There's now less than a month until the 2016-17 NHL season kicks off with Ottawa hosting Toronto in the nation's capital, so the countdown is officially on.
The Senators are looking like they could have the best shot at being the healthiest team come Oct. 12, seeing as they are the only team in the league with only one player at the World Cup of Hockey. If Erik Karlsson comes back in good shape, the team will be keen on getting a good start and putting a streak together right out of the gates.
As for the long run, that's more of an uncertainty. Last season, the Senators were plagued with injuries, bringing a plethora of players up from their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, while having to simultaneously throw the lines and pairings in the fire and start over.
With injury likelihood, the possibility of demotion and promotion in mind, below are projections for every single Ottawa Senator heading into the 2016-17 campaign.
Once you've read the projections below, give us yours in the comment section below.
The now 24-year-old had an up-and-down 2015-16 season. Things got off to a great start when the HST line was born, but with Clarke MacArthur's early injury, the trio was split up quite early. Stone had to carry Kyle Turris around on one leg for nearly 30 games, and didn't click for a while with linemate Zack Smith. When it finally did come together, Stone, Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were able to solidify themselves as Ottawa's No. 1 line down the final stretch, but it was too little too late for the Senators.
With Turris healthy and the possibility of the HST line being back together, Stone is in for a massive season.
In my opinion, 35-plus goals was an absolute given for Hoffman last season. His shot looked better than ever, his feet were as quick as they're ever going to be and he was mashing up with linemates rather well. Then happened Dave Cameron. With far less power play time than he deserved, stints on the fourth line, benching, and a complete negative atmosphere surrounding him at all times, Hoffman was so close to 30 in 2016.
This season is guaranteed to be different. Guy Boucher has already been outspoken about his desire to use Hoffman in a Stamkos-like role on the power play; a confidence never brought up in the Cameron era. Plus, for Boucher, if you're a coach coming back to the NHL after being exiled to Europe for a few years, you're worried about two things far above everything else: scoring goals and winning games.
Mike Hoffman can help you do that.
Like he was last year, Bobby Ryan is going to be a key factor on the second line. No one has ever doubted his shot, playmaking abilitiy or offensive awareness; it's his speed and defensive play that will need improving. The shiny addition of Derick Brassard could possibly light a fire underneath the Cherry Hill native; brand new puzzle pieces tend to do that to players.
And now for the shiny, new puzzle piece.
Brassard will instantly upgrade Ottawa's top six forwards, but his linemates will be downgraded compared to last season. In New York, the 28-year-old played mostly alongside Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. Potential linemates Ryan and MacArthur are solid wingers to have, but let's just call a spade a spade.
Brassard is known to be a great playmaker and a centre that needs to use his extremely accurate shot a lot more. He'll become a key part to the Senators' power play down low and on the half boards.
Up until late January, Turris had played 330 straight games in a Senators uniform. His season was cut short by a leg injury that just wouldn't go away after he had an awkward collision with Casey Cizikas in early December. Turris was on pace for more than solid numbers before the incident, and played over 25 games after, but wasn't the same player during that stint.
He likely won't set career highs in 2017, but look for Ottawa's Iron Man to reach the 50-point mark.
The 31-year-old from Lloydminster, Alberta, needs just one point this year to best last season's total. Extremely unfortunately for the Senators, MacArthur took multiple hits to the head early in October 2015 and was held to only four games.
It might be a bit of a learning curve for him in the first 10 games, seeing as he hasn't played in the NHL since Oct. 14, but nonetheless, MacArthur is a big part of the Senators' top six forwards and they'll look to him for an offensive push that was lacking last year.
Smith set a career highs in goals (25) and points (36) last season alongside Stone and Pageau. The fact that he was given power play time and two high-end linemates may partly explain the spike in production, but the 28-year-old centreman turned winger seemed to flourish in Ottawa's injury-plagued top six.
Though he'll still be playing with Pageau, Smith will likely see himself on the third line and with minimum time on the man advantage. He might've figured something out last season, and that's great news for the team, but the same opportunities will not be present.
Pageau slots a single point behind linemate Smith for a couple reasons. He may be the faster, more talented forward, but while Smith might actually find a role on Ottawa's second power play unit, Pageau's special teams role may be secluded to the penalty kill.
Since coming into the NHL in 2014 at age 19, Lazar - who was thought to have top-six potential and a promising scoring touch - was given a checking line role and hasn't seemed to develop into an overly dynamic player in the offensive end. If he's given a spot on line three this season, we could see his playing style change, but he could also very likely end up on the fourth line with Chris Neil and Chris Kelly in the same position he's been in for the last two seasons.
Placement will have a lot to do with Lazar's output.
Coming off a leg injury that saw him play only 11 games with the Boston Bruins last year, Kelly has been brought into Ottawa for more of a locker room presence; someone to help glue the team together after a dramatic campaign last season. He's a one-time 20-goal scorer, so don't look for him to take much of an offensive role, but Kelly is more competent with the puck in his mid 30's than some critics may think.
Dzingel's projection has little to do with him as a player - the 24-year-old is a speedy, talented winger who has a knack for reading how a play will develop - he just isn't in the best spot right now. It's going to be a toss-up going into training camp as to who will slot in beside Pageau and Smith on the third line, and with Dzingel only playing 30 career NHL games, his chances based on experience are low.
But Senators head coach Guy Boucher's presence may change things. Dave Cameron was rather reluctant to give Dzingel more rope, but Boucher's strategy is going to be vastly different.
It's completely speculation, but Chris Neil may be heading into the final season of his career. He's 27 games away from the 1000 mark and fresh off a 1-year extension. Everyone knows his role on the team. Neil will fight, get in the forecheck, play what we saw as a responsible defensive game last season, but seldom does he put up more than 15 points in an 82-game campaign.
The 6'4" giant found himself in a comfortable position last season, filling in during the final stretch on the fourth line. Though his time on ice was limited, Paul managed to record five points in 24 games with a respectable 1.08 points per 60 at even strength. With Paul, the Senators bottom trio seemed to have a noticeable presence in the offensive zone, something that was completely gone after Shane Prince was shipped off to New York at the trade deadline.
Don't look for him to play much this year, though. Paul, a prospect whom the organization thinks highly of, will likely make the NHL roster, but might be camped up in the press box most nights as the team's 13th forward.
Pierre Dorion mentioned on TSN 1200 on Monday that Ottawa will be looking for more from Matt Puempel in training camp. In a contract year, Puempel has to prove he belongs with the big club. The 23-year-old has been a goal-scorer at every single level, but that has not translated over to the NHL in the slightest. In the few stints he's had in Ottawa during the last couple seasons, he's played rather soft for a guy who stands 6'2" and weighs 204 pounds.
The scoring may very well come in time, but Puempel is going to have to find a way really soon to prove that it's worth Ottawa's time and money keeping him around longer.
Who in the world thought, in this day and age, that an NHL defenseman was capable of tallying 82 points in the regular season? Erik Karlsson didn't even think that was possible. But he still did it.
This season sets up different for Karlsson. On one hand, you'd think it would be impossible for him to duplicate his enormous output of yester-year, but on the other, the power play is improved, the top six is healthy and the young stars on the team are a year older.
However the team comes together, one thing's for sure: it's going to be damn fun watching No. 65 for another 82-plus games.
Though Dion Phaneuf saw a reasonable amount of power play time last season, with the addition of Brassard, it doesn't make much sense to have two defensemen on the man advantage. Maybe the second unit is a more suitable setup, but regardless, Phaneuf's power play time will drop drastically this season. But he's still got an eye for the net, a wicked slap shot and a knack for playmaking. Don't count him out of a prominent offensive role this year.
If Phaneuf's power play time is decreasing, then you better bet Cody Ceci's is even more so. Having said that, his time at even strength will be far more profitable alongside a steady Phaneuf. On year older, with a brand new contract and lots to prove after a disappointing year in his own end, Ceci is primed for a solid season.
Wideman is one of the better puck handlers on the defense corps. After battling with Patrick Wiercioch for that final roster spot all throughout last year, he clearly won and was awarded more ice time and a brand new contract to go with it. The pairings are basically set. Karlsson will setup with Methot at the top, Phaneuf and Ceci will play second fiddle and Wideman will be paired with Borowiecki.
It's a mashup that seems to have balance. While Borowiecki is more of a physical presence and focused on defending first and foremost, Wideman has the ability to put the puck on net when needed and is a calm, cool and collected in the other team's end.
Methot should feel comfortable on Oct. 12. Beginning his fifth season with the Senators, he'll hope to be done with his back problems, resulting in a full year alongside Karlsson. Methot doesn't need to be a catalyst in the offensive zone; he's there to support and provide stability to his partner that once or twice a game will veer off course and make a defensive error.
At times he was excessively unlucky, and at others he was clearly overwhelmed. That's what Mark Borowiecki's duration with the Senators has felt like so far. Borowiecki will fight, he'll lay the big bodycheck and he is definitely a good presence in the locker room, but his play with the puck is lacking. He's by no means brought in to be a puck-moving defenseman, but the bottom pairing may struggle again this season if there aren't any obvious improvements.
Still though, he'll have a couple more bounces go his way come October.
While the Senators haven't signed another defenseman, and are on the fence on if they should bring in a couple of PTO's, that seventh spot on the D corps is ripe for the taking for Thomas Chabot. He may only get nine games before he's sent back to Saint John for another shot at the QMJHL's President's Cup, but the organization has made it clear that he will be given a shot to make the big club.
But, though unlikely, he may play a full season, in which this projection would be screwed.
There are bound to be injuries, and when there are, Frederik Claesson will be the defenseman ready to step in, whether it's in Binghamton, in practice or in the press box at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Though Andrew Hammond's career defining stretch during the 2014-15 season may have garnered him a permanent spot in the NHL, Craig Anderson is still the Senators' No. 1 goaltender, and it'll stay that way until further notice. Anderson was absolutely peppered last year as Ottawa's defense broke down left, right and centre, so if he can play the way he did October-June, the Senators will have a strong presence in the crease.
The roles won't be changing anytime soon. Hammond is the team's No. 2, plain and simple. Expect relatively the same outcome as last year.
Last season, the Senators were able to record a total of 236 goals. This year, the players' individual point projections add up to a total of 244 goals.
Only three teams managed to top 244 goals last season, so it is a daunting task, but with an upgraded forward group and still the best defenseman in the world, it's possible.
Again, show us your projections in the comment section below