Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seven Silver Linings for the Ottawa Senators Rebuilding Season

Going into this season Ottawa Senators fans knew this was going to be a difficult year. With one win after the first six games and being out scored 30-16 things were not looking good. But there are a few things for the Senators and their fans to be happy with. Here are my seven silver linings for what will likely be a long and painful season for the Ottawa Senators.

1. Milan Michalek is out scoring Dany Heatley
Ever since Dany Heatley slapped Sens nation in the face with his public trade demand he has become public enemy number one in hockey country. Heatley was traded to San Jose and in return the Senators received winger Milan Michalek. This season Michalek has ten points in nine games, while Heatley has only managed five points in eight games. Heatley has been overall disappointing since he left Ottawa. He has struggled to earn his $7.5M cap hit. Not only is Michalek out scoring Heatley, his cap hit is significantly less at $4.3M. Only Phil Kessel, Tomas Vanek, the Sedin twins and Jason Spezza have more points this year than Milan Michalek

2. Regardless if he stays or if he goes, Mika Zibanejad will be an impact player.
Last night Zibanejad played in his ninth game in a win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Now Senators management has decided to return him to Sweden to develop in a starring role in the Swedish league and World Junior Tournament. In his nine games, Zibanejad has no goals and only one assist with a plus/minus of minus three. Not overly impressive stats, but anyone who has seen him play will agree that the kid has all the tools to have a major impact in the NHL.

3. Jason Spezza is delivering elite production
The Senators are currently riding a three game win streak with wins over Winnipeg, Columbus, and Carolina. During that stretch Spezza scored seven points, including the game winner versus Winnipeg in what was a three point game. He scored the game tying goal, and another three point night versus Columbus. He continued with one goal, including the game winning shoot out goal versus Columbus. In total, Spezza has twelve points in nine games and is tied for second over all in league scoring with Daniel Sedin. Only Phil Kessel has more points than Jason Spezza so far this season.

4. Jared Cowan has arrived as the physical shut down presence on the blue-line.
Going into training camp this summer, there was a lot of buzz about the Senator’s marquee defense prospect David Rundblad. All that attention quickly shifted to the Senator’s other blue chip defense prospect Jared Cowan. Cowan was drafted with Ottawa’s ’09 first round pick ninth overall. At 6-5, 228 Cowan has been hard to miss this season. Cowan has addressed the team’s need for a big bodied defender who owns the front of the Sen’s net.

5. Brian Lee beginning to live up to expectations
Perhaps Ottawa made a mistake when they drafted Lee ninth overall in ’05 ahead of Marc Stall and Anze Kopitar. That’s all in hind sight now. Lee made his way onto the Ottawa roster last season and played well. During last years roster purge, GM Brian Murray traded defenseman Chris Campoli and made it known that Lee was also available. It is probable that a late round draft pick would have been enough to pick up Brian Lee from Ottawa at last year’s trade deadline. There were no takers fortunately. Ottawa has an abundance of defensemen now including Brian lee. Ottawa may still be looking to move a defenseman for help up front. It is now clear however, that if the Senators move a defenseman, it might not be Lee but if it is, they will not be giving him away for a late round draft pick, as his value is now much more evident.

6. Ottawa Senators power play is best in NHL
A lot of things are not going right for the Ottawa Senators this season, but the power play is not one of them. In fact the power play is tops in the NHL at 31.2%. Ottawa’s power play is clicking, and it’s the big guns that are getting it done. The top line of Michalek-Spezza-Greening have all tallied on the power play as has Daniel Alfredsson and Filip Kuba. Contributions have also come from Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar. If the Senators can maintain such a lethal power play it will compensate for a lot of other deficiencies the team has.

7. Nail Yakupov
If this season unravels and the Sens finish in last, or at least in a lottery pick position they will have a shot at drafting Nail Yakupov. Yakupov is this summer’s consensus top ranked prospect and has as much anticipation as former number one overall picks Steve Stamkos. If Sens fans need to endure a long and painful season of “rebuilding” to be rewarded with Yakupov at the draft it might all be worth it.
Follow me on Twitter: @pharling

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