Persevering through massive injury losses, the Ottawa Senators made the playoffs and defeated the Montreal Canadiens in Round One before losing out to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a suddenly promising Senators club, that should be healthy next season, has plenty of young players who should improve and few onerous salary commitments, leaving them with plenty of cap room.
Head coach Paul MacLean won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach, steering the Senators through choppy waters when they lost Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Craig Anderson and Jared Cowen for long stretches of the season.
Surely, credit is due MacLean for the Senators managing to reach the playoffs despite those injuries, but credit can also go to sensational goaltending, from Anderson and Robin Lehner (and Ben Bishop before he was traded to Tampa Bay), and to young players who responded to being given more responsibility.
While it would be unreasonable for the Senators to expect their goaltender to be as great as they were in 2013, there are reasons for optimism, including the team's strong possession stats and a league-worst shooting percentage.
How does it benefit the Senators to have scored on just 7.0% of their shots? Well, it's unlikely that they will have the worst shooting percentage again next season, particularly in a season that should include a healthy Spezza and Karlsson.
"We need to score more goals," GM Bryan Murray said at his season-ending press conference. "We have to find a way to create a little more offence and that may mean trying to find a player out there that will do that.
"But part of it also will be counting on a couple of the younger players that showed they can play in the league to step up and do a little more with the puck than they were capable of or able to do this year."
He's right, the Senators do need to find more scoring. The good news is that they are in position to address that need so that they are poised to be a playoff contender for years to come.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Bryan Murray/Paul MacLean
Senators Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
Since 2005-2006, Jason Spezza has scored 545 points in 500 games, his 1.09 points per game ranking fifth, behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Joe Thornton. Of course, a back injury and subsequent knee injury limited him to five regular-season games and three playoff games, so it was virtually a write-off season. When healthy, he's one of the game's best playmakers, the kind of creator that the Senators sorely missed while he was out of the lineup.
Kyle Turris opened the season with 10 points in his first 11 games, then was hot and cold the rest of the season (three points in 14 games, nine points in eight games, two points in nine games, five points in six games and then nine points in 10 playoff games). He scored at a career-best rate (0.60 ppg) and played a career-high 19:38 per game but, as the 23-year-old matures, avoiding some of the droughts would be favourable. As it is, he's a nice fit as the Senators' number two pivot.
Injuries have been too common in recent seasons for 28-year-old winger Milan Michalek, and he missed 25 games last season but, since 2006-2007, he is one of 15 wingers with 150 goals and a cumulative plus-minus of at least plus-30. When healthy, he's still a productive winger, even if he's coming off a season in which he had a career-low goal-scoring rate, with four goals in 23 games (0.17 gpg).
A fourth-round pick in 2011, small and energetic centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau spent most of his first pro season in the AHL, scoring 29 points with a plus-8 rating in 69 games, then adding 10 points in 19 (regular season plus playoff) games for Ottawa. With that little experience, it might be fair to leave Pageau in the prospect pool, but it seems like a good bet that he'll be part of next year's team.
Acquired from Tampa Bay as part of the Ben Bishop trade, Cory Conacher got off to wonderful start for the Lightning, scoring 12 points in the first seven games as he skated on Steven Stamkos' wing, but his production tailed off (17 points in the remaining 40 games), so it's hard to know if the smallish winger, who was a healthy scratch at times in the postseason, will score consistently enough to maintain a regular spot in the lineup.
The sixth overall pick in 2011, Mika Zibanejad showed real promise as a rookie. His scoring was inconsistent, but he was an effective two-way forward who earned more ice time as the season progressed. He's already a contributor, but if Zibanejad's offence develops, he'll be a big part of the Senators' success.
After tearing up (54 points in 49 games in 2011-2012) the Swedish Elite League and a solid start (29 points in 34 games) to the year in the AHL Jakob Silfverberg didn't quite score as much as might have been expected as a rookie, but he generated chances. Since 2000, there have been 10 first year players to have at least 2.75 shots on goal per game and Silfverberg is one of them. It's not unreasonable to think that he could score on a higher percentage of his shots on goal, so there is still offensive potential to be explored.
A big winger who can chip in a little offensively, Colin Greening is a very reasonably-priced option to take a regular turn in Ottawa's top nine.
34-year-old enforcer Chris Neil played a career-high 13:52 while dressing for every game in 2013, and had respectable puck possession stats, justifying that usage. He has 55 fights over the last five seasons and has scored at least 10 goals and 20 points five times in his career.
A gritty checking centre who was pressed into a more offensive role at times last season, Zack Smith isn't cut out for that work, but had bad luck around the net even for a mucker.
Picked up on waivers from Minnesota, Matt Kassian has three goals and 114 penalty minutes in 43 career games. He's big enough to be classed with the super heavyweights of the league, but hasn't shown any profiency otherwise to indicate he'll be more than muscle.
Jim O'Brien has a dozen points in 63 career games and lost his spot in the lineup in the final month of the regular season. He may be in a battle for a roster spot next season, but has an economical one-way deal that could work in his favour.
A sound two-way winger with good possession numbers, Erik Condra is a low-percentage finisher (5.6% over the last two seasons), but is an effective checker, who can add some offence from the bottom half of the depth chart.
It might have been expected that 2013 would be the final year of Daniel Alfredsson's career, but after a strong regular season, he put up 10 points in 10 playoff games, enough to think that the 40-year-old may not be ready to walk away just yet. At this point of his career, if Alfredsson wants to return, the Sens would surely be able to find a spot for him, probably in their top six.
With lots of room under the salary cap, the Senators will be in position to add a top six forward. If they don't get one via trade, they can hit the free agent market, looking for Pascal Dupuis, Nathan Horton, Ryane Clowe or even older productive free agents like Patrik Elias and Jarome Iginla. The Sens have the room to make that kind of deal if that's how they want to address their need for more scoring.
Senators Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
The league's most electrifying defenceman, Erik Karlsson made a miraculously quick return from a torn Achilles to play late in the year and in the playoffs. He wasn't quite in peak form, but he is a major difference-maker when he's healthy. Karlsson only played 17 games last season, but his 4.65 shots on goal per game puts him in rare company.
Acquired from Columbus, Marc Methot was a terrific fit in Ottawa, playing a career-high 22:14 per game with strong possession stats. He's the stay-at-home complement to a free-wheeling Karlsson.
Now 35, Chris Phillips isn't the same shutdown presence that he was in his best years but, after his ice time was reduced in 2011-2012, he was back over 21 minutes per game in 2013.
A hip injury kept Jared Cowen out of the lineup for all but seven games at the end of the year before playing in all 10 playoff games. Having him healthy gives the Senators some serious size on the blueline and, since Cowen is a 22-year-old with 90 career NHL games, we don't yet know how good he can be as a shutdown defender.
While Eric Gryba is a big and physical player who gained a measure of notoriety for his knockout hit on Montreal's Lars Eller in the first round of the playoffs, Gryba isn't a thug. He was plus-28 in 38 AHL games last season before his promotion to Ottawa and he played more than 20 minutes per game in the 33 games that he dressed for the Senators. His possession numbers wers shaky, so his role could be reduced with everyone healthy, but Gryba has made his case for a full-time NHL job.
Patrick Wiercioch had his minutes managed, but he was able to contribute offensively, scoring 10 of his 19 points on the power play. With Sergei Gonchar moving on to Dallas, there could be an opportunity for Wiercioch to step into a bigger role next season.
Craig Anderson has had some pretty good runs in his career (.939 SV% in his first 18 games with the Senators in 2010-2011, .935 SV% in 17 games as a backup in Florida in 2007-2008), but they didn't compare to his 2013 season, in which he had a .941 save percentage in 24 games during a season in which he missed six weeks with a sprained ankle. It's impossible to expect Anderson to duplicate those numbers over a full season, but he's shown that he can be an above-average starting goaltender.
In 17 games over the last two seasons, Robin Lehner has a .936 save percentage (and he had a .938 save percentage in 38 AHL games last season), so the 21-year-old is ready for NHL duty. The only question is: how long before he is Ottawa's number one option?
||Owen Sound (OHL)
||19-45-68, -8, 69 GP
||25-28-53, +7, 51 GP
||15-23-38, +21, 54 GP
||18-17-35, +12, 65 GP
||35-12-47, +4, 51 GP
||4-10-14, +21, 53 GP
||17-18-35, +19, 60 GP
||13-15-28, +9, 41 GP
||19-9-28, +11, 63 GP
|Stephane Da Costa
||13-25-38, +14, 57 GP
The 15th overall pick last summer, Cody Ceci is a big blueliner who is a strong skater with solid offensive instincts who projects to be at least a top-four, potentially top pair, defenceman.
A solid, but not spectacular winger with good size, Stefan Noesen was a first-round pick in 2011 and, if his scoring ability carries to the next level, he'll be a solid addition a couple years from now.
Though skating may be a concern with Mark Stone, he has soft hands for a big man and could be an ideal complement to a playmaking centre that handles the puck a lot.
A very skilled winger, Shane Prince scored 178 points in his last two years of junior before having a productive first year as a pro. Prince's challenge is getting strong enough to handle a potential jump to the next level.
Another first-round pick from 2011, Matt Puempel has three 30-goal seasons in his junior career, but injuries have cut into his playing time over the last couple seasons, as he's played a total of 81 games. That being the case, he could definitely use some time in the AHL, just to show he can stay healthy and get acclimated to the grind of pro hockey.
An aggressive physical defender, Mark Borowiecki may be ready for NHL duty, even in a depth role, after racking up 290 penalty minutes in 135 AHL games over two-plus seasons.
Cole Schneider scored better than a point per game in two years at the University of Connecticut before solid production in his first pro campaign.
A talented player with good speed, Mike Hoffman's chance with the Senators was cut short by a broken collarbone. As younger players rise up through the organization, it may be tougher for Hoffman to get a shot, but he could still be a candidate for a call-up.
Derek Grant moves well for a big guy and got called up to Ottawa for a handful of games last season. Still needs to be more productive if he's going to have a legitimate shot at being an NHL player.
Small playmaker Stephane Da Costa has seven points in 35 games with the Senators, but has been more productive in the AHL, scoring 74 points in 103 games.
17th - Valentin Zykov, Frederik Gauthier, Andre Burakovsky.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Senators have approximately $43.5M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 19 players.
Check out my possible Senators lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top six forward, one top four defenceman.
What I said the Senators needed last year: One top six forward, three defencemen.
They added: Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Guillaume Latendresse, Patrick Wiercioch, Marc Methot, Andre Benoit, Mike Lundin.
Cory Conacher, Jim O'Brien.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.