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It’s Ottawa Senators day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators. 

2017-18:
28-43-11, 67 pts. (8th Atlantic Division; 15th Eastern Conference)
missed playoffs

IN:
Mikkel Boedker

OUT:
Mike Hoffman
Alexandre Burrows
Mike Blunden
Fredrik Claesson

RE-SIGNED:
Mark Stone
Cody Ceci
Chris Wideman
Magnus Paajarvi
Nick Paul

– – –

Disaster: a person, act, or thing that is a failure. See also: the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators.

It’s hard to imagine another team and another set of fans who had a worse year than the Senators.

Sure, the Buffalo Sabres were the worst team, but they got compensated with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and, thus, Rasmus Dahlin. They’ve also had a pretty good summer and are looking improved.

The Senators took Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick, and he’s stated that he’s making the jump to the pro game this season, but he’s hardly an immediate fix for a team that appears only headed in the wrong direction still. And the Senators have done little to make their team better and stand to lose dearly in the future if this season ends in shambles.

So how did a team that was a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final a year earlier turn into an unmitigated disaster? Well, let’s delve into the calamity of misfortunes.

[Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Breakthrough: Thomas Chabot | Three Questions]

Last season’s Senators were a team that could hardly score, a defense that could hardly stop other teams from scoring and goaltending that could hardly stop pucks from hitting the back of the net — though it’s hard to blame Craig Anderson for the last one given the hell he and his wife, Nicholle, have been through over the past 18 months.

By comparison, the 2016-17 Senators didn’t score all that much, but there were in the top 10 for fewest goals against and Ottawa had a .915 team save percentage and not the .895 they endured last season. Their power play and penalty kill also went in the wrong direction.

They also didn’t get hit hard by a European road trip. The Sens won both games across the pond in early November but came home and proceeded to drop the next seven straight.

Away from the rink, things were just as shaky.

In November, Dorion pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that brought Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche — finally. Duchene proceeded to flatline for the next seven games, where he was held pointless. Duchene would end up finding his groove, ending the season with 23 goals and 26 assists in a Senators sweater, but the lack of production didn’t help during their November slide.

Owner Eugene Melnyk made headlines a month later. In an apparent attempt to sabotage the spectacle of an outdoor game in his own backyard, the unpopular owner threatened to move the Senators if “disaster strikes” on the even of Ottawa’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park last December.

He later recanted on his comments, but it was another slap in the face for a devout fanbase that has endured some trying times recently.

There was also this. And this meant that the Senators also lost Mike Hoffman, forced to deal their 52-point man for Mikkel Boedker.

And then there’s the Erik Karlsson saga.

When will he be traded? What will be the return? Will the Senators be able to shed Bobby Ryan‘s contract as a part of the deal?

Losing Karlsson — and there’s no way around this — will be a massive blow to the team if it happens. And while there will be a nice haul coming back for him, replacing a two-time Norris winner is nigh impossible.

And on a team already starved for production, it’s Karlsson’s offensive output is where they’d miss him the most. He was tied for the team lead in points with 62. The Sens could enter the season without their highest and third highest point producers as Hoffman was already shipped out.

Even more frightening for Ottawa is that Karlsson, Duchene and Mark Stone are all set to become unrestricted free agents at years’ end. If the Dorion can steady the ship before then, the Senators could be without the core of their team by this time next season.

It would appear that Stone is waiting to see, too. He only signed for one-year, as opposed to committing his future to the team. He’s getting $7.35 million and can get the hell out of Dodge if things get worse in the coming season. Duchene, for what it’s worth, is open to an extension.

Dorion has a massive task on his hands. He’s losing leverage on Karlsson’s return with each passing day, assuming they deal him. He also has the other two aforementioned key names to be signed, a goaltending situation to figure out if Anderson doesn’t return to 2016-17 form, and pivotal decision on Tkachuk forthcoming.

That’s a near-impossible laundry list of things to do (and do right) in one season with so much riding on it.

Times are tough in Ottawa, and things need to work out soon to avoid further disappointment.

Prospect Pool

Brady Tkachuk, LW, 18, Boston University (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick

The Senators made Tkachuk the fourth-overall pick this past year and could have him in a team sweater this fall. Tkachuk posted eight goals and 31 points in 40 games at BU last season and impressed with three goals and nine points with Team USA at the world juniors. He’s a big boy, likes to use his physicality and plays at both ends of the ice. He will certainly make the Senators better, but the Senators need to send him to the Ontario Hockey League, where London Knights own his rights, or at the very least to the American Hockey League so he can get some seasoning. Rushing him is a mistake.

Logan Brown, C, 20, Windsor Spitfires/Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

The man is big, real big — six-foot-six big. Got four games in with the Senators last season, notching an assist, and had 48 points in 32 games split between two teams in the Ontario Hockey League after a mid-season trade. Played for Team USA at the world juniors where he had an assist in three games. Interesting tidbit: Tkachuk and Brown played with each other as kids. You’d like to see Brown get in some time in the AHL, but given the situation in Ottawa, there’s a chance you see Brown in Senators red this season.

Christian Wolanin, D, 23, University of North Dakota (NCAA) – 2015 fourth-round pick

Wolanin might not be as high as a couple other forward prospects on the team, but on a team needing defensemen, Wolanin stands out after a breakout season in North Dakota. There, he doubled his previous goal mark with 12 and added 23 assists for 35 points in 40 games to lead the Fighting Hawks in points. Wolanin also got 10 games with the Sens, scoring his first NHL goal and adding two assists. He’s headed to Ottawa this year after signing an entry-level deal in March. Expect to see him this season in the NHL.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.