Future is bright for underdog Senators | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaFuture is bright for underdog Senators

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013 | 11:36 PM

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Jason Spezza (19) and the Senators pushed the Penguins to five games before bowing out of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images) Jason Spezza (19) and the Senators pushed the Penguins to five games before bowing out of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)

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The Ottawa Senators had their remarkable season ended on Friday. But how much better can this team get after the lesson they learned from the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins?

Thank you, Ottawa Senators.

Thank you for your perseverance through long-term injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, Jared Cowen and Milan Michalek.

Thank you for being a good story.

Thank you for being the first Canadian-based NHL team to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 of the 2010-11 final. Thank you to head coach Paul MacLean and his sense of humour.

"I hope they don't bill us for the clinic," the Senators bench boss said through his trademark moustache after the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins ousted the Senators in Game 5 on Friday. Pittsburgh outscored Ottawa 13-5 in the final two games.

"They [Penguins] were really good, really consistent for almost all five games. It's a credit to their organization," MacLean added. "For our team, after great success against Montreal in the first series, we really got a bit of a lesson on what it takes to continue to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs."

A lesson that should benefit this young team as it skates into the future. Hopefully, the Senators' 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson will be there to guide the way next season. But that's a decision the popular and dependable Swede won't have to make for another few weeks.

The Senators will assemble at Scotiabank Place to clean out their dressing room on Monday. Even though the sting of their elimination is less than 72 hours old, they should hold their heads high.

Even if the aforementioned Spezza, Karlsson, Anderson, Cowen and Michalek had been in peak form and had been back from their various ailments for a months, not weeks -- or in Spezza's case, days -- they likely would have been in tough against the mighty Penguins.

Still, you wonder how much better they would have been with all five in mid-season form?

How much better will they be next year after this experience? How much better will Jean-Gabriel Pageau be next season? Can 21-year-old Mark Stone, a 40-goal scorer in junior, become a regular? Does Colin Greening's playoff performance help him over the hump to become a more consistent contributor?

Can 22-year-old defenceman Patrick Wiercioch build on his impressive rookie season? Marc Methot proved he is a stud. Can he take the next step and become one of the game's elite shutdown defencemen?

Room for improvement

The Senators roster still has room for improvement. But general manager Bryan Murray is in a good spot. He has young depth to trade if he desires and, although the Senators have not been a team that spends to the salary-cap ceiling, Murray has more than $22 million to work with, according to capgeek.com.

Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin, Mike Lundin and Andre Benoit will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Mike Hoffman, Erik Condra and Wiercioch need to be re-signed, too. Of this group, Alfredsson, Benoit, Hoffman, Condra and Wiercioch are considered priorities. 

A couple of smart moves from Murray and the Senators will pass the in-flux Vancouver Canucks as the top contender among the seven Canadian-based teams to end the Stanley Cup dry spell in this country.

On June 9, that drought turns 20 years since 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens prevailed over Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Since then, the Canucks (1994, 2011), Flames (2004), Oilers (2006) and Senators (2007) have made appearances in the Stanley Cup final.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the Senators. It will be interesting to see how much they will build off this spring-time run.

Here is how the seven Canadian teams have coped in the post-season since the 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled due to the lockout:

Calgary Flames

Playoffs made (4): 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

Series: 4

Record: 0-4

Edmonton Oilers

Playoffs made (1): 2006

Series: 4

Record: 3-1

Montreal Canadiens

Playoffs made (6): 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013

Series: 9

Record: 3-6

Ottawa Senators

Playoffs made (6): 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013

Series: 11

Record: 5-6

Toronto Maple Leafs

Playoffs made (1): 2013

Series: 1

Record: 0-1

Vancouver Canucks

Playoffs made (6): 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Series: 12

Record: 6-6

Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers

Playoffs made (1): 2007

Series: 1

Record: 0-1

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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