Does losing in the playoffs still count as a disappointment when few predicted they would even make it to the post season? For most of 2011, this was one of the worst teams in the NHL; then Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson found their form and the team hasn't looked back. They took the #1 seed New York Rangers to seven games and lost despite a valiant effort. Craig Anderson had a great series, but the goalie at the other end was just a little bit better when it mattered the most. Jason Spezza led the team in scoring, where Milan Michalek was a profound disappointment in the playoffs, scoring 2 PTS over 7 games. Karlsson had 1 point in 7 GP, Greening 1 point, Alfredsson 2 PTS in 4 GP. Aside from Spezza; Nick Foligno and Chris Neil were the team's best forwards.
Karlsson picked a great time for a breakout season, leading the NHL in defenseman scoring by a country mile, set to become a restricted free agent in the offseason. If Drew Doughty got $7M over several years (having never won a Norris trophy), who much will Karlsson be due if he wins the trophy this year? Filip Kuba will be their toughest UFA to replace should he depart for greener pastures. With Karlsson due a big raise and Gonchar having another year left at $5.5M, it is unlikely that Kuba will return. Phillips comes at a reasonable price, and Jered Cowan will likely be relied upon to play an even bigger role next season, probably a bump from 19 minutes to about 22 minutes.
Daniel Aldredsson has one year left on his over 35 front loaded contract, so whether he decides to play next season for $1M or retire, the $4.3 will still come off the cap number. Not that it matters, Ottawa has one of the league's lowest payrolls. They have the room to add some big pieces provided ownership wants to spend the money. Zenon Konopka was a great bargain at $700K, and should generate more demand this summer than he received last summer. Detroit could certainly use a player of his skill set. Even if you don't think 3.6 PIMs per game is a "skill", he is great on faceoffs and kills penalties. Greening, Z.Smith, and Condra will all be coming back for under a million dollars, which helps. Turris showed a lot of promise this season and has become an important building block in the future of the franchise.
For an idea of how I've tracked this team over the course of the entire season, below is the collection of my Ottawa Senators power rankings blurbs. I do a power rankings every 2-3 weeks using a formula based mostly on goal differential and PTS per game. Ottawa started at #27, climbed as high as #10, and finished at #15.
#27. Ottawa (last April rank #27): They have won 2 in a row after a 1-5 start, and Jason Spezza is putting up points. That being said, I'd still bet against this team making the playoffs
#25. Ottawa (last rank #27): They're bad, they're good, they're bad, now what? Spezza and Michalek have something going.
#21. Ottawa (last rank #25): As of right now they have squeaked into the 8th seed in the East. Far better than I would have predicted after the first 2 weeks of the season. Karlsson has been their MVP to this point.
#23. Ottawa (last rank #21): Erik Karlsson's 29 PTS in 33 GP would have to earn him their Unsung Hero award, though Milan Michalek's 19 goals have been a surprise. Jason Spezza team MVP. Sens have serious goaltending issues.
#22. Ottawa Senators (last rank #23): This has been one of the worst teams of the year, though they finish 2011 tied for the last playoff spot in the East. Their year has been one steady, consistent improvement. It is great to see Alfredsson back and producing at a strong clip.
#14. Ottawa Senators (last rank #22): What's more ridiculous, that Sens fans voted all those guys into the starting all-star line-up, or that those guys may have deserved those spots? Paul MacLean has leapfrogged Mike Yeo as my favourite to win coach of the year. Craig Anderson is 6-0-1 with a 1.80 GAA so far this month. Is Karlsson having a Norris calibre season? He should be in the discussion.
#22. Ottawa Senators (last rank #14): Currently rated as the worst team holding down a playoff spot. They are on a league high 6 game losing streak, as their fortunes seem to have completely collapsed leading into and following their city hosting all-star weekend.
#10. Ottawa Senators (last rank #22): This has been quite the roller coaster season for Sens fans. Two weeks ago people were starting to write them out of a playoff spot, and since then Erik Karlsson may have clinched the Norris trophy and personally turned the team around. Jason Spezza has experienced a resurrection. Ottawa has been trying to sell Spezza for the last two years and could not find a buyer. They aren't selling anymore.
#11. Ottawa Senators (last rank #10): Ben Bishop might have quietly been one of the best trade deadline acquisitions. Spezza and Alfredsson however, important producers in this offense, have been quiet in March.
goaltending. If Craig Anderson can stand on his head, the Senators might just have a chance.