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Highlights from Eugene Melnyk’s bizarre Senators video

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The Ottawa Senators want you to know they are going to be going through some changes. A lot of changes. Many, many, many changes. Coming off of a tumultuous 2017-18 season — both on and off the ice — the team is looking to head in a new and exciting direction starting this year. In an effort to help give their fans some sense of what that direction might be, the team released a six-minute video late Monday night featuring team owner Eugene Melnyk involved in what is supposed to look like a casual discussion with defenseman Mark Borowiecki about the state of the team.

It is … something. It is really, really something, and it seems to have done nothing but further enrage the loyal fans that are already disenfranchised with the team under Melnyk’s leadership (the old #Melnykout hashtag has already returned).

Let’s get to the highlights.

1. The owner isn’t wearing one of his team’s current jerseys 

Let’s start with nitpicking something and point out that Melnyk is very clearly wearing an older Reebok jersey instead of one of the current ones.

This is only noteworthy because the NHL’s jersey sponsorship is with Adidas (all of the jerseys hanging in the background are Adidas) and, well, given how big sponsorships and brands are in the business world of professional sports (and Melnynk references “sponsors” at least three different times in this video) it is at least a little odd to see the team owner not wearing one of the new, current jerseys.

Maybe this is his lucky jersey and he likes it?

2. “Right now we’re kind of in the dumpster.”

As for the message itself, the whole thing starts off with Borowiecki asking a simple question: “What’s the plan here?”

That is a totally reasonable question that everyone in Ottawa — including the players currently on the roster — should be asking.

In response, Melnyk gives a pretty honest assessment of where the franchise is before trying to paint a rosy picture of where it can go.

“I think what are fans are looking forward to, and what I’m looking forward to, is a season that is fresh and brand new. Something we can look forward to with young players coming in. I think we can gel them into a very very serious team. Much bigger than a lot of people I think believe,” said Melnyk.

“Right now we’re kind of in the dumpster. You know, everyone says ‘ah they are not going to do anything.’ I do not believe that. I think with character in the dressing room, and people working very, very hard we can accomplish more than a lot of people believe. When I signed up for an owner I really didn’t expect going through something like we did last year. It was a tough, tough year for us .. in the offices, on the ice, now we are starting off fresh. A lot of things have changed I think this year is going to become one of those watershed years for us.”

3. He is not going anywhere

One of the many controversies that surrounded the Senators’ organization in 2017-18 was Melnyk, on the day before the team’s outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens, throwing around a relocation threat if things ever become desperate for him and the team financially in Ottawa. Now he wants you to know that neither he nor the team is going anywhere anytime soon.

“We’re going to give everything we’ve got. Some people are talking in town, ‘ah he may move the team.’ First thing’s first, is I am going to stick around here for a long, long time. I’m not going anywhere. Number two the franchise is not going anywhere. That’s like, totally solid. So everybody can focus, get rid of the noise. What you try to do is try to ensure you’ve got some veterans in the room. That’s what everybody kind of counts on to take these young players under their wing.”

Just a reminder, again, that Eugene Melnyk was the person that talked about the team potentially moving.

4. The Senators are not currently loaded with draft picks … at least not yet

At one point during the interview Melnyk refers to the core already in place and how they plan to supplement it with younger players.

“We’re going to build that with young prospects that are now coming through, and the picks,” says Melnyk. “We’re loaded up now with draft picks for the next four, five, six years.”

Are they?

Maybe this will change in the coming months (and Melnyk seems to unintentionally hint to this later, which we will get to shortly) but the Senators are not really loaded with picks. At least not more than any other team in the NHL.

  • Over the next three years the Senators have 22 draft picks, which would be a net gain of one draft pick over what every other team in the league starts off with (seven rounds per draft, one pick per round, seven picks per team).
  • The Senators’ first-and third-round picks in 2019 currently belong to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Matt Duchene trade from early last season. That first-round pick may be the most valuable pick out of all of the Senators’ near future picks given 1) where the Senators may finish in the standings this season, and 2) the possibility of that pick turning into Jack Hughes.
  • The Senators do still have a third-round pick this year (originally belonging to the Pittsburgh Penguins) but it will most likely be significantly lower than what their own pick would have been.

To be fair, perhaps Melnyk knows what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months. This roster currently has a ton of upcoming free agents — Duchene, Mark Stone, and the best of the bunch, defenseman Erik Karlsson — and other veterans that could be sold off. It is possible, if not likely, that all of them will be playing for new teams before the end of this season. If they are, draft picks will almost certainly be a part of those returns.

But those trades still need to get made.

It also remains highly doubtful that they get a better pick in return than the pick they sent to Colorado.

So … yeah.

5. Expect a lot of new faces over the next two years

How many new faces? Let’s let the owner tell you what he sees happening.

“Well that’s what our rebuild is going to be. It is kind of a cliche term, but we take it seriously. I think this coming year we are going to have 10 out of the 22 players are going to be new, meaning they are either rookies, or they played maybe under 10 games last year. Then the following year it is going to go up to about 15 of the 22 … maybe 16. So that is a total turnover, so that is exactly what should be in a rebuild.”

Assuming that actually happens, that is a lot of change, and it also almost certainly spells the end of Stone, Duchene, and Karlsson in Ottawa, and probably a few other players under contract beyond this season (there are nine players on the roster under contract through at least 2019-20). It is also worth pointing out that a team with that many new, young players on the roster is almost certain to get steamrolled over the course of an 82-game regular season.

Finally, some words about being excited because of the energy the young players will bring to the organization.

“You get excited because they’re excited, it gets me excited, it gets all of our fans excited and our sponsors,” Melnyk says. “So it’s going to work out! I think we’re looking forward to a great, great coming year. I really think the fans are going to be supportive. We’ve got some great fans. These are great, great hockey fans, great sponsors. We just have to give them the hope that they know, that we know what we’re doing and that translates the team knowing what they’re doing and bring some wins together.”

Hey, full credit to the Senators for trying to get the message out that the team actually is rebuilding and trying to offer some insight into the plan, even if it isn’t necessarily great. There is something to be said for transparency, and some acknowledgement that a rebuild is on the way is a better approach than, say, whatever it is Montreal is doing by trading all of its best players and refusing to say the world “rebuild.”

On the other hand, you also could have just penned a letter like the Rangers did.

Related: 10 NHL people that need to have a better season in 2018-19

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Paul Maurice and the Jets could really use a win right now

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This was always going to be a challenging season for the Winnipeg Jets.

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final during the 2017-18 season, they regressed last season and opened this season with a makeshift defense due to offseason departures and the still unsettled situation regarding Dustin Byfuglien. At times, and especially recently, the defense has looked has looked exactly like the patchwork unit that it is. They get bombarded on the shot chart, and had it not been for some superhuman play from starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck over the first couple of months their playoff chances for this season might already be in the toilet.

But they’re not.

They are still — for now — very much in the Western Conference Wild Card race, and with a win on Wednesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets could enter the All-Star break and bye week just a single point back of a playoff spot. Considering the state of the defense and the way the team has actually played at times, that would be a decent conclusion to the first half of the season.

It would also probably be a big win for coach Paul Maurice, whose seat seems to get warmer with each and every loss. And the losses have been piling up recently. After losing in Carolina on Tuesday night, 4-1, the Jets have lost five of their past six and are just 6-11-2 in their past 19 games.

On Tuesday, it was another tough start that saw the Jets give up three early goals and have to play from behind again. When asked about another slow start, Maurice was defiant in saying there was no slow start (using an expletive in the process) and instead defended his team’s effort and the way they played. It was a little surprising given how rough this recent stretch has been, especially the past three games when they’ve been outscored by a 16-4 margin. Listening to him talk about the team’s effort and how they “played their asses off,” it almost sounded like a coach that is resigned to his team being undermanned at a major position (defense) and that things are just unraveling. It was basically: They did everything they could, and this is all they had.

Given the current situation and the recent slide, it’s enough to wonder if Thursday’s game against Columbus is approaching must-win territory. It is believed that Maurice’s contract expires at the end of this season, and as Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun pointed out after Tuesday’s game, it’s really hard to see the Jets giving him another contract extension after two straight years of declining results.

If there were ever a time for a team to consider a change, wouldn’t this be it? A coach in the final year of his contract, for a struggling team that seems to have hit its ceiling with that coach, while the team itself is still flirting with a playoff spot. Not to mention the fact that after Wednesday they have a week-and-a-half and an opportunity to hit the reset button coming out of the break.

Whether or not that would make a difference is certainly up for debate. There is probably not a coach or prospective coach in the league that can turn this defense as constructed into a contender, and no matter who is behind the bench is going to have to rely on the forwards being able to outscore their opponents and hope for Hellebuyck to return to his Vezina/MVP level from the first couple of months.

It just seems like the Jets and their coach are at a crossroads for this season, and maybe beyond.

It is difficult — and maybe even silly — to put so much emphasis on one regular season game in the middle of January, but Thursday’s game against Columbus seems like it has the potential to dramatically shift things one way or another for the Jets.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Police investigating after Gritty accused of punching 13-year-old in back

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We have an early contender for strangest hockey story of 2020.

Philadelphia police are investigating a claim that Gritty, the rambunctious googly-eye mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, punched a 13-year-old fan in the back during a meet-and-greet with season ticket holders in November.

The claim comes from Chris Greenwell, a Delaware native and 22-year Flyers season ticket holder, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As Greenwell tells it, after waiting in line for more than hour to meet Gritty for a photo, his son “playfully patted” the mascot on the head before walking away. At that point, Gritty is accused of getting out of his chair, taking a running start, and punching Greenwell’s son in the back as hard as he could. He told the Inquirer that he took his son to a chiropractor a week later, providing the paper with a document showing that his son was diagnosed with “mild pain” and a “back bruise.”

When Greenwell and the Flyers could not come to terms on how handle the situation, he reported the incident to Philadelphia police who are currently investigating.

The Inquirer details email exchanges between Greenwell and the Flyers ownership group, Comcast Spectacor, where he initially complained about the lousy quality of the picture where Gritty did not look at the camera.

From the report:

After the alleged punch, Greenwell emailed officials at Comcast Spectacor, first complaining of the “lousy picture” with the mascot who didn’t look at the camera. Then he raised the “more serious and disappointing” concern.

“I know it was not correct for my son to harmlessly tap him on his head but for a Flyers employee to get (sic) throw a full punch at someone with his back turned and hurt a 13 year old boy is assault, unprofessional and unacceptable for your organization,” he wrote.

During that email exchange the Flyers claim there is no video footage to support Greenwell’s claim, while no witnesses were able to verify the same story. Still, Greenwell and the Flyers attempted to find ways to make it right. Greenwell suggested the team show his son on the scoreboard or allow him into the locker room to get autographs from players.

The Flyers countered by giving him the opportunity to sit on the team bench during warmups before a future home game.

That was not deemed to be acceptable.

That was not the only issue in the exchanges.

From the Inquirer:

But the email exchange soured when Greenwell and Kleinman disagreed on what was said during a December phone call. Greenwall claimed Kleinman told him that Gritty admitted he hit Brandon. Kleinman denied saying that.

“At no time did I state that one of my colleagues hit your son,” Kleinman replied in a Dec. 23 email. “Gritty, however, recalls being hit on the head repeatedly by someone during one of the earlier photo shoots.”

Greenwell, who said he is dumping his season tickets with the team, added that he only wanted an apology and something special for his son.

Gritty is a little different than your typical mascot in how the Flyers have it act. When they unleashed Gritty on the world prior to the 2018-19 season they described it as having “bully tendencies” and being “mischievous.” Everything about the Gritty persona since then has backed that up. There was always the chance that Gritty might fly too close to the sun and get burned.

According to one fan, that happened.

The Flyers insist it did not happen that way.

Now we are left with … this.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panthers finally giving fans reason for optimism

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The Florida Panthers not only gave head coach Joel Quenneville a win in his first return to Chicago on Tuesday night, they extended their winning streak to six games and roll into the All-Star break and bye week as one of the NHL’s hottest teams.

They are also in the rather unfamiliar territory of having a strong hold on a playoff spot this late in the season.

The Panthers are just one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division while also owning a four-point cushion over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It obviously doesn’t lock them into anything, but it has to be a pleasant change of pace after slow starts the previous two years all but crushed their playoff hopes by the All-Star break.

It’s also a big step in the right direction for an organization that needs to earn the trust of its fanbase and give people in their market a reason to finally care about them. As we detailed back in August, this has been the least successful organization in terms of playoff success since the start of 2000 across the NHL and NBA. Overall, they have made the playoffs just five times in 25 years and have only won three playoff series ever — all of them coming during one improbable playoff run during the 1995-96 season.

In recent years we’ve seen teams come out of nowhere after years of struggle to go on deep playoff runs. Two years it was the Winnipeg Jets, after never winning a playoff game in the first 17 years of their existence, going to the Western Conference Final. A year ago it was the Carolina Hurricanes snapping a nine-year postseason drought and going to the Eastern Conference Final.

There is at least some reason to believe the Panthers could be capable of going on a similar run this season.

The offense is legit

Pop quiz: Who is the NHL’s highest scoring team right now? Toronto? Pittsburgh? Washington? Tampa Bay? Colorado? All good guess, and all wrong. It’s the Florida Panthers, averaging a league-best 3.83 goals per game as of Wednesday.

Leading the way is their outstanding top-line duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Individually, they have each been top-10 scorers in the NHL over the past three seasons and together they are one of the best top-line duos in the league, producing goals at a rate similar to some of the league’s best.

But it’s not just them that drive the offense.

Thanks to Frank Vatrano‘s hat trick on Tuesday, the Panthers already have seven players with at least 14 goals this season, most in the league. There are only six other teams in the league that have more than four (Vancouver has six; Colorado, Vegas, Washington, and Winnipeg all have five each).

Goaltending can still be the big difference maker here

This is probably the wildest part of Florida’s success.

Goaltending was by far their biggest area of need this offseason and they addressed it by delivering a dump truck full of money to Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky had been one of the NHL’s best goalies during his time in Columbus and on more than one occasion helped carry the team to the playoffs. The Panthers’ hope was that he could be their new No. 1 goalie, solidify the position, and be the missing piece to finally get them back in the playoffs.

The Panthers may end up back in the playoffs, but right now it is in spite of their goaltending.

As of Wednesday the Panthers sit 27th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage and 25th in all situations save percentage. Typically teams with goaltending like this do not make the playoffs, or even have a chance to make the playoffs. Out of the bottom-15 teams in overall save percentage right now, Florida and Vegas are the only two teams holding a playoff spot.

On one hand, this might be their undoing in the second half if Bobrovsky can’t get back on track.

On the other hand, if he DOES get back on track the Panthers could be a dangerous team to deal with. There was always risk with giving a 31-year-old goalie a seven-year, $70 million contract, but his career shouldn’t fall off a cliff this quickly. His first half in Florida has been similar to his first half performance in Columbus a year ago. He finished last season by catching fire in February, March, and April and not only helped the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, but also sweep one of the best regular season teams in NHL history. He still has that ability.

They could still use some help on defense

While Bobrovsky has definitely struggled, it would be unfair to put all of the Panthers’ goal prevention problems on just him. Because there are some issues in front of him.

The Panthers have invested a ton of money and resources on their blue line but the results have not yet followed. In terms of shot attempts against, shots against, scoring chances and expected goals the Panthers are no better than average (and in some cases near the bottom of the league). That’s something that is going to have to be addressed, but the salary cap situation will not make it easy.

Big picture: The Panthers have some flaws, and right now might have to get through Tampa Bay and Boston in rounds 1 and 2 in a potential playoff run, but there is reason for optimism here. They have the highest scoring team in the league, the eighth best points percentage in the league, and have done that with some of the worst goaltending in the league. A tweak or two on the blue line and Bobrovsky rediscovering his ability to stop pucks and there might be something interesting brewing here.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

My Favorite Goal: Spurgeon’s baseball swing goal for Wild

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Derek Stepan of the Coyotes remembers Jared Spurgeon‘s baseball swing goal vs. the Devils in 2017.

Derek Stepan wasn’t even involved in the game that featured his choice for favorite goal. With the Devils visiting the Wild on Jan. 17, 2017,  a deflected shot was saved by Cory Schneider and flew into the air to the side of the New Jersey net. That’s when Spurgeon quickly gloved the puck and dropped it to himself and swung for the fences for a goal.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
Darren McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Alex Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Marek Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
• Mario Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again
Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs
Borschevsky’s goal sealed with a kiss

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.