NEW PLAYERS 6
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
Having had its fill of playoff failures, Ottawa took an appointment with hockey's Dr. Phil. In his first team meeting new coach Bryan Murray, instead of a mere howdy-do, offered a get-real oration, addressing the Senators and the elephant in the room by reminding the players of their annual spring fainting spells and challenging them to play as big as their talent when the Stanley Cup is on the line. To underline that the old error, uh, era was over, he blasted a handful of veterans who had not scored acceptably in precamp fitness testing. "I told them that from an outsider's perspective, this wasn't a hard team to play against," says Murray, the former Ducks general manager. "You never had to pay a price. As a result teams played their best hockey against Ottawa. With some grit and determination along the [boards], teams might start paying attention."
One Senator who is bound to get noticed is Jason Spezza, poised to be the NHL's breakout star. During the lockout the 22-year-old center dominated in the AHL. "Getting a chance to be a go-to guy--you can't buy that kind of experience," says Spezza, the minor league's MVP. "Before [in the NHL], I was a little reluctant to try things, but that year gave me more confidence." He should also be bolstered by skating alongside the talented Dany Heatley. Hurt in the car accident that killed Atlanta teammate Dan Snyder (Heatley was the driver), the left wing was further set back by a broken left orbital bone he sustained while playing in Switzerland. He should prosper, however, in new surroundings. "Heatley's been good," Murray says, "and he seems to work well with Spezza."
If Gumby-like goalie Dominik Hasek's groin trouble doesn't limit him--the 40-year-old has played just 14 NHL games since winning the 2002 Cup with Detroit--the Senators might have a chance to quit trying G.M. John Muckler's patience. Already there's reason to believe the talk of a spring revival: Those veterans whom Murray called out quickly came around and got into shape. --M.F.
The Senators have no weaknesses and possess the deepest and most skilled corps of defensemen in the NHL.
Brandon Bochenski [rookie]
• ALL CAPS denotes new player
• Italics denotes rookie