Seems like an extremely distant memory. Those dark days. Craig Hartsburg. Martin Gerber. Pascal Leclaire. The end of Cory Clouston's tenure. With an influx of good, young players, some shrewd roster moves and of course the hiring of Paul MacLean, those days seem to be in the rearview mirror as the team speeds away from the basement of the NHL.
And yet, it was this time just two years ago that the experts were lining up around the block to declare that the Senators were dead. They would finish last (or close to it) and were in for a long, painful rebuild. How could they not be? A string of poor decisions between the pipes and behind the bench had resulted in the exodus of players like Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly (who both scored last night) and other veterans from the roster.
And yet the last two seasons have seen the Senators take the league by surprise. That first year they made the playoffs and took the number one seeded Rangers to the brink. You'd think after a year like that, that saw Erik Karlsson win the Norris, saw Jason Spezza find himself near the top of the league in scoring and saw new bench boss MacLean nominated for coach of the year, you'd think the surprises were over.
And yet last year saw those two pillars of the team knocked down due to injury. Then the supporting cast started to fall. Goal scoring leader Milan Michalek, Vezina-bound Craig Anderson and a rash of others. And yet, despite all that, the Senators finished higher in the East than they had the year before. This time they won a playoff series.
So now what? Well know the Senators are in that funny place between being surefire contenders and definite basement quality. They have moved into that hockey hipster area where it is suddenly quite cool (and less of a stretch than years past) to pick them as the "dark horse" for this year. They've become a sexy pick to find themselves as one of the last teams standing when the league wraps up in June.
But the Senators are a different team now. In is Bobby Ryan, young, goalscorer in his prime. Out is the stalwart, heart of the team. It is a younger group, it is a group being led by a new generation of Senators. I, for one, am extremely excited to see how they react and deal with the newfound expectations and pressure.
It begins tonight.
- The crazy final round of the Sterling Prediction Panel. Mark even provides a little evidence for today's nuggets post. [SSS]
- Mark gives his yearly "players who must step up" post, and it is a good one. Though I may not agree with the inclusion of Stephane Da Costa. [SSS]
- Q&A with Paul MacLean ahead of the season opener. [SE]
- Sens have a trio of small forwards who are turning heads. [NP]
- Craig Anderson talks ahead of game 1. Sens need him to be big this year again. [Sens]
- Great Expectations. [SE]
- Sidney Crosby is the favourite for the Hart Trophy, but here are five players who could steal it. Notice a familiar one? [PD]
- Pre-season power rankings find the Blackhawks at the top, Senators at 9. [NHL]
- If you missed it, and I'm not sure how you could have, Patrick Roy was fined after his first NHL game for going loco on Bruce Boudreau. [CBC]