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Ottawa Senators face 5 burning off-season questions

05/01/2015 09:00 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT
The Ottawa Senators are wrapping up their post-mortem with players and it's time to start a busy summer in the nation's capital.

I've compiled five burning questions for Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who says he's ready to return next season.

1. Who will form the goaltending duo in Ottawa next year?

This is the most complex question but it could be the first to receive an answer. Ottawa is one of four teams recruiting college free agent Matt O'Connor, who will likely sign next week. He isn't next year's starter in the NHL, but Murray has said a goalie will be moved if O'Connor signs.

It's not known what that would mean. Andrew Hammond is an unrestricted free agent and Robin Lehner continues to deal with post-concussion symptoms 10 weeks after he suffered the injury. If Lehner can't recover in time for off-season training, a trade is highly unlikely.

After taking a back seat during Hammond's late-season run, Craig Anderson's stalwart play against Montreal cemented his position as Ottawa's number one goalie, which likely means he's here to stay.

Also remember, former third-round pick Chris Driedger will enter his second season of professional hockey and he will likely play in Binghamton next season.

2. How will the youth movement continue in 2015-16?

Young forwards Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Curtis Lazar and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each played full-time minutes down the stretch and in the playoffs. On defence, Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki were also given playing time night after night.

But Murray will still have 37-year-old Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, who is almost 36, and David Legwand, who is almost 35, on his payroll next season earning a combined $7.5 million. Legwand will actually earn the same salary as first-line centre Kyle Turris next season.

All three veterans enter the final year of their contracts, so moving their contracts might not be difficult. But what contracts would the Senators have to take back?

3. What free agents will return to Ottawa?

The Senators have a long list of restricted free agents, and many of them played an integral part in this team's quest for the playoffs. The five who finished the year in Ottawa are Zibanejad, Stone, Pageau, Hoffman and Alex Chiasson.

Five more played in Binghamton this past year: Shane Prince, Fredrik Claesson, Cole Schneider, Garrett Thompson and Darren Kramer. Prince is the most noteworthy after finishing sixth in AHL scoring, while Claesson is a solid 22-year-old defenceman and Schneider finished 20th in AHL scoring.

Besides Hammond, Erik Condra is the only other Senator to reach unrestricted free agency and he could receive a nice raise on the open market. Murray will need to examine Binghamton's unrestricted free agents including the 25-year-old Chris Wideman, named the AHL's most outstanding defenceman last season, and Derek Grant, who also just turned 25.

Wideman is an interesting case because he's an under-sized defenceman at five feet, 10 inches who has never played an NHL game. His breakout season is a nice bargaining chip that could help him earn a chance at an NHL job in 2015-16.

4. Who will be the new faces in Ottawa?

This year's crop of unrestricted free agents isn't very enticing, so the trade market looks like Murray's best bet. The Senators won't be as desperate for a top forward as years past, but they're looking.

Edmonton could provide the best option as they get set to draft Connor McDavid. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov could be available, though Ottawa native Peter Chiarelli just took over in Edmonton, so it's hard to know his plan just yet.

Ottawa will also draft 18th overall and the franchise holds three picks in the top 48, but it's unlikely any of those players will wear a Senators jersey next season.

5. Will Cowen and Greening find new homes?

In Game 6 against Montreal, the six members of the Senators defence had an average age of 24. That also happens to be Jared Cowen's age, but his struggles are getting old for Senators management.

The Saskatoon native is scheduled to undergo surgery for a sports hernia, which follow hip surgery in 2012 and knee surgery in 2009. After holding out in 2013, Cowen has not played up to a contract that has two more years left with a $3.1-million salary cap hit. As he enters his fifth NHL season, Ottawa will likely try to trade Cowen.

Colin Greening also has two years left on his deal, which holds a $2.29-million salary cap hit. After notching 37 points during the 2011-12 regular season, the 29-year-old has managed only 37 points combined over the next three regular seasons.

His struggles were so bad, Greening passed through waivers unclaimed this past season and played with the farm team in Binghamton. He might end up back there this season, even though Sens owner Eugene Melnyk doesn't like paying that salary for a player in the minors.

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