For some reason, Ottawa was labeled as a team with a defensive-minded system this season.
At first glance, I can see why people would think that. Ottawa goalies had unheard of (not to mention unsustainable) save percentage splits, especially on the PK. They were 2nd in total goals against, while being a paltry 26th in goals for. However, those stats don't correlate with how Paul Maclean uses his system. He makes the Sens have a high-octane offence that creates scoring chances, and puts emphasis on puck possession. To call Ottawa a "defensive-minded team" would be foolish. This is roughly the same team that was 4TH in goals for in the 2011-12 season.
One reason for their lack of goals was their abhorently unlucky shooting percentages. Travis Yost delved into this earlier, (I recommend reading his blogs--he's the best Sens blogger) and concluded that Ottawa will score more goals next season, and allow more as well. I have to agree with him as they have talented forwards to get the job done, and at the same time, Anderson isn't Superman.
What does this mean? Ottawa probably needs to adress their blueline by upgrading it. I'm sure some of you are happy with the blueline, and are hoping to get a top-6 power forward. However, getting a 2nd pairing d-man seems a lot easier. Plus, the defence doesn't have insane depth like the forward ranks do. Seriously. I am loving the depth on forward, as guys like Pageau, Stone, Puempel, Noesen, Hoffman, and (I guess) O'Brien are all battling for 1 or 2 spots. What was I going to talk about again? Right, defence.
This is the current formation I think (hope) will be used barring any injuries:
I'm not loving that lineup. Karlsson is the best d-man in the league, but I'm nervous about his achilles. Methot is a solid defender with good chemistry with EK65, not many issues with him. Cowen had an awesome rookie season in 2011-12, but he had an infuriating playoffs, looking out of place. Wiercioch is the exact type of guy we need to compliment Karlsson, and I loved his season. However, Maclean didn't seem to keen on playing him much, and he is still young. Phillips is old, and sometimes is a step behind. If he's used in limited minutes, he can be effective though. Gryba had awful corsi numbers in the beginning, but did steadily improve. He (like Phillips) can probably be a serviceable 5/6 d-man, but nothing more. Benoit was as good as he needed to be, but I'll say it again: his ceiling is a 3rd pairing d-man. He took a big role with this team when there were tons of injuries, but he might not be needed next year.
The state of the defence from my point of view is a bit of "meh", with a lot of postives followed by "but"s and "however"s.
With the continued development of Cowen and Wiercioch, that could end up being a very solid top-4. It's just kind of uncertain right now for me, and I (along with many others) would like some insurance. If they could somehow add a 2nd pairing defenseman, and maybe even a depth guy, that could really bolster this lineup. If they acquire a guy that can get Gryba out of the everyday lineup, that would be great. I'm not saying Gryba can't be good, but I don't think he should be in the full-time lineup just yet. The other depth guy that they could possibly acquire could also be insurance for Wiercioch or Cowen.
In terms of defensive prospects for the Sens, it's nowhere near the kind of depth that the forwards have. High profile guys like Stefan Noesen, Matt Puempel, Shane Prince, Mark Stone, and others haven't even been close to sticking with the Sens. But on the back-end, Ottawa's top d-prospect Cody Ceci could have a decent shot at making the team this year or next. There are a few other guys that have the potential to become good players, but they seem to be a bit farther away. Guys like Mark Borowiecki, Fredrik Claesson, and Mikael Wikstrand might develop nicely. The only guy of those 4 that I can see becoming a top-4 is Cody Ceci. That is a lot of pressure on one guy to try to improve the whole defensive corps. Ottawa still has great prospects, but the D is looking thin (That's why I'm hoping for Ottawa to draft a d-man, but that's for another post).
If I'm Sens management, there's no way I'm confident with the current lineup on D they have right now. That's why I'm confident Murray will make a trade to bring in a solid defender. While some are wanting to sign a big free agent name, let me ask you this: what big name is out there? Once again, this is a poor free agent class, with not many intriguing defenseman to sign.
This summer is going to be crucial for Bryan Murray and Co to shore up the blueline and take one step further for this team to becoming a legitimate contender.