Captain Alexei Yashin is AWOL in Switzerland, demanding a new
contract or a trade. This, of course, isn't the first time
Yashin has vanished. In Buffalo's first-round playoff sweep of
favored Ottawa last spring, the 44-goal scorer was
pointless--which is what further Yashin bashin' would be since
plenty of opposing players have already taken their best verbal
shots. Yashin remains a valuable asset whom new Ottawa general
manager Marshall Johnston will try to deal for young talent or
repatriate when he has seen enough of Vaclav Prospal (10 goals)
as his team's first-line center.
After Yashin the player that the playoff-bound Senators will
miss most is goaltender Damian Rhodes (22-13-7, 2.44
goals-against average), who was traded to the expansion
Thrashers in mid-June. With his departure the full-time job
belongs to Ron Tugnutt, who made the All-Star team while
splitting time with Rhodes last season but who has not been an
undisputed No. 1 goalie since 1990-91 and has yet to prove
himself in big games. In a 1997 postseason series against
Buffalo, Tugnutt gave up an overtime goal that cost Ottawa a
berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and at the world
championships in May he was in net for Canada's semifinal
shootout loss to the Czech Republic.
Tugnutt, though, should be able to carry a bigger load thanks to
coach Jacques Martin's tight-checking, disciplined system. The
Senators will be even better defensively this year with the
acquisition of forward Rob Zamuner, one of the game's premier
two-way players. Zamuner and hard-nosed right wing Kevin Dineen,
another new addition, will also provide much-needed veteran
leadership for a club whose strength is its young core of speedy
forwards and maturing defensemen. Radek Bonk, Magnus Arvedson
and Marian Hossa (average age: 23) are the NHL's most dangerous
third line, and Wade Redden is the best defenseman in the NHL
under age 23.
Early last season former Ottawa coach Rick Bowness predicted
that the Senators would win a Stanley Cup within three years if
the front office found the money to keep the team together.
That's a big if, though. Principal owner Rod Bryden is leading
the cry for tax reform that would put Canadian NHL teams on a
more even footing with U.S.-based teams. The movement, though,
has yet to yield any tax breaks, as Canadians are wary of
financing the $23 million Yashin would get for the 2000-01 and
2001-02 seasons if Bryden caves in to his demands. For now, the
owner says he will continue to hold the line. He can only hope
Prospal does so well with his new line.
Ottawa was the league's least penalized team last season. The
Senators had the fewest fighting penalties (14), fewest total
penalties (394) and fewest penalty minutes (892).
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 16 Balanced scoring; expect a big season from
DEFENSE 6 Top group led by Redden; breakout year for
GOALTENDING 25 Is Tugnutt a bona fide No. 1 netminder?
SPECIAL TEAMS 16 Gardiner and Zamuner are demons killing
COACHING 5 Martin changes his system to fit the players