NHL preview: Replicating last year's Cinderella run a tall order for Sens

Erik Karlsson had off-season ankle surgery and is expected to miss the team's season opener. His health will have a major impact on Ottawa's chances of competing for positioning in the Atlantic Division.

Erik Karlsson's health is the main storyline heading into Ottawa's season opener

Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators had ankle surgery and is expected to miss the beginning of the regular season. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

This is part six of our series of season previews for the seven Canadian-based NHL teams.

Published previews: Edmonton OilersToronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Montreal CanadiensWinnipeg Jets

Ottawa Senators

2016-17 record: 44-28-10 (98 points), 2nd in Atlantic Division, lost to Pittsburgh in conference final

Key off-season additions: D Johnny Oduya, F Nate Thompson

Key off-season subtractions: D Marc Methot, F Chris Neil, F Tommy Wingels, F Viktor Stalberg

Probability of winning the Cup*: 2.94%

Probability of making the playoffs*: 45.45%

*derived from betting odds posted by Bodog

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Last season's story

The 2016-17 version of the Ottawa Senators was one of the better stories hockey has had in a long time. A team without many expectations defied enough odds finishing second in the Atlantic division, ahead of more heavily favoured teams like Boston and Tampa Bay. But they didn't stop there. They took out the Bruins in the first round, the Rangers in the second and pushed Sidney Crosby and the Penguins to a Game 7 overtime in the conference final, coming within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup. Erik Karlsson continued to make his case for best defenceman in the NHL. However, despite all the success, they were the only team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential (minus-2).

The off-season

The biggest story for the Senators could be the health of Karlsson, who had surgery that "took half of my ankle bone out." He's expected to miss the start of the regular season but should return soon after. When it comes to the roster, the Senators had a pretty quiet off-season, losing nothing major while adding even less. Defenceman Marc Methot was a casualty of the expansion draft and is now in Dallas (via Vegas), but Ottawa offset his loss by adding veteran Johnny Oduya. Role forwards Chris Neil, Viktor Stalberg and Tommy Wingels are out of the fold, but none of those losses should impact the team too heavily. They are relying on a few prospects to make the jump to the show, with blue-chip defenceman Thomas Chabot expected to make an impact at some point (He was assigned to the AHL on Sunday). Forward Colin White seemed primed to make an impact as well, but he broke his wrist in the pre-season and won't be back for six to eight weeks. Goalie Craig Anderson was given a two-year extension with an AAV of $4.75 million US, and goalie insurance policy Mike Condon was also given a three-year deal. Arena issues are still hanging over the organization, however, with the team slashing capacity by 1,500.

Thomas Chabot was named MVP of the world juniors in January, leading the tournament's defencemen in points with 10. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Dream scenario

A successful season in Ottawa probably doesn't include bettering last year's accomplishments, as expectations of a Stanley Cup appearance seem lofty. A healthy Karlsson is needed, but if he returns quickly and plays without hindrance, the Senators will contend in the Atlantic. The offence will positively regress (their shooting percentage of 8.4 per cent was 22nd in the NHL last season), and Chabot provides them with a Zach Werenski-like impact from the backend when he joins the team, giving them a young, offensively gifted weapon from the blue line. If everything comes together, the Senators get back to the playoff dance, where anything can happen. 

Nightmare scenario

Last season gets chalked up to luck, where everything lined up, and the opposite happens. The offence fails to improve and the goaltending is unable to carry the team. Karlsson has a down year after starting the season injured and although still great, he doesn't reach last year's heights (71 points in 77 games). The division gets tougher with Tampa Bay reclaiming its status as one of the league's elite teams, and Toronto trying to knock on the same elite door. The fans keep staying away from the rink, and the arena issues create an even darker cloud over a mediocre team.


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