Hypothetically, if the lockout ended today what are the biggest issues facing the Senators heading into the 2012-13 season? Here are my five:
1) Depth on Defense. While Ottawa's brass hopes the addition of defensive-specialist Marc Methot can offset the loss of veteran blueliner Filip Kuba, the Sens will enter the season thin on the blueline. Ottawa relied on the offensive production from their backline in 2011-12. With the attention of the league on him for a full season, will Erik Karlsson be able to duplicate his Norris-winning season from 2011-2012? Sergei Gonchar has spoken publically about enjoying his time in the KHL and depending on the length of the lockout or the terms of the settlement, may not be back. Karlsson, Methot, and Jared Cowen are pencilled-in as top-4 defensemen (and Gonchar may join them). With Chris Phillips looking increasingly like a bottom-pairing player, who will fill the remaining place(s)? Mike Lundin? Mark Borowiecki? Eric Gryba?
2) Play of veterans. Sens stars like Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza quickly found work in Europe but several Ottawa veterans have been limited to appearances in charity games. How will Marc Methot adjust to a new team and system without a proper training camp and with a few months of rust? Will goaltender Craig Anderson be able to continue his strong play without having played since the spring? Veterans Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, and Daniel Alfredsson are 33, 34, and 39 respectively and have been on the sidelines since Ottawa's loss to the Rangers (38-year-old Sergei Gonchar can be added to this list). How quickly will they be able to regain their form?
3) Youth movement. The Sens are still rebuilding and have a few openings on forward and defense for prospects ready to make the jump. But who? Mark Stone, Shane Prince, Andre Petersson, Mike Hoffman, Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Eric Gryba, and Mark Borowiecki will all get a look. If any of them can make an impact it will go a long way to ensuring the Sens make the playoffs again.
4) B-Sens grads. While players currently playing with Bingo have the potential to make an impact should there be hockey this season, the play of recent Binghamton grads will also go a long way to determining the fate of Ottawa's season. At times over the past two seasons, Zack Smith, Colin Greening, and Erik Condra have impressed with strong play and offensive production; however, for long stretches their offense disappeared and their impact was minimal. Have Smith, Greening, and Condra reached their full potential, or can more production or at least consistency be expected from them?
5) Ben Bishop and Kyle Turris. Both Bishop and Turris needed the 2012-13 season to start on time for their development to continue. Bishop has achieved everything he can in the minors and is ready for a shot in the NHL. But because he has yet to make a name for himself, he was in a state of limbo when the lockout came down and eventually working out a deal to play in Bingo. Since his trade to Ottawa, many Sens fans wondered what Kyle Turris could do with a full training camp and season in the nation's capital. He'll have to wait until next year. Hopefully his time in the Swiss league will keep him sharp.
Which question do you think looms largest for the Sens?