Five questions the Senators face in the upcoming season

Allen Panzeri takes a look at what the answers might be.

1. How will the team’s annual goaltending controversy play itself out?

Craig Anderson is the No. 1 goalie and Ben Bishop is the presumptive No. 2 goalie, and that’s unlikely to change, even if Robin Lehner has played well in Binghamton this year.

There’s not much room for error in a short season, and it’s tempting to think that if Anderson and Bishop simultaneously tank, the Senators will plug in Lehner to save the season.

Lehner will get his chance during training camp. General manager Bryan Murray has liked what he’s seen of him in Binghamton and feels Lehner is owed a shot. But the odds are long that both Anderson and Bishop will fall into season-long slumps at the same time.

Plus, there’s the matter of money.

Bishop, 26, has a one-way contract that pays him $650,000 whether he plays in the NHL or the AHL, while the 21-year-old Lehner has a two-way contract that pays him a much lesser amount in the minors.

If Anderson, who was excellent in 2011-2012, falters, coach Paul MacLean will want to have the an NHL goalie to sub in, and he has that in Bishop. Plus, the Senators want Lehner prove – to himself as well as the organization – that he can be consistent over a full season.

Nonetheless, the Senators will still have to make some decisions about their goaltending future.

Anderson is under contract through 2014-15 at a reasonable $3.187 million per year, but Bishop is in the last year of his contract, after which he becomes a restricted free agent.

Murray said he’s already been getting calls about his young goalies, Bishop and Lehner, so he’ll be pondering a number of questions:

- Does he trade Bishop for another piece of the puzzle and elevate Lehner?

- Does he trade Anderson and re-sign Bishop, setting the stage for battle between Lehner and Bishop?

- Or does he keep Anderson, re-sign Bishop and put Lehner on the market, hoping another team will over-pay for him?

As usual, goaltending will be a daily intrigue.

2. Can Jason Spezza turn in a repeat performance of his excellent 2011-12 season?

In 2011-12, the 29-year-old Spezza had his best season since 2007-08.

He had 84 points to tie for fourth in league scoring and matched his career high with 34 goals.

He also played quite well defensively, finishing at plus-11 last season. That erased three straight seasons of being in the minus column and put him on the plus side for the first time since 2007-08, when he was plus-26

Now in the prime of his career, he is also one of the team’s leaders.

He’s been a consistent player over his NHL career, so there’s really no worry that all of a sudden he’ll slip into a deep funk, and after playing in Switzerland during the lockout, he should be warmed up for this short season.

Also, having been there himself during his own career, coach Paul MacLean seems to have a pretty good handle on what makes Spezza tick.

Nonetheless, if he’s not producing, that’s a lot of points that have to come from somewhere else.

3. Is Kyle Turris a legitimate second-line centre?

The 23-year-old Turris was given a new life when the Senators acquired him from the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 17, 2011, for defenceman David Rundblad and a second round pick in the 2012 draft, and he flourished under coach Paul MacLean.

In 49 regular-season games, he set career highs in goals (12), assists (17), and points (29). In seven playoff games, he had a goal and two assists.

That was a modest start. Now, what can he do over a full season?

The Senators obviously have high hopes for Turris.

In August, they signed him to a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension, so they see him playing a big part in the team’s future.

Is he up to it? That’s an important question, because the Senators are not deep at centre.

If Mika Zibanejad were ready for the NHL, he’d be an option. But he’s not, so the Senators are looking at a depth chart that contains Peter Regin, Zack Smith, and Jim O’Brien.

So if Turris can’t put up some points and provide some cover for Spezza, general manager Bryan Murray might be out hunting for someone who can.

The Coyotes surprised everyone when they picked Turris third overall in the 2007 draft, from the Burnaby Express of the BCHL, but they got the benefit of the doubt because then-coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky was behind Turris’ selection. The theory was: Gretzky must know what he’s doing, right?

However, the jury is still out on whether that was an astute pick or a dumb one, and the Senators have their fingers crossed.

4. With Jared Cowen (hip) and Mike Lundin (finger) out and Matt Carkner and Filip Kuba gone, will defence be the team’s Achilles’ heel?

No, let’s not wring our hands over the loss of Carkner and Kuba.

As tough as Carkner was, his knees, in particular his right knee, were giving him problems last season. The New York Islanders took a big gamble by signing him to a three-year contract on July 1.

As for the 35-year old Kuba, he was too expensive for the Senators. There was no way general manager Bryan Murray was going to give him the two-year, $8-million contract that the Florida Panthers did.

Those were good decisions by Murray.

That said, as the season starts, the Senators find themselves with questions on defence.

With Jared Cowen out for the season, they lose a stay-at-home defenceman who would have logged lots of minutes.

That leaves them with Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar, who will provide the offence, and Chris Phillips and Marc Methot, who will provide the defence.

Mike Lundin, who broke a finger in Sweden and is out for three-to-four weeks, comes in as an unknown quantity.

He was drafted in the fourth round (102nd overall) by the the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, spent four years in the organization, but was not qualified in 2011, which led him to sign a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild.

With them, he played only 17 games. He missed 47 to injuries (back spasm and sports hernia) and was a healthy scratch 18 times

In his five-year professional career, the 28-year-old stay-at-home defenceman has played 241 NHL games, so he has that going for him.

Murray said he’ll think about looking to the free-agent market for a defenceman, and will almost certainly add a veteran at some point.

But he also has an obligation to look at three Binghamton defencemen who have played very well to start this season: Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch, and Andre Benoit.

Borowiecki, who is unafraid to fight, could slide into the spot vacated by Carkner.

After gaining weight and strength, Wiercioch is finally looking like the player everyone thought he’d be. He can read the game well and has great offensive vision.

Benoit is also very good offensively and would fit well with coach Paul MacLean’s 200-foot game.

The danger is that taking all three from Binghamton would leave coach Luke Richardson very thin on the blue line.

5. Will Guillaume Latendresse turn out to be a gamble that pays off?

At the 2011 draft, general manager Bryan Murray rolled the dice and acquired disgruntled Columbus Blue Jacket left wing Nikita Filatov, hoping he’d get a top-six forward on the cheap.

But Nicky-Don’t-Do-Rebounds didn’t pan out, and he’s now playing for Ufa Salavat Yulayev in the KHL.

That failure didn’t deter Murray, though.

In July he rolled the dice again, signing oft-injured forward Guillaume Latendresse to a one-year deal for $1.2 million, less than half of the $2.6 million he earned last year with the Minnesota Wild.

Injuries over the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons limited him to just 27 games. With his history of concussions, the Wild balked at giving him a qualifying offer, which would have had to be at least $2.5 million, so he became an unrestricted free agent and able to sign with the Senators.

The gamble Murray faces is the one Minnesota general manager mused about before he decided not to offer Latendresse a qualifying offer.

“He’s shown he can be a good player when he’s healthy and motivated, and that’s the key,” he told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Is he healthy and is he motivated?”

Healthy and motivated, Latendresse is a big (6-foot-2 and 230-pound) power forward who can score. He was an underachiever with the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him in 45th overall in 2005, but when he was traded to the Wild in November, 2009, he finished the season by scoring 25 goals and 12 assists in 55 games.

If he can produce like that, he will be a more than adequate replacement for Nick Foligno.

But if he’s sidelined by injuries, or is not motivated (though that’s hard to imagine with MacLean riding shotgun), he could be more of a problem than he’s worth.

Murray’s due to win one of these gambles soon. Maybe he will with Latendresse.

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