There's too many players and not enough spots.
There's simply no other way of putting it. The Ottawa Senators invited 57 players to training camp, but can only keep 23 during the regular season. Some players are guaranteed spots:
Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner, Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur, Mika Zibanejad, Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Chris Neil, Cory Conacher, Matt Kassian, Zack Smith, Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch, Chris Phillips, Joe Corvo.
That's 20 names. There's three spots--all essentially injury replacements or situational players--that are truly open to competition. Typically, that distribution is two forwards and one defenseman.
For two forward spots, there are six legitimate contenders: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Jim O`Brien, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Stephane Da Costa, and Andre Petersson. There are numerous other names who might force their way into the conversation with an outstanding camp. Players like Shane Prince, David Dziurzynski, Matt Puempel, Curtis Lazar, and Derek Grant all have outside shots--Dziurzynski and Grant already have a sprinkle of NHL experience.
Among defensemen, Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki both got auditions in the big league last year, with Gryba's stay being of the extended variety--but their spots could easily be stolen by someone like Cody Ceci, Frederick Claesson, or even buzz-generating youngsters Michael Sdao or Chris Wideman.
That's an awful lot of competition for just three spots. Much of it will be settled through players' contract status--anyone on a two-way deal is going to have to play so well that the team simply has no choice but to keep them up, in the mold of Erik Karlsson's rookie season. We're talking seriously outstanding play, in the true sense of the word.
Injuries, of course, are inevitable. The roster that makes it out of camp won't play all 82 games. There's no way of knowing who will miss games or how many games they'll miss, but the Senators' prospect depth is going to come into play at some point this season. The players who don't make the team have a lot of incentive to not take any nights off in Binghamton: The best-performing player at the time of need is the one who gets the call--and as Gryba showed last year, how long you stay with the big club is totally up to you and how well you play.
Still, while the Binghamton Senators will be in good shape--having a roster of players who are either on the cusp or on the path of playing in the NHL--the Ottawa Senators face challenges with their pipeline, and their prospects face challenges with making it to the big team.
We've seen the team make moves, sometimes no more than tweaks, at the trade deadline each year. This year is not likely to be any different, except that instead of looking to accumulate draft picks or benefit from a positional surplus, the team has a more nebulous situation. For the first time in a long time, the game day roster should come down to who general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean actually want to be playing. The guys who don't distinguish themselves will wind up expendable, and could get moved to a team lacking similar prospect depth.
Someone (or someones) is going to get moved this year. Until that happens, who that might be and what they might bring back to the team is a looming mystery, and a great incentive to play just a little harder than the guy next to you.