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Original Issue

1 Ottawa Senators After falling short in the conference finals, a wiser team can finish the job and win the Cup

Eleven tumultuous years after Ottawa's first general manager
publicly apologized for picking ineligible players during the NHL
expansion draft, being a Senator means never having to say you're

Ottawa has the goods to win the Stanley Cup. It has perhaps the
fastest group of nine forwards in the Eastern Conference. It has
three scoring lines, an estimable balance achieved elsewhere only
in Detroit. At long last the Senators have grit, too, in
nails-on-a-blackboard winger Vaclav Varada, who is as good as
anybody at instigating the opposition. They have the best right
side in hockey, with 50-goal-scorer-in-waiting Marian Hossa,
Daniel Alfredsson and, when he finally signs, Martin Havlat. They
have the luxury of matching top lines with two No. 1-quality
defensive pairs: Zdeno Chara and the emerging Chris Phillips, and
slick Wade Redden and Karel Rachunek. Ottawa has a consistent if
not brilliant goalie in Patrick Lalime. It has a first-rate
systems coach in the cautious Jacques Martin, and a general
manager with a clue in John Muckler, who is beginning his second
season with the team. It has financial stability in new owner
Eugene Melnyk, a big change from last season, when the franchise
filed for bankruptcy in January. Most important, the Senators
finally have an idea of what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

"Everybody in our dressing room sees what we have coming back and
how close we came," Redden says of missing the Cup finals by one
win last season. "I think we learned a lot from the experience."

They lost Game 7 of the conference finals when Devils winger Jeff
Friesen scored with 2:14 to play, but by then it was just as easy
to say that Ottawa had beaten itself. Despite having home ice
advantage in all three of their playoff series, the Senators
didn't win the first two games at home in any series. Then they
committed the unpardonable act of falling behind three games to
one to New Jersey. For Ottawa to be a juggernaut this season, it
must assert itself. "This team," Muckler says, "needs more of a
killer instinct."

The holes in the Senators' lineup appear to be mere pinpricks. A
center will have to switch to left wing, but Ottawa has a glut of
capable pivots since Jason Spezza emerged last year. He probably
earned frequent rider miles bouncing between Ottawa and its minor
league team in Binghamton, N.Y., five times. In 33 regular-season
games with Ottawa, Spezza contributed a creditable 21 points, but
his breakthrough in Game 5 against New Jersey--the
nothing-to-lose Martin belatedly inserted him into the
lineup--established his NHL credentials. In a pivotal playoff
match the 19-year-old was conspicuously the best player, scoring
a power play goal and assisting on the game-winner in a 3-1

Using that performance as a springboard, Spezza worked out
maniacally with Toronto veteran Gary Roberts during the summer
and stocked his freezer with high-protein, low-fat buffalo and
ostrich steaks. Spezza reported to training camp 10 pounds
lighter and distinctly cut.

Hossa also is prepared to abandon the periphery and make the
commitment to becoming a true power forward. He was on a 50-goal
pace last season but scored only seven in the final 20 matches to
finish with 45. Even so, after being nearly invisible in four
straight postseasons, Hossa became a dominant player for the
first time in 2003. The scary thing is, he can be even better.

"This team has the most character I've been associated with since
Edmonton," says Muckler, an Oilers assistant coach in the 1980s
and coach of the 1990 Cup-winning team; he was later coach and
then G.M. of the Sabres. "Now they have to prove it. They came to
camp believing that they can win the Cup."

Incidentally, that hapless first Senators G.M., Mel Bridgman, had
to apologize because the team's table at the expansion draft had
no working electrical outlet nearby and he had neglected to bring
batteries for the computer, which contained the updated list of
draftable players. The 2003-04 Senators can do Windows and
everything else. Next June they should be making plans for a
parade. --Michael Farber



COLOR PHOTO: DAVE SANDFORD/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI (HOSSA) MAD MARIAN Hossa, who scored five goals and had 16 points in the playoffs last season, helped take out the Flyers in the second round.

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The Senators don't have any significant holes.... With Zdeno
Chara, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden, Ottawa is the only club in
the league with three shutdown defensemen.... Marian Hossa is the
NHL's best big winger, and he could dominate the way a young
Jaromir Jagr used to.... Re-signing veteran C Bryan Smolinski was
huge. Not only does he provide the club with another offensive
weapon, but he also gives the Senators a top face-off man.