So let's put all this Heatley drama aside for a second and look ahead to the upcoming season. Am I being too optimistic or do Sens fans have a lot to look forward to?
Let's start with the coaching. The last few years have been turbulent in terms of coaching for Sens fans. Cory Clouston is a young, new coach who seems to want to bring a whole new identity to this team. In fact, Clouston should be proud that Heatley is asking for a trade; all this means is that Clouston is trying to teach a more team play kind of style where no one is leaned far too heavily on like the big line was when Paddock was in, and Clouston won't give in to players who don't buy into the system (ie: Heatley). Give kudos to Murray also for building an exciting, young team for Clouston to work with in his new system.
The goaltending for Sens fans looks solid for next season, in fact it looks as solid as it has looked in years. Sure Leclaire doesn't have a long NHL resume but he wasn't a high draft pick for no reason and no one in Columbus was shocked by his great play. Yes, he has had a few injury problems but he'll be fully recovered for the upcoming season. Leclaire is a number one goalie and that's something Sens fans can breath a sigh of relief for having. With the trade of Auld, Leclaire's backup is Elliot (once he signs). Elliot proved last season he is a capable NHL goalie, he could still be a number one, but so far looks like he'll be backup next year behind Leclaire. With these two goalies I think we can finally say goaltending is not the main worry going into next season.
The defense is one that may bring some question marks to some of you. Sure, the defense doesn't have a number one guy, but we do have two number 2 guys in Phillips and Volchenkov so that's not so bad for any team to have. Behind them our number 3 would probably be Kuba who had a solid season last year and is signed for 3 more years at a somewhat reasonable price. Behind them we're looking at Campoli probably having a spot on the team but beyond that there should be a great competition for D spots with a bunch of promising and seasoned NHLers competing for spots. Smith, if he's still here, will have to compete against the likes of Picard, Lee, Cowen, Karlsson, and maybe some others. I am excited to see what this defense can bring next year. Hopefully Cowen can make the team as many suggest, which is a great addition, and they may be able to pair him off with Lee, I think that would be a great pair. Smith probably doesn't have a large role next season, if he doesn't get traded before then. And I think Picard has reached his potential with this organization and may not see a permanent role on this team. As for Karlsson, a year in the AHL will be great for him, and he should be ready for the NHL after next season (maybe Weircoch too!). So that's what the D looks like right now barring any trades and I think it seems like a great, young, sturdy d-line. Of course there are holes but I am really impressed with what our D is gonna look like next season.
The forwards for next season who have a spot for sure are Alfie, Spezza, Kovalev, Fisher, Neil, Kelly, and Foligno. I would say Ruutu is almost a guarantee and perhaps Shannon. After that there are a whole bunch of forwards competing for spots. In the AHL is Zach Smith, Hennessy, Zubov and Regin who could all compete for a spot. Donovan will be fighting for a spot along with Bass, Winchester, Schubert and Shannon (although I think Clouston likes him and will have him on the team full-time). I am counting on Bryan Murray bringing in at least top 6/9 forward in return for Heatley. For example, if the Edmonton trade were to have gone through then I think Penner could have had the potential to play a solid top 6 role for this team. Anyways, in any case, hopefully Murray picks up a top 6/9 or maybe two because that is where we have holes right now.
Looking at this team as a whole I am really excited. Sure, the team won't compete for the cup next season (who knows though!) but I am thinking this is a playoff bound team with the right mix of veterans and youth. There are question marks, no doubt, but Sens fans have reason to be excited for the next few years in Sensland. Give kudos to Murray, he might just have secured his job again.