The Ottawa Senators have been one of the most impressive teams to watch in the last three years. GM, Bryan Murray said three years ago, that he wanted to implement a “three-year rebuild plan” in which they would acquire assets to help this team make a run by the end of the three-year plan. Ottawa let go of former head coach, Cory Clouston and brought in Paul MacLean from Detroit to help right the Senators ship. Luckily, for Ottawa, it’s been all up-hill from there.
In year one, Paul MacLean went right to work. Using the pieces he already had in place, and using some of the young players from the AHL, MacLean led his team to a playoff berth with a 41-31-10 record, good enough for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.The biggest concept that MacLean implemented was maximizing efficiency from players and making them better than what they truly were. MacLean implemented a culture on the ice and in the locker room that made players want to play for him. This was a team that no one had going to the playoffs at the beginning of the season, and MacLean proved critics wrong in his first year as an NHL head coach. The Senators fought hard before falling to the first-seeded New York Rangers in seven games of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
However, the highlight of that season was without question the emergence of young defenseman, Erik Karlsson. Karlsson won the Norris Trophy for the 2011-2012 season in a landslide, and became a key component on this team’s defense that very much needed his presence.
After exceeding numerous expectations in year one of the ‘rebuild’ Paul MacLean picked up right where he left off in year one. However, this time was a little more difficult. Last season, Paul MacLean played night in, night out without key players such as, Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, and for a short time Craig Anderson. Mid-way through the season, the Ottawa Senators lineup looked like their AHL affiliate team’s roster. At this point, many people wrote off the Senators’ season as they said there was absolutely no way they would overcome this, and MacLean proved them wrong yet again.
MacLean led last year’s team to the Eastern Conference SemiFinals after defeating the Canadiens in just five games. However, their season came to an abrupt ending after falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the SemiFinals. The Sens finished seventh in the Eastern Conference in last season’s shortened season. MacLean showed that this team truly isn’t in a rebuilding stage, and that they were only a few pieces away from truly becoming Stanley Cup contenders. MacLean was commemorated for his magnificent coaching with his first Jack Adams Award which goes to the best coach of that respective season.
Now, we find ourselves in season three of this so called rebuilding stage, and the Senators have some pretty high expectations that they haven’t had in a while. The same people who wrote them off just two years ago, have them winning their division this season. This is partly because of their offseason acquisitions.
While the Senators let their longest tenured captain walk during free agency, the team was able to acquire Clarke MacArthur and make a splash to bring in scoring winger, Bobby Ryan from Anaheim in a trade.
The Senators have high expectations, and have gotten off to a shaky start thus far, but are currently riding a three-game winning streak. MacLean was inked to an extension over the summer and well deserved. While some moves need to be made on defense, their goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner probably ranks amongst the best in the NHL. With the new alignment, and teams like Detroit and Columbus coming to the East, the fight to get into the playoffs suddenly got tougher.
MacLean needs to continue to work with what clicked in his first two season and apply it to this season’s team. Not having Alfredsson’s presence in the locker room is tough, but they sure have the players to make some noise in the East. MacLean has some talent still at the AHL level to help produce, but he knows that anything less of a second round appearance in the playoffs is a disappointment.
The team is healthy once again, and the Senators are hungrier than ever for their first Stanley Cup. The question now is, is this the year?
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