Ottawa Senators: 3 storylines to watch this season

12:00 PM

theScore's NHL editors take a look at three storylines to watch for each NHL team heading into the regular season.

In renegading the Ottawa Senators last summer, Daniel Alfredsson appeared to have had the benefit of a crystal ball. But while the quasi-retired Red Wing may have anticipated a dip, he couldn't have possibly dreamed the franchise's complete subversion under head coach Paul MacLean, right?

Without a captain or a reliable presence between the pipes, the honeymoon for MacLean's regime, which recouped the Senators in 2011, appears to be over as a similar outlook hangs over the franchise three summers later.

Here are three storylines to look out for:

Spezza dispensed

The Senators didn't hesitate to sign the papers, quickly accommodating Jason Spezza's end-of-season request for a divorce in a blockbuster deal with the Dallas Stars on July 1.

Now embarking on the second chapter of his (already 11-year) NHL story with the run-and-gun Stars, Spezza leaves behind a vacant first-line center position and the pressures of captaining a Canadian NHL franchise. 

Ottawa's struggles last season may have been, in part, ascribed to the fact that Spezza was always an atypical choice for a leadership role. And now, much like last season, there isn't an obvious alternative to inherit the position Spezza couldn't quite survive with his diffident laugh. 

Therein lies the greatest concern for Ottawa. It will be next man up - likely Kyle Turris - at first-line center, but can they afford to stitch some lettering on another player unsuitable for the job?

Heir-ik Karlsson?

With or without a left-shoulder stitching, the Senators are Erik Karlsson's team.

Entering his sixth season as Ottawa's only bona fide superstar, Karlsson is the obvious choice to supersede Spezza as captain, but much like last summer, questions remain regarding his readiness to take on an additional role.

So what's changed in the 12 months since? Well, Karlsson's play took a slight dip, according to his coach. The 24-year-old was once again exceptional offensively, leading his team and all NHL blue liners in points, but was criticized by MacLean for "shoddy" defensive play.

Rightly or wrongly, the captaincy is a responsibility that will probably fall on Karlsson's shoulders by default, but his primary focus should be on buoying the Senators with his extraordinary talent. With plenty of maturing to do as both person and player, undertaking another important role might not be in his best interest, or the Senators.

Leaky pipes

It wasn't too long ago now that the Senators' nearly impregnable last line of defense ran three-deep. Ottawa's 48-game, lockout-shortened schedule in 2013 was completed with 2.08 goals against average and .935 save percentage despite three goaltenders having to make at least 10 starts apiece. 

It was so deep, so unbelievably resolute, that the Senators decided to part with last season's Vezina Trophy finalist, Ben Bishop, sending him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cory Conacher.

Fast-forward 18 months later and the Senators' once sparkling goals against was padded by more than 50 percent as Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner battled personal issues. Whether it's physical or merely cognitive, both men need to shake off what ailed them in order to restore Ottawa's goaltending and give a re-tooling roster a fighting chance. 

Or, at least allow fans forget about one of the greatest fleecings in recent memory.

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Marc DesRosiers