The Binghamton Senators ended up in third place in the East with a .500 record but missed this year's playoffs after making it the previous two seasons, including capturing a division title in 2013-'14.
After their magical run of 2010-'11 in winning the Cup, things fell apart the very next year as the club spent most of the season in the basement of the AHL with most players grabbing opportunities for bigger roles in their career. Similar transactions happened again to this year's squad with players graduating up top like Mike Hoffman, Mark Borowiecki, Mark Stone, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Cody Ceci, Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa to the KHL.
That's a boat load of talent that has gone through the system leaving the team with holes to fill while keeping the turnstile moving in Binghamton. It's remarkable that they did finish in third place when you look back at those who had a hand in winning that division title in '14.
The difference? Retaining key players and not let them walk this time around.
With the inevitable task at hand with alteration's being made once again during the off-season, head coach Luke Richardson supported that notion during a recent local interview with the P&SB;
Going forward, this group – or most of the group that is in the system and comes back here – they have a real good step up on things and they're going in the right direction." B-Sens coach Luke Richardson
That's a telling tale in using the word most. Let's see how it fits in breaking it down.
The following players are signed through next season: Forward's Matt Puempel, Buddy Robinson, Max McCormick, David Dziurzynski, Alex Guptill and Ryan Dzingel while Troy Rutkowski and Mike Sdao rounds up the list on defense. That leaves two thirds of the team without contracts, which is just about average in comparison to the rest of the teams in the league. What stands out for me is Puempel, who seems to be the forgotten man as he suffered a lower body injury and eventually took a backseat to Ottawa's run in making the post season. Seems likely he'll be in Binghamton come October, as he works his way back into the line-up for the big club with his impact taking new meaning in aiding the B-Sens off to a good start.
There are two things that should be on the top of Ottawa's to do list during the off-season that is obvious. Retain the league's best defenseman in Chris Wideman and re-sign Fredrik Claesson. Both are extremely important cogs to the concept of winning a championship once again next season. Without at least one of them, it'll be a tough hill to climb.
Another might be Alex Grant, we can use his offense. Let both Aaron Johnson and Patrick Mullen walk.
With highly touted prospect Mikael Wikstrand out overseas once again, the club needs another D-man in it's place with Guillaume Lepine filling the role and is more than adequate in replacing Danny New as the new seventh man on the back end. That leaves newcomer Ben Harpur, with the preliminaries out on the 6' 6" 217 lb 20 year old fourth round pick, one thing comes to mind is another player with a first name being Ben as the somewhat over-hyped Ben Blood (remember him?), the player with one of the best names in hockey but didn't stand up to it as he was soft and didn't utilize his size or strength in his time with the Senators.
Let's hope Harpur is better than Blood. Projected line-up on the blue line;
Claesson - Rutkowski
Harpur - Grant
Sdao - Wideman
Ottawa needs to bring back the core of the offense with Carter Camper, Cole Schneider and Shane Prince reuniting the first line for next season as the trio caught fire towards the tail end. Then just hope Prince accepts Ottawa's offer and refuses Timmy's in Buffalo. Offer Derek Grant more cash and another two-way contract in which he'll become the team's Captain, as I was glad to see him added to the Black Aces and participated in warm-ups for Sunday's contest.
Bring back agitator and fan favorite Darren Kramer as I would hate for him to sign up with one of our two rival's north or south of the NY/PA stateline because I have a feeling that's exactly what would happen. But with Vincent Dunn arriving, I can't see the club carrying both. Besides if they did, that would be one colorful locker room with Kramer chirping away at "meathead" Dunn. Let's hope he gets his act together as I'm not exactly thrilled with this move one bit.
Should the Senators re-sign Danny Hobbs and let Garrett Thompson go? Yes. But on the fence with Brad Mills as another character guy in the locker room can't hurt I suppose, however wouldn't be alarmed if all three are gone. Alex Wideman might be brought back as a incentive to have his brother Chris return, although a glaring drawback would be in his size as it appears the forwards would be getting smaller and smaller with himself and Camper leading the way.
In the past Ottawa has a habit of bringing in veterans for Binghamton that has brought in mixed reviews. The recent few that had an impact were Corey Locke, Martin St. Pierre and Andre Benoit, while others that haven't with Aaron Johnson and Tim Conboy on the top of the list. So if there is a possibility of Camper not offered a new deal, there's going to be a very big hole to fill up the middle on the first line.
In lieu of his replacement, one can mention the possibility of Chris Bourque, who is a UFA and played for the NY Ranger's farm team in Hartford this past season. The 29 year old native from Boston, Mass led the team in scoring with 29 goals and 37 assists in 73 games for the Wolf Pack. Although it might come with some repercussions with his top end $350,000 AHL price tag, in comparison to the highest contract for Binghamton was Johnson at $250,000. If that won't work, another possible UFA candidate would be Joe Whitney of the Albany Devils, as he has been so consistent in producing points in the last four seasons on a paltry $105,000 AHL salary for the Devils.
It's a long shot I admit with Bourque, especially playing with his younger brother Ryan who's also in Hartford, but I have faith Ottawa can pull the trigger.
On the back burner, Nick Paul seems to be increasing his stock as I look forward to witness the excitement he has bottled up waiting for his opportunity in the pros along with Tobias Lindberg very soon.
This is the line-up in the final game of the season. Draw your own conclusions on who's coming and going and where they fit in.
A Wideman-D Grant-Hobbs
In Goal -
Kind of a mixed bag in net but it's safe to say Chris Driedger will begin his second year in the pros as the #1 guy between the pipes for Binghamton with the possibility of another fan favorite Scott Greenham to back him up. Peter Mannino won't be back and perhaps should retire. On a side note, I don't know what Ottawa is going to be doing with their three netminders, but in the fallout with his success in the NHL, I don't see Andrew Hammond being back in Binghamton anytime soon.
Prospect Marcus Hogberg is not yet signed and if/when he does, he'll most likely see action in Evansville following the trail of footstep's left behind by Driedger in adjusting to the style of North American play on ice. However, I'm now finding out he's signed for another two years over in Sweden.
If the Senators do win the Matt O'Connor sweepstakes, then that changes everything.
Will Richardson be back in Binghamton? I have said all along on various social media outlets that he is committed to at least one more season here in Bingo, and I still believe he will live up to his claim. There are several rumors that he will be behind the bench in Buffalo next season and recently heard he's currently "sitting" on an offer presented by the Sabres.
We'll just leave it at that for now.
Assistant Coach Steve Stirling did a remarkable job in the playoffs up in Ottawa filling in for Mark Reeds in running the power play and it paid dividends. Good for him as I hope he's offered the same position next season as B-Sens' Video Coach Tim Marks took his spot during his absence.
I do like the way things are projecting for next season. If the organization retains the current offensive core of players while tweaking it here and there on the defense, then that will help in supporting our goaltenders in moving forward and hopefully win enough games to make Binghamton champions once again.
*Cover Pic & Insert Courtesy of Alicia Strauch