1. The Senators traded Mika Zibanejad for veteran Derick Brassard over the summer. How will that change the Sens' dynamic on forward? (by Michaela Schreiter)
The addition of Derick Brassard, and the loss of Mika Zibanejad, changes the overall team dynamic in a few ways. First of all, Brassard brings experience to the line up. At 29 years old, Brassard is six years older than Zibanejad, and has a total of nine NHL seasons under his belt. The team knows what they're getting from Brassard. In his best season (2014-15), he registered 60 points (19G, 41A) in 80 games. He maintained very close to that pace last season, with 58 points (27G, 31A). Zibanejad, on the other hand, is still in the process of developing. Despite being in the NHL for three and a half seasons, we're still not sure exactly sure what Zibanejad's ceiling will be. The Sens removed a little bit of uncertainty from the line up, and added experience.
Now, experience only means so much. Brassard also brings an element to the Sens' line-up that, until the trade was made, many of us didn't even know they needed: A left-shot centre. This isn't going to be a deal-breaker, but it may make it easier for Brassard to feed the right wing. And there is a particular right winger who is in need of generating chemistry with his centre... Bobby Ryan. Brassard might have an easier time getting the most out of Ryan, which is a welcome aid to the line up.
Finally, Brassard is a solid second-line centre. With Turris at number one, Brassard will provide much-needed support to the remainder of the team's top-six forwards. That means that Jean-Gabriel Pageau can remain on the third line, and face easier competition than he may on a top line. Pageau is one of the Sens' most surprising weapons, and the further the team can keep him from an opponent's top players, the better. With Chris Kelly also in the line up, the Sens have all the centres they need. So Zack Smith can also remain at the wing, where he scored a career-high 25 goals last season.
Zibanejad was also (obviously) a centre, so it's not like Brassard is bringing something to the line up that wasn't there before. But unlike with Zibanejad, there are no questions around Brassard. The team knows what kind of player he is, and Boucher knows where and how to use him. Brassard brings certainly to the line up, something that was all too absent last year, and is very much welcome now.
2. What will be the Sens' top six defencemen this year? How well will they perform? (by Callum Fraser)
I envision the D corps to look like this:
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki - Chris Wideman
Thomas Chabot (7th defenceman for 9 games)
Fredrik Claesson (7th defenceman for 73 games)
The only non question mark of the eight players likely to suit up for the Senators this season seems like Erik Karlsson. And that's not to say the others won't have a positive impact on the roster; it's just that there are a lot of new pieces and some of them weren't up to snuff last season.
Will Marc Methot prove he can play first pairing minutes after having a poor effect on Karlsson last year? Was Patrick Wiercioch really the one weighing down Cody Ceci or is the 22-year-old not quite ready for a role like this? Does Dion Phaneuf still have enough in the tank to truly be that additional top-four defenseman the Senators have been craving for the past several years? Has 64 career NHL games been enough preparation in order for Chris Wideman to flourish in a full-time NHL role? Is Mark Borowiecki going to be able to keep up with Guy Boucher's "obsession" for a high pace game? Is the other side of Thomas Chabot's game refined enough for him to garner nine or more games? Can Fredrik Claesson become a regular NHL defenseman?
Just like the forwards, health is a huge factor with the defense this season. Depth-wise, they are thinner than ever with the loss of Wiercioch, admittance of Jared Cowen's failure and refusal to upgrade in the offseason. Still though, the Senators may have a playoff-worthy top four. They just need them to all play 82 games and live up to their potential.
3. What impact will new coach Guy Boucher have on the team? (by NKB)
Right now, virtually every Sens fan is in the honeymoon stage with Boucher: he's a charismatic speaker, and he's seemingly taken good stock of the team's strengths and weaknesses. It's hard not to be excited and expectations are high. That said, a coach will always be limited by his roster. The Senators are returning a very similar team to the one that struggled badly at times last year. It would be unrealistic to expect a simple coaching change to propel the team up the standings. Instead, Boucher's first year will be a success if he's able to install a more cohesive vision of how the team is supposed to play.
It's a cliche, but all too often last year the Sens looked they were playing without any structure. On offense, players did not seem to have a series of successive reads they could go to in either the defensive or the offensive zone. To break out, the puck was fired up the boards on the strong side and it had to get out or else. In the offensive end, it was unclear how the team wanted to attack the opposing defences. Boucher is known as a coach with a strong penchant for disciplined systems-play. Witness his Lightning teams' strict adhernece to the 1-3-1, even as the rest of the league mocked them for it. If nothing else, Boucher will help the team play in a more organized fashion. Will that translate to more wins? That's yet to be seen.