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The Senators' Defensive Situation is Manageable

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How do you solve a problem like the Senators' defense? Well, maybe you don't need to. Maybe it'll fix itself.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Overshadowed by superb goaltending and first-rate goal scoring, the Senators' defense was a poorly deployed roster featuring many under-performing players last season.

But maybe it won't be the same case come October.

Starting the 2014-15 season without Marc Methot due to a lingering back injury, the Senators were lacking one of their top defenders. More importantly though, Erik Karlsson was deprived of a worthy partner. It wasn't until Methot returned in early January that the team consistently had somewhat of an adequate defense corps to utilize.

And around the same time Methot was brought back into the lineup, Patrick Wiercioch was becoming a regular as well. It took half the season, but the 24-year-old had finally watched his last game in the press box.

With two of the team's most reliable players contributing every single game, the Senators found themselves in the win column more often than not.

Actually, a heck of a lot more often.

Player Team Record With Win % Team Record Without Win %
Marc Methot 27-13-5 .600 16-13-8 .432
Patrick Wiercioch 32-14-10 .571 11-12-3 .423

It seemed fitting that Wiercioch's season only got better following his boost in playing time. After being a frequent healthy scratch for a great deal of the first half of the season, he was proving management wrong and fancy stats right.

Then, when Dave Cameron's leash grew longer, we got to see exactly what Wiercioch was capable of. With an impressive playoff performance, he ended up tied for the lead in points amongst teammates, chipping in a couple crucial goals.

Oh, and later on he won a gold medal with Canada at the World Hockey Championships. No big deal.

A healthy Methot and a trusted Wiercioch at the start of the upcoming season means Ottawa's top four is structurally sound and offensively capable, hopefully for 82 games.

Offseason Decisions

Behind the top two pairings, of course, there becomes some uncertainty. The past year showed everyone who the Senators can win with, but it also revealed who seems to be holding the team back from success.

Player Team Record With Win % Team Record Without Win %
Chris Phillips 14-18-4 .388 29-8-9 .630
Jared Cowen 24-23-7 .444 19-3-6 .679

The problem with Ottawa's blue line is that, while they have eight defensemen on the roster, depth is non-existent. Karlsson, Methot and Wiercioch were the only defenders to post Corsi and Fenwick numbers above 50% at even strength last season, and aside from Cody Ceci trailing by just a tad, the others weren't even close.

I'm sure it's on his list, but Bryan Murray needs to do some serious spring (soon-to-be summer) cleaning. Whether it's a buyout, an exchange for a draft pick or exploring waivers at the beginning of next season, there's essentially too much, for lack of a better term, dead weight.

We all know Chris Wideman had quite the year with Binghamton in the AHL, taking home the Eddie Shore Award for best defenseman, but it's doubtful that he'll be sticking around with the organization. Wideman is a UFA come July and with a packed squad in Ottawa, it's unlikely he will want to stay when a one-way contract would be very achievable elsewhere.

It's a shame, too, because he'd be an upgrade to the current situation the Senators have.

***

If the Senators can't find someone to add to the team's top four - or plainly just don't want to - maybe Ceci will be ready to step up. He will be a year older next season, and therefore, a year wiser. There was a sense that Ceci's problems this season stemmed from a lack of experience. At age 21, his speed and puck handling skills were exceptional, but he had a knack for finding himself constantly out of position.

Ottawa finished 25th in shots against during the regular season, only to be saved by the league's 4th best goaltending. It's widely known they need to improve on last year's numbers, but maybe just being healthy and learning what worked down the stretch will do the trick.

And if the Senators don't seem to improve on defense come October, Erik Karlsson is still Erik Karlsson. So we've got that to look forward to.