(Editor's note: As part of our NHL coverage leading up to the start of the 2015-16 season, we are running previews on all seven Canadian teams. You can read previous installments here.)
To begin talking about this year's Ottawa Senators, here's a pearl of wisdom from one of our generation's seminal films, Men in Black:
"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." - Agent K
The Senators aren't scaring anyone with their collection of skaters this season, and people know it. But ask a person to look at individual players in the organization and you'll hear about a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Everybody knew the Sens were going to be mediocre last year, until everybody knew they were the plucky underdogs that would make the Montreal Canadiens sweat through their first-round playoff series. Ottawa was dispatched in six games.
Everybody knew that the Senators were mediocre under coach Paul MacLean until he was fired and then everybody knew how talented the roster was under new hire Dave Cameron, who helped the team to a 32-15-8 record to close the season.
A careful look at this team's isolated parts is the best way to feel optimistic about Ottawa's chances in 2015-16.
Defenceman Erik Karlsson is the first person that comes to mind. The 25-year-old Swede already has two Norris trophies to his name, and people say he can't play defence. Karlsson is the poster child for the shift in how we now evaluate defencemen. That a much-maligned rear guard who can't play in his own zone has twice been voted the best at his position speaks largely to what everybody now wants on their team: a smooth-skating, pond-hockey D-man who joins the rush more often than not. Karlsson scored 66 points last year and has 303 career points in 397 games.
The Sens don't win this year without his individual play.
Centre Kyle Turris was going to be a bust after being drafted third overall in 2007 by the Arizona (née Phoenix) Coyotes. The Coyotes rushed him into their depleted lineup too early and his development was stunted. They squabbled in contract negotiations and he sat out of the lineup until Ottawa made a deal to bring him to Canada. He scored 46 points in 137 games with the Coyotes. He's since scored 180 points in 261 games with the Senators.
Ottawa doesn't win without his rate of scoring.
Bobby Ryan was one part of a scoring machine in Anaheim, scoring 30 goals annually as a Duck. In two seasons as a Senator, he's scored 23 and 18 goals, respectively. Last October, he signed a mammoth seven-year deal with an average annual value of over $7 million and must prove that he can become a cog in a new, less talented machine.
His team doesn't win without him living up to his reputation.
Everybody has a Mike or a Mark in their life. Mike Hoffman? Mark Stone? Can you repeat those names again? The truth is Mike and Mark are going to be given another chance to help carry the offence after breakout seasons in which they both got votes for rookie of the year (Stone finished second to Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers.) Stone is in the Sens' plans for the next three years while Hoffman is on a one-year show-me contract after scoring 27 goals last season. If we're counting preseason point totals as an indicator of success, which we're not, Stone has eight points in four games.
The Senators don't win without these affordable contracts paying huge dividends.
Ottawa's goaltending has not been a problem the last few years. From Brian Elliott to Ben Bishop to Robin Lehner, the Sens have let go of more backstop talent than the Winnipeg Jets have had since the days of Kari Lehtonen, or Nikolai Khabibulin for that matter. Craig Anderson is the real deal when he's not in a full body cast like Super Dave Osborne. Andrew Hammond, the ham-fisted feel-good story from last year is likely more of a scrambly mess than a star in the making. He's hurt, by the way, meaning the Sens will have rookie Matt O'Connor on the bench to start the season.
Matt, Mike, Mark? Who are these guys? Wait, this Matt? Oh no.
More from that memorable scene on a park bench in Men in Black:
"Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow." - Agent K
That's what the Senators have going for them—tomorrow, and what it might bring.