The Senators, who again should be in the lower tier of Eastern
Conference playoff teams, pulled the biggest upset of the 1998
postseason by knocking out heavily favored New Jersey in six
games. Then they followed a storybook spring with a nightmarish
"How I Spent My Summer Vacation."
Life got mighty interesting in June for a six-year-old franchise
that had outgrown the buffoonery of its infant years. General
manager Pierre Gauthier, who laid the groundwork for Ottawa's
budding professionalism, resigned for what he called family
reasons, but within weeks he wound up with the same job in
Anaheim. Rick Dudley, the former Sabres coach who had been
running the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League,
replaced Gauthier. But Dudley will be hard-pressed to duplicate
his predecessor's knack for making good use of late draft picks
and castoffs such as wingers Magnus Arvedson and Andreas Dackell
and defenseman Janne Laukkanen.
Coach Jacques Martin must devise an attack for a team that can
be inept with the puck. However, Alexei Yashin, a potential
100-point center, loves to play in traffic and should thrive
with the new rules that have created additional space behind the
net. But until injured wingers Daniel Alfredsson (17 goals in 55
games) and 19-year-old junior sensation Marian Hossa return from
knee injuries, in November and December, respectively, Yashin
will have to make things happen pretty much on his own.
The core of young defensemen (including former high draft picks
Chris Phillips and Wade Redden) is one of the top three in the
conference. That's a blessing, since it will have to protect a
middling pair of goalies, Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt. The
streaky Rhodes has had occasional bouts of self-doubt and can
crack at any time, while Tugnutt merely cracks--he fractured two
ribs in a boating accident in the off-season.
Ottawa can't wait for the season to start. The summer has been
just too tough.
COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS Like the Senators, Yashin is on the rise. [Alexei Yashin checking opposing player]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Even though the Senators advanced to the second round of the
playoffs last spring, they still have the worst winning
percentage (.308) of any NHL team since the 1990-91 season.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Early in the season the Senators must overcome the loss of
injured offensive keys Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa,
neither of whom is expected back before mid-November.
--The most underrated defense in the NHL needs to be dominant
because Ottawa will have difficulty scoring.