Eugene Melnyk needs Ottawa to rally around Senators

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Every day this month, PHT has been rolling out these “under pressure” posts about each organization in the NHL. Sometimes the person under pressure is a player, a general manager or a head coach. Very rarely do we have an owner that fits that category, but that’s the case with the Senators.

Eugene Melnyk has to be feeling the heat. He can’t lose his job, but he can continue to lose a fan base that’s dwindling quickly and that’s a scary proposition. This team is going to go through a very long and painful rebuild and Melnyk needs to make sure that he keeps the fans engaged and close to this team.

As of right now, he’s public enemy number one. Things have been bad for a while, but they got uglier when Melnyk said he was open to moving the team back in Dec. 2017. That clearly didn’t sit well with the people of Ottawa and although he tried to do damage control after the fact, the damage was already done.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | X-factor]

It’s also no secret that Melnyk isn’t willing to spend the money to make this team as competitive as it can be. That’s affected his relationships with many key figures in the organization including Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and former captain Daniel Alfredsson, who are all no longer with the team.

Every time the Sens make a move, the hockey world’s reaction is to look for the ways in which they’re saving dollars. Yes, it’s fine for him to be looking to save money. After all, the Sens are a small-market team, but it can’t be the priority every time you make a trade.

It’s mind-boggling to think how far the Senators have fallen over the last few years. In the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ottawa took the Pittsburgh Penguins to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The final game of the series went to double overtime before the Pens won, but Ottawa was a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final. Two years later, Karlsson’s gone, Stone’s gone and the team is beginning a major rebuild. Melnyk has no choice to but to shoulder a lot of the blame.

General manager Pierre Dorion is the one making the moves, but Melnyk is pulling the strings. If Melnyk wants this story to end in a positive way, his attitude has to change in a hurry.

The other big issue is that he failed to secure a downtown location for a new arena to be built in Ottawa. The sting of trading away two fan-favorites would’ve been lessened had he found a way to get a new arena project going in the LeBreton Flats area, but that all fell apart during the last hockey season.

Can he get public opinion back on his side? It sure seems like that’s impossible at this point. But will he be forced to sell the team? That’s the interesting question.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.