Training camp starts today, and 59 players will do their best to prove to Paul MacLean and Bryan Murray that they belong in Ottawa. Despite the lip service paid to the idea that "nobody's spot is guaranteed," most of the roster is spoken for. There are a few openings, though, which naturally lead to the questions on everyone's mind right now.
1) Which rookie defenseman makes the team?
The blue-line already has 6 players ready to suit up (Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba, Sergei Gonchar, Brian Lee, and Matt Carkner), so unless a trade occurs in the coming weeks, there's probably only room for one rookie defenseman to start the season off in Ottawa. Despite recent stories about the possibility of Mark Borowiecki or Patrick Wiercioch pushing for a spot, the real competition here is between the two former first-round picks: Jared Cowen and David Rundblad. Given that choice, one has to think it's more of a tactical decision than anything else -- does this team need a stay-at-home defenseman to clear the crease, or do we need a puck-mover to help the team's transition game?
2) Who will be the second line centre?
It's been spoken about to the point of nausea, but this is truly the most intriguing question of the whole camp. Ottawa has a huge hole in the middle of its second line, and it's likely going to be filled by one of Peter Regin, Stephane Da Costa, or Mika Zibanejad. To be frank, none of them are ideal: Regin had an awful year last season, Zibanejad seems too green for the role, and Da Costa lacks sufficient professional experience. The most likely scenario is Regin holding this spot for the first couple of months, but it will remain the team's biggest question mark until the puck drops in October.
3) Is anyone demoted or traded?
There's a lot of hype around the new players entering the team, and whether to improve the team or to make it more marketable, you have to think that the organization is going to try to have as many new players on the roster as possible. As noted above when discussing the lack of room on the blueline, this could mean that players have to be traded or demoted to the AHL. Some players, like Jesse Winchester, Brian Lee, Matt Carkner, and Filip Kuba, probably don't fit into the future plans for the franchise, and it will be interesting to see if all of them have their spots come October.
4) Who ends up on the top line?
Paul MacLean has mentioned that he knows that Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson work as a top line (even though that's questionable), but also that he was going to try other combinations to see what worked. We saw Colin Greening and Bobby Butler get significant top line time last season in their short stints -- will that continue in the 2011-2012 season? There's also Nikita Filatov who is often mentioned as a top-line talent, who MacLean will likely put next to Spezza for at least one preseason game.
5) Does Daniel Alfredsson have anything left in the tank?
Alfie is coming off surgery, and the last thing anyone wants to see is the greatest player in modern Ottawa Senators history struggling to keep up at the NHL level. Now, given Alfredsson's work ethic and natural skill, I imagine he'll still be quite effective for this season, but that all depends on how his back holds up.
6) Who are the darkhorse candidates?
Matt Carkner was probably the least talked about AHLer in the Senators organization when he somehow made the big club. With that said, is there anyone who could be a surprise addition to the team? From the Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators, Kaspers Daugavins will likely put his best effort forward in a last-ditch effort to finally make the NHL. I've already mentioned Borowiecki, who probably isn't even a darkhorse now given how much media coverage he's received. Finally, Andre Petersson was one of the stars of the recent rookie tournament, and while he likely needs a bit of time in the AHL, his speed, shot, and hands are all among the best in the Senators organization. Although it's unlikely that any of these players actually makes the big club in October, anything could happen on a team with this many question marks.