20th anniversary may be rough for the Ottawa Senators

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Milestone anniversaries are supposed to be joyous occasions of reflection and celebration. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens, this will be a single year affair where the team honors the awful first team since the franchise was reborn in 1992-93. They’ll unveil new alternative jerseys with a retro-type feel and they’ll host the NHL All-Star Game on January 29. By all accounts, it should be a special year for the fans in Ottawa with all of the special events the organization has planned. If nothing else, the season will start off with a bang when Dany Heatley makes his triumphant return to Ottawa with his new team, the Minnesota Wild.

From the team’s official website:

“This will be a special season for Senators fans,” said Senators president Cyril Leeder. “From the all-star game to a new heritage jersey and special promotions and tributes, we look to recognize the great moments from the last 20 years, while embracing why hockey makes us such big Senators fans.”

“Canada is the home of hockey and our city is proud to have the Senators as such an important part of our community,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “The Sens’ 20th anniversary season will be a celebration of a great partnership between the people of Ottawa and the team.”

Let’s be honest: another great way for the Sens to celebrate the occasion and honor the fans would be to win a few more games than they did last year. Unfortunately, Mike Brophy of Rogers SportsNet has a harsh dose of reality for any fans expecting greatness this season:

“While many teams will kick off the year hoping to win the Stanley Cup, the Senators’ realistic goal will be to simply make the playoffs. Coming off a season in which they finished 26th overall, the Senators are a heck of a lot closer to that 1992-93 team that finished with a 10-70-4 record than they are to the team that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-07, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games.”

That’s rough. But hey, at least they have some good videos to get the fans pumped for the anniversary next season!

There’s no question the rebuilding effort started in earnest in the middle of last season. When it became apparent to GM Bryan Murray that the team was not competitive in the Eastern Conference, he started a fire sale that laid the groundwork for the future. Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Alexei Kovalev, and Chris Campoli were all sent out of town for a collection of draft picks. The void created by the jettisoned Senators gave guys like Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, and Erik Condra an opportunity to prove they could hang in the NHL. And they did. Oh, and the draft picks? When all of Murray’s wheeling and dealing was done, he ended up with three 1st round selections in this year’s entry draft that turned into Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel.

With the plethora of moves, Murray has the Senators in a position they haven’t experienced in a while: hope for the future. He’s done an enviable job of acquiring draft picks and assembling an AHL affiliate in Binghamton that won the Calder Cup last season. They may not have the most formidable NHL roster this season, but fans can take solace in the idea that help is on the way.

As far as this season goes, the Senators are going to need career years from some of their best players if they want to compete. Jason Spezza will have to continue to be a #1 center and feed youngsters like Bobby Butler and Colin Greening. Captain Daniel Alfredsson will have to fully recover from back surgery and channel his inner-2007 Alfredsson on the ice. Sergei Gonchar will have to recapture the magic that made him an elite defenseman and Erik Karlsson will have to continue his march towards the same elite status. But most importantly, goaltender Craig Anderson will have to show everyone why the Senators signed him to a 4-year contract extension after acquiring him in February from Colorado. He’ll have to play like the guy who almost single-handedly carried the Avalanche to a playoff spot in 2009-10. In short, he’ll have to steal more than a few games.

Even if the team struggles next year in the Northeast Division against the likes of the Boston Bruins and new-look Buffalo Sabres, at least they have a few young prospects in the pipeline to make for a brighter future. Now, if people are comparing the team to the original Senators in five years, then there will be some serious cause for concern.

McLellan excited about addition of ‘utility player’ Strome

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To hear Todd McLellan explain it, Ryan Strome could be wearing many hats next season.

That’s what the Oilers head coach said on Wednesday of the former Isles forward, acquired earlier this summer in the Jordan Eberle trade. McLellan expressed excitement over Strome’s ability to play both center and wing.

“He (Strome) is a utility player,” McLellan said, per the Sun. “He has the ability to play center and has in the past. He’s been able to win faceoffs and he’s comfortable on the wing. We have the luxury of moving players around, and as the fans here know, we like to do that.”

That last sentence is clearly a reference to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl has flipped back and forth between playing as Edmonton’s No. 2 center and as a winger on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. The talented German’s had success at both, which is why Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is still unsure if Draisaitl is a center or a winger.

More: Strome pumped at prospect of playing with Draisaitl, McDavid

As for Strome, he certainly gives Edmonton some flexibility — on the ice, and on the books.

With a $2.5 million cap hit (compared to Eberle’s $6M), he’s provided Chiarelli with more cap space to get the Draisaitl contract done. And there’s also the potential for him to be a real bargain. Remember, Strome is only two years removed from a sophomore campaign in which he scored 17 goals and 50 points in 81 contests. His subsequent two years with the Isles were a disappointment, but the talent is still there.

The wildcard in all this is the fact that Strome’s heading into a contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent next July, so the ’17-18 campaign will go a long way in determining his value… and, potentially, his future in Edmonton.

McDavid disappointed at NHL decision to skip Olympics

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TORONTO (AP) Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said he’s disappointed the NHL won’t be sending players to the Winter Olympic in South Korea.

“It would have been a special group, and you’re just hopeful to be a part of it,” McDavid told reporters at a charity event Wednesday. “It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible.”

McDavid’s comments came a day after Hockey Canada announced it was looking for non-NHL talent for Canada’s roster in Pyeongchang.

Sean Burke, the team’s GM, said Tuesday the bulk of Canada’s team will come from players based in Europe.

The NHL’s reasons not to participate in the upcoming Games include disagreements over costs as well as problems accommodating the Games during its regular season.

When asked whether there was the possibility of getting permission from the Oilers to attend the Olympics, McDavid was non-committal.

“I’m not too involved in all that stuff,” he said.

The NHL Players Association has said the league’s decision is “short-sighted.”

The NHL allowed its players to compete in every Olympics since 1998 Nagano Games, and Canada was won three of the last four gold medals.

Markov, Habs officially part ways

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Andrei Markov‘s run of 17 consecutive seasons in Montreal is over.

On Thursday, the Habs announced that Markov — who’s played all 990 of his career NHL contests with the Canadiens — wouldn’t be brought back for the 2017-18 campaign.

The news comes after months of rumblings about Markov’s contractual status. It was initially believed the 38-year-old UFA was looking for $12 million over two years, and there was a brief flirtation with the Flyers (which, it later turned out, was simply Markov’s interest in going to Philly, not the Flyers actively pursuing him).

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin stated on several occasions he wanted to bring Markov back, but only at the right price and term. That’s because Bergevin knew Markov still played an important role — despite appearing in just 62 games last year, the Russian rearguard was offensively productive, with six goals and 36 points, and averaged nearly 22 minutes per night.

That said, Bergevin also knew the financial realities. He dished out big bucks this offseason — a combined $154.8 million for Carey Price, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk and Karl Alzner — and just didn’t have the money left to give Markov a big ticket.

Instead, Bergevin played it conservative in rounding out his defense, which included Tuesday’s one-year, $700,000 deal for Mark Streit. Some saw that deal as the writing on the wall for Markov in Montreal.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see where Markov ends up. If he lowers his asking price, there’s no doubt an NHL team would be interested. If he doesn’t, he could angle for a KHL deal and the opportunity to represent Russia in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Malkin wants to see Ovechkin win a Stanley Cup

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Evgeni Malkin‘s career is far from over, but he’s already accomplished so much.

The 30-year-old has won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Hart Trophy, two Art Ross Trophies and a Calder Trophy.

Fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin has also won a number of individual awards, but he hasn’t been as fortunate when it comes team awards and playoff success.

There always seemed to be a rivalry between the two Russian forwards, but that doesn’t mean Malkin isn’t rooting for Ovechkin to take home a championship before his career is over.

“I was a bit luckier than (Ovechkin), that’s why I won those cups,” Malkin said, per Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko. “He has everything ahead of him. I wish him to win the cup.”

How do Penguins fans feel about that?

Malkin was also one of the more controversial omissions on the NHL’s “Top 100 Players” list. The Pens forward was disappointed about being left off the list, but hoisting Lord Stanley again seems to have erased that sting.

“I was a little bit disappointed when I wasn’t included in the list of 100 greatest players,” added Malkin. “But I won the cup and am happy.”