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Senators owner Melnyk says team has potential to be competitive in East

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OTTAWA - Eugene Melnyk is already predicting a return to the playoffs for the Ottawa Senators this season.

The NHL team's owner said he sees no reason why this year's lineup wouldn't have the capability to be one of the more competitive teams in the Eastern Conference.

"I think you can pretty well predict what we're going to have on the ice," Melnyk said Tuesday. "If everybody just plays to their potential I think it's a great team and is going to be very competitive and will be a playoff team, but they just need to play to the level that we know that they can play."

The Senators missed the playoffs last season and finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, but Melnyk is confident the Senators will finish in the top eight this year.

"I think we have the potential to be in the playoffs and be competitive throughout the whole year," he said. "Once the playoffs start anything can happen. That's the first step, let's get into the playoffs and let it run from there."

There will be some significant changes to the Senators this year after the trade of Jason Spezza and the addition of David Legwand, Alex Chiasson and prospects Nicholas Paul and Alexander Guptill. Curtis Lazar, 19, will also be pushing to make the roster.

"I think we're going to be very, very competitive," said Melnyk. "Last year was not the kind of year we want to have this coming season. Everyone knows their roles and I'm just hoping we stay away from injuries and we're all set to go."

Melnyk feels the Senators have a better schedule this season, adding he senses a renewed energy from players who are eager to put last season behind them.

Ottawa dealt Spezza to the Dallas Stars last month. He was drafted by the Senators with the second overall pick in 2001 and had spent his career in the nation's capital.

The team has yet to name a new captain. Melnyk said he understood and accepted Spezza's request to be traded.

"I spoke to him as far back as five years ago and he was already starting to talk about potentially moving and this time around he was looking for a change and I totally understand what he wanted to do," he said.

Melnyk was in town to announce that the Senators and the Senators Foundation have surpassed the $100-million mark in community contributions and initiatives.

"We're at the top, we've won the Stanley Cup in that area," he said of the team's charitable efforts. "I know what everybody else does, we talk about it, and they come here to see what we've done to get a sense of it. They're just in awe of the organization and how well we are organized. It's a machine."

Melnyk capped off the afternoon with another charitable contribution as he and Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS.

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