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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

James van Riemsdyk on fatherhood, Flyers/NHL returning, and more

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Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk took a moment out of his day/put his car in park to chat with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Friday. You can watch the full video above this post’s headline.

JVR didn’t do much to peel back the curtain on return-to-play issues, but he provided some useful information nonetheless.

  • Maybe most relevantly, JVR told Tirico that he’ll be close to 100 percent if the Flyers actually get to return to play. Van Riemsdyk injured his finger back in March.

JVR and Tirico didn’t really go into this, but the 31-year-old winger was heating up toward the end of 2019-20. Things didn’t start that smoothly, as Van Riemsdyk only managed five goals and 11 points through his first 17 games. Considering the $7M per year investment the Flyers made, JVR probably heard some grumbles.

But he played some of his best hockey with a still-fairly-new team before the injury and the pandemic struck. JVR scored 29 of his season’s 40 points (and 14 of his 19 goals) through the last 39 games. An updated version of Bill Comeau’s SKATR chart captures how much better JVR has been overall in 2019-20 after a disappointing return season with Philly:

JVR SKATR
via Bill Comeau

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it had to be nice for JVR to be there for such a life event. An eager Tirico also learned that JVR’s child already has Gritty slippers.

(Please send Gritty slippers. I’m already quite googly-eyed from quarantining, anyway. At least my belly button doesn’t change colors [yet] though.)

  • He didn’t elaborate much, but JVR hinted that players prefer reseeding over a bracketed playoff format.

Really, though, the low-fi nature of the video pushes it to another level. Few things humanize a person quite like doing an interview in a parking lot. (Been there, JVR, been there. Kind of.)

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.

USA Hockey president Jim Smith facing investigations

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Hockey president Jim Smith is the subject of two investigations surrounding his tenure as the president of Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer confirmed Friday that the organization has hired an independent investigator to look into Smith’s business dealings with AHAI. Fischer also said the US Center for SafeSport is investigating allegations that Smith was aware of sexual misconduct by a coach and didn’t take action against him during Smith’s tenure with AHAI.

The Athletic first reported on the two investigations.

Fischer said the US Center for SafeSport’s investigation is regarding allegations that were made against Thomas Adrahtas, a youth hockey coach. The Athletic reported in February that multiple players said Adrahtas had abused them.

The US Center for SafeSport said in a statement that ”consistent with best practices and federal law, the Center does not discuss matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the parties and any potential witnesses.”

Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He told The Athletic through a spokesperson earlier this month that ”in my time as president of AHAI, there were no reports alleging misconduct by Tom Adrahtas.”

Founded in 1937, USA Hockey is an organization focused on the support and development of grass-roots hockey programs. Smith was unanimously elected as president by the organization’s board of directors in 2015. He was unanimously re-elected in 2018.

Ducks’ offensive woes extend to rare 2-year playoff drought

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The last time the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they went all the way to their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final just one year later.

Not many observers expect the current Ducks to duplicate the feats of those beloved 2002-03 Mighty Ducks after they complete another long offseason made even longer by the coronavirus pandemic.

These Ducks are still in full rebuilding mode after winning just 29 of their 71 games this season, including a Western Conference-worst 24 non-shootout victories. The Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division standings primarily on the sturdy strength of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who bailed out their teammates all winter long.

Just three years after the Ducks reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, a long road back to Cup contention appears to loom in Orange County. Anaheim got largely disappointing performances from its collection of forwards – a star-free group outside captain Ryan Getzlaf – and the blue line was inconsistent while coach Dallas Eakins worked young talent into the lineup amid injuries and trade departures.

But during a second straight season without a playoff appearance – matching their total playoff-less seasons over the previous 13 years combined – Eakins and general manager Bob Murray saw signs of the team they want the Ducks to become. They’ll have an extra-long offseason to contemplate the next steps to get there.

”While we would have preferred to conclude our season normally and play 82 games, it became obvious over time that was not practical,” Murray said this week. ”We remain excited about our future and can’t wait for the 2020-21 season.”

SELDOM SCORING

Perhaps appropriately for a team with a long-standing reputation as an intimidating, defense-first organization, the Ducks’ biggest problems during their two-year playoff drought have been all about offense. Eakins was hired last summer to implement a speed-based system designed to produce more scoring opportunities, but it’s just not happening yet.

One season after Anaheim finished last in the NHL in goals, its minus-39 goal differential this season was the conference’s worst. Anaheim scored two or fewer regulation goals in a whopping 39 of its 71 games. Only Adam Henrique (26 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (21) found the net with any frequency.

The Ducks’ problems ranged from Rickard Rakell‘s two-year regression to the disappointing numbers from youngsters who weren’t ready to produce at the highest level. Murray also curiously gave up on Ondrej Kase and Daniel Sprong in February, trading two young forwards with clear NHL-caliber scoring ability when they didn’t produce enough for his liking.

IN THE CREASE

Gibson and Miller didn’t post impressive statistics, but anybody who watched these Ducks knew their most valuable players were between the pipes. Gibson’s game has grown and matured even while his team has regressed, and the 39-year-old Miller still shows no drop-off in his abilities. If Miller decides to return for another NHL season, he’ll have the chance to pass Dominik Hasek on the NHL’s career victories list – and the Ducks won’t have to worry about this vital position for another year.

DROP THE BALLS

The Ducks have an 8.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL’s complicated draft lottery. Anaheim hasn’t had a top-five draft pick since 2005, when it snagged Bobby Ryan with the second overall choice. Murray and his scouting department have a long history of finding impressive talent outside the first round, but they’ll likely have the opportunity to choose a game-changing star this summer for the first time. The Ducks also have Boston’s first-round pick from their trade of Kase.

DARK BLUE LINE

Anaheim’s collection of defensemen appears to be thoroughly average, and none seems likely to get much better. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are solid pros, but they’re likely past the points in their development where they could become stars. The Ducks could use an injection of game-changing talent on the blue line.

GETTING BUCKETS

Linemates Henrique and Silfverberg bucked their team’s offensive struggles with a pair of impressive seasons, and they’ll be a foundation of the rebuilding effort. Henrique was particularly productive, leading the roster with 43 points. They’re both locked into long-term contracts.

GETZ BACK

The 35-year-old Getzlaf will head into the final season of his contract later this year when he begins his 16th season with Anaheim. The playmaker still racked up 29 assists this season despite finishing the year on a line with Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, two 24-year-old recent additions with a combined 59 career NHL goals. It’s a long way down from his heyday with Corey Perry, but Getzlaf appears eager to keep working on the Ducks’ rebuilding project.

Supporters quickly raise $500K to try to save Alabama-Huntsville hockey program

UAH Hockey University of Alabama-Huntsville logo $500K
via UAH Chargers
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Mere days after it looked like the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s hockey program was going to get cut, supporters raised a whopping $500K in hopes of keeping the UAH program alive.

With another $500K expected to come from boosters, the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s ice hockey program reached the seemingly unrealistic goal of $1M to try to avoid the end of a program that stretches back four decades.

UAH supporters drove that $500K by combining a Go Fund Me account with T-shirt sales.

Now, this doesn’t outright guarantee the continuation of UAH’s men’s program.

“[School president Darren Dawson] did make us a verbal commitment that if you get to that number, we’ll make it happen,” former UAH player Sheldon Wolitski told AL.com. “We’re hoping he’s going to honor his word. We were asking for a formal statement from him to say that. It would be a shame to put all this effort and we raise it and he doesn’t follow through.”

Even if school officials stick to that verbal commitment, there are some hurdles to clear.

Not the first time the UAH men’s ice hockey program has been saved

Paul Gattis (also of AL.com) argues that the UAH men’s ice hockey program needs more than just money to survive. This is not, after all, the first time that this program needed saving. It was teetering on being canceled back in 2011 before victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Even so, it’s pretty remarkable, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Does it justify comparing UAH officials to “Dr. Evil?” I’d zip it on that one.)

Those fighting for the UAH men’s ice hockey program aim to preserve something quite unusual, as Joseph Goodman noted as fundraising intensified:

UAH hockey is the only NCAA Division I hockey program in the South. How cool is that? It’s one of one — a singular, special thing just like the city it skates for and represents.

Will we see this program survive after giving Cam Talbot and others the chance to chase their dreams? It seems a lot more likely after an eventful week.

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.