OTTAWA - The Senators have been one of the best kept secrets in the NHL the last two seasons. They qualified for the postseason both times, they advanced to the second round last season, and they won 65 regular-season games over that span.
But the word's out on this team now. And in a tough division -- the newly redefined Atlantic -- equaling that success is going to be a chore.
Indeed, among others, Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Detroit are division mates with the Senators this season. All of those clubs made the postseason, and the Bruins even advanced to the Stanley Cup finals.
Here are five things to keep an eye on this year, as the Senators try to keep up their pace:
DELIVER WITHOUT DANIEL: For the first time since 1994-95, the Senators will enter a season without Daniel Alfredsson. The franchise's all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points signed a one-year deal with Detroit worth $5.5 million on the first day of free agency. Both parties are content to move on, and the Senators still have plenty of talent. That said, Alfredsson's first trip back to the Canadian Tire Centre is Dec. 1, and should be one emotional affair.
BOBBY BOOST: The Senators acquired left wing Bobby Ryan from Anaheim, and he should fit right in. Ryan, 26, has scored 30 or more goals four times in his career, and he joins a team that scored just 112. "He brings to us someone that's a bona fide guy. He shoots the puck in the net and that's something we haven't had here since I've been here," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "Having someone with that ability certainly should help our confidence as a team as far as it comes to scoring goals."
HEALTH CHECK: Ottawa played a lot of last season without center Jason Spezza (back), Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson (Achilles), top-line left wing Milan Michalek (knee) and starting goaltender Craig Anderson (ankle). The key cogs are largely healthy this season.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Last year's injuries forced the organization to play prospects in clutch spots. In doing so, the Senators learned that the talent in their system can contribute at the NHL level, especially in the postseason. Jean-Gabriel Pageaeu had six points in 10 games, Colin Greening and Mika Zibanejad each tallied four points, and Cory Conacher scored three goals in eight games.
MONEY TALK: Are the Senators in financial trouble? Depends who you ask. On the eve of free agency, an Ottawa newspaper said owner Eugene Melnyk's investment in a pharmaceutical company fell from 64 to 27 percent, and he sold the Ontario Hockey League franchise he owned. However, Melnyk told another Ottawa newspaper in August the financial speculation was "useless nonsense" and "kind [of] annoying." Either way, the Senators enter the season with a payroll of $56.9 million.