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Ottawa Senators Season Preview: Consistency wanted

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We're all happy that hockey season's starting. And with hockey season, we're going to see a flood of season previews and predictions looking at the Ottawa Senators, where they were, where they've come, and where the might be going this year. Silver Seven wants to get in on the fun, just as all SB Nation NHL blogs are in on their respective teams' preview blitzes.

Take the jump to read a recap of where last season ended, who's in, who's out, strengths, weaknesses, the depth chart, and--the big finale--predictions from the editorial team here at Silver Seven. And share your predictions in the comments, please!

2009-10 Recap
Last season was a tale of two teams: The one that went on extended losing streaks, and the one that put together a couple of extended winning streaks. And those two teams were largely determined by the split personalities of both Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire: When the goalies did well, so did the team; when otherwise, otherwise. An 11-game winning streak powered the Sens into the playoffs--although a losing streak was almost enough to undo that--and despite some good effort in the playoffs, and due in part to plenty of injuries, the Senators went down in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals. Because it wouldn't be an Ottawa Senators season without it, Leclaire ended the season playing his best hockey as a Senator, while Elliott struggled heavily. Question marks abound.

Who's In
Just one key new face, depending what happens in training camp: Sergei Gonchar. The Senators acted quickly and decisively in picking up Gonchar in free agency, and he is one of, and probably the, best offensive defencemen in the history of the organization. Gonchar is expected to instantly improve the Senators' back-end mobility, their powerplay efficiency, and will hopefully help Erik Karlsson develop into a great puck-moving defenceman. Along with Gonchar, Brian Lee's bringing his first one-way NHL contract into training camp with him, and hoping to turn that into his first full season in Ottawa.

Other than Gonchar and Lee, incoming players to the NHL roster could be Jared Cowen, Bobby Butler, and Roman Wick--although those three will have to do a lot of good in training camp to stick in the NHL.

Who's Out
Ottawa biggest departures were from the blue line, just as the biggest acquisition was: Both Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton were deemed too expensive for the Senators' budget, and signed with the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks, respectively. Their departures leave a huge hole in physical defensive defencemen in Ottawa's defence corps, but Bryan Murray seems to hope Ottawa's offensive defencemen mean they won't have to play defence so much.

Up front, Matt Cullen went to Minnesota, leaving an opening in the Senators' top six forward ranks. And veteran grinder Shean Donovan is without a contract, still waiting after his deal with the Senators came to an end.

Three Strengths
1. Mobile defencemen: Gonchar, Karlsson, Filip Kuba, and Chris Campoli are all defencemen with an offensive bent to their game, although there is a wide range of abilities in that group. Still, Ottawa should be much improved when it comes to breaking out of the defensive zone, and you can be sure that Senators' forwards will spend plenty of time at the opposition blue line waiting for breakaway passes.

2. Bottom-six forwards: Ottawa's third line is probably one of the best in the league, and Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, and Jarkko Ruutu showed their effectiveness in last year's playoff loss to the Penguins. Nick Foligno might play in the bottom six, but we're sure to see Jesse Winchester, Ryan Shannon, and Zack Smith, along with Cody Bass and Francis Lessard as some shift disturbers who will likely start in the AHL--but be ready for an emergency call-up.

3. Powerplay: We haven't seen evidence of it yet, but there's every reason to expect the Senators' powerplay to be much-improved this season. Gonchar and Karlsson will lead the way on the point, and Kuba and Daniel Alfredsson will also probably get time on the blue-line. Up front, look for Mike Fisher to set up in front of the net fairly often, while Foligno, Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, Alex Kovalev, and Milan Michalek to form the top two units.

Three Weaknesses
1. Aging leaders: Alfredsson is not getting any younger, and neither are Kovalev nor Gonchar. This isn't in itself a bad thing, but their offensive production can be expected to begin to (or continue to) decline as their age continues to climb.

2. Injury problems: The Senators ran into it last season, but there are a whole bunch of players on the roster for whom injuries are a very real and very frightening possibility. Hard to call it a weakness because it's largely unavoidable and random, but it's certainly a vulnerability for the Senators.

3. Defence: Chris Phillips and Matt Carkner being the exception to the rule, Ottawa's defence is very heavy on offensive guys, and lacking on defenders. This will be a particular problem on the penalty kill, and may be something the Senators will have to rectify mid-season, or at the NHL trade deadline--unless Cowen, Eric Gryba, or David Hale can step up in training camp. Time will tell.

Depth Chart
Regin-Spezza-Alfredsson
Michalek-Fisher-Kovalev
Foligno-Z. Smith-Winchester
Ruutu-Kelly-Neil
(Shannon)

Gonchar-Phillips
Karlsson-Kuba
Carkner-Campoli
(Lee)

Leclaire
Elliott
(Brodeur)

Predictions
Peter: Ottawa should finish first or second in the Northeast Division, depending on how well the Boston Bruins can do, and whether or not Lindy Ruff can yet again get more from less in Buffalo. That'll put Ottawa in third or fifth in the Eastern Conference, with around 100 points on the year.

Darren: Senators will finish 7th in the East. Other teams have improved more than the Senators, who still haven't shored up their goaltending position and have more than a few question marks for injuries. The Senators could easily finish anywhere from 4th to 10th, really, but I think they'll miss home ice advantage once again.

Mark: I'd say Ottawa finishes 5th with 97 points. I'm just not a believer in our goaltending, and I think that will offset any gain we get from Gonchar.

Ryan: 3rd east, win division, 105 points. Yep, going out on a limb. Much like Kuba. I think Karlsson hits 45 points easily this year. Mike Hoffman will get a few games in and if anyone not named Kuba is injured in camp, he'll start the season in Ottawa. Leclaire will win the number one job by December, and Peter Regin will cement himself as either a first-line winger or second-line centre. Brian Lee gets waived ends up in Edmonton, Anaheim, or with the Islanders.