The Senators, who again should be in the lower tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams, pulled the biggest upset of the 1998 postseason by knocking out heavily favored New Jersey in six games. Then they followed a storybook spring with a nightmarish "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."
Life got mighty interesting in June for a six-year-old franchise that had outgrown the buffoonery of its infant years. General manager Pierre Gauthier, who laid the groundwork for Ottawa's budding professionalism, resigned for what he called family reasons, but within weeks he wound up with the same job in Anaheim. Rick Dudley, the former Sabres coach who had been running the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League, replaced Gauthier. But Dudley will be hard-pressed to duplicate his predecessor's knack for making good use of late draft picks and castoffs such as wingers Magnus Arvedson and Andreas Dackell and defenseman Janne Laukkanen.
Coach Jacques Martin must devise an attack for a team that can be inept with the puck. However, Alexei Yashin, a potential 100-point center, loves to play in traffic and should thrive with the new rules that have created additional space behind the net. But until injured wingers Daniel Alfredsson (17 goals in 55 games) and 19-year-old junior sensation Marian Hossa return from knee injuries, in November and December, respectively, Yashin will have to make things happen pretty much on his own.
The core of young defensemen (including former high draft picks Chris Phillips and Wade Redden) is one of the top three in the conference. That's a blessing, since it will have to protect a middling pair of goalies, Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt. The streaky Rhodes has had occasional bouts of self-doubt and can crack at any time, while Tugnutt merely cracks—he fractured two ribs in a boating accident in the off-season.
Ottawa can't wait for the season to start. The summer has been just too tough.