the Senators’ system, as he didn’t record a point for his first 23 games. He finished the season with only one point but led the Senators in playoff scoring.
Ray Emery was blamed for all the Sens trouble from the Zamboni not working to the teams on ice performance. Big things were expected of him this season after guiding the Senators to a Stanley Cup final appearance and was he was rewarded with a three-year $9.5 million deal. Emery had great potential, but eventually all of his off-ice tactics finally caught up to him, like eating a live cockroach, and showing up late for practice a half a dozen times. No NHL team wanted to take a chance on Emery because of a fear of him wrecking the chemistry in the locker room so he was shipped off to Russia where he will play the 2008-09 season.
Randy Robitaille was really just a overpaid fourth line player, who only produced in his first couple games. Robitaille once went over 20 games without scoring a goal and almost all of his goals were registered in multi-goal games meaning he only scored lit the lamp in about five or six games. He was just there because Ottawa had nobody else and was lacking a fourth line player. Robitaille is surely replaceable and will probably not be missed; it will give some rookie a chance to gain experience and maybe score a couple goals here and there.
Martin Lapointe was acquired at the trade deadline to provide grit and veteran leadership and did what was asked of him, but at times was guilty of taking dumb penalties, thereby giving the other team a man advantage. Lapointe also chipped in a few points scoring three times while adding three assists and was a force in front of the other teams net, often hanging around looking for a rebound. He is an unrestricted free agent and it remains to be seen whether he will return to the Senators, retire or, play overseas.
With Redden gone, Andrej Meszaros was expected to play the role of offensive defenseman as well as lead the power play. Meszaros is a good young defenseman with loads of potential, but his production has dipped slightly over the course of the last two seasons. He is being way overpaid for a player of his standards (110 points in three season) doesn’t really match the $24 million, six-year deal he signed. In 2014, he will be making $5.5 million; that seems quite a lot for a guy who has struggled since his rookie season where he was a plus 34 compared to last season’s minus 15.