NHL Pre-season Predictions: Atlantic Division – No. 3 Ottawa Senators

THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Third in Atlantic Division.

2013: 25-17-6. Seventh in East.

KEY DEPARTURES: Peter Regin, Daniel Alfredsson, Andre Benoit, Jakob Silfverberg, Mike Lundin, Sergei Gonchar.

KEY ADDITIONS: Joe Corvo, Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan.

THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Jason Spezza (78), Erik Karlsson (72), Bobby Ryan (65).

PROS: Despite serious injuries to cornerstone players Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, the Senators surprised much of the hockey world last season with a stellar performance. All three of those contributors have pronounced themselves healthy for this year – and they will get to play alongside former Ducks winger Bobby Ryan, Ottawa’s big summertime addition, as well as improving youngsters Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad. The Sens also signed former Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur to improve their depth on the wing, especially in the wake of Daniel Alfredsson’s shocking departure for Detroit. But perhaps the biggest reason to like Ottawa’s chances (other than their coach and last season’s Jack Adams winner Paul MacLean) is their quality of goaltending. With veteran Craig Anderson and youngster Robin Lehner patrolling their pipes, the Sens arguably have the best one-two punch in the league and could use one of them in a mid-season trade to improve their fortunes in another area.

CONS: The loss of former captain Alfredsson could lead to a leadership and/or emotional void in the Sens’ dressing room, but the bigger concern for Ottawa lies in the health of the stars who missed large amounts of time last season. Of the three, Spezza’s health is most worrisome; he’s missed at least 20 games in three of the past four seasons, is now 30 years old and coming off surgeries to his knee and back. Compounding that issue is the internal salary cap ceiling Sens owner Eugene Melnyk has placed on his franchise. If there’s ever a need for an injury replacement, GM Bryan Murray will be forced to look within the organization. And after the Ryan trade that sent Jacob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen to Anaheim, there’s less depth for him to lean on.

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X-FACTOR: Last year, Ottawa excelled despite the fact all of its key players were hit with the injury bug. Because of this, it’s hard to say if the Sens would still have been a playoff team after 82 games. Surely they couldn’t deal as well with that much bad luck again – and in a different format that provides stiff intra-division competition no less. The big guys have to stay healthy, namely new captain Spezza. If they do, Ottawa could prove itself a force.

PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Bobby Ryan makes Sens fans forget all about Daniel Alfredsson; Jason Spezza makes Ryan forget all about Ryan Getzlaf.