Senators have hope for the future, but patience is required


There were seven teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff field this past season. Over the next few days we are going to take a look at each of them to examine whether or not they are capable of bouncing back this upcoming season. We continue today with the Ottawa Senators.

It was only three seasons ago that the Ottawa Senators were in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, just one shot away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Even though it may have been a Cinderella run that came out of nowhere, it was still a very talented roster with its share of high-level players: Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Craig Anderson. It was a good team that, for the most part, was either always in the playoffs or right there in the hunt.

It all seems like an eternity ago.

Fast forward to the present day, and there is not a single player that remains in Ottawa from that 2017 roster. All of them are gone, and that seemed to be part of the plan that owner Eugene Melnyk started to outline for his scorched earth rebuild of the team back in October of 2018 (you remember that video, right?) when he said that within two years 16 of the 22 players on the roster would be new faces. Mission accomplished. And then some.

So where does that leave the Senators’ rebuild now?

Let’s dig in.

The new core

At the NHL level the two main building blocks are clearly Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. They are the best players on the roster, are still only 21 and 23 years old, respectively, and are both already very good. They have already committed to Chabot long-term with an eight-year, $64 million contract that begins this season. Tkachuk is in the final year of his entry-level deal.

Beyond them, the current roster is very thin in terms of established players. Evgenii Dadonov was a smart pickup in free agency, while Connor Brown and Chris Tierney are very serviceable.

The key to all of this long-term is going to be the development of their recent draft picks and prospects.

Through all of their trades to overhaul the roster, the Senators stockpiled a massive amount of high picks. They had two first-round picks in 2018, three of the top-37 picks in 2019, and in this most recent draft class had an almost unbelievable six of the top-61 picks. That included four of the top-33, including three first-rounders. Two of those first-rounders were in the top-five (No. 3 and No. 5 overall).

Add in 2016 first-round Logan Brown, as well as Erik Brannstrom (the No. 15 overall pick in 2017 by Vegas, and the key part of the Stone trade) and Josh Norris (No. 19 overall in 2017 and acquired in the Karlsson trade) and there are a ton of recent first-round picks here. Not all of them will pan out. But giving yourself that many swings certainly increases your chances of connecting on a home run or two.

What could make or break all of this is the development of those top two picks this year, forward Tim Stuetzle and defenseman Jake Sanderson.

Since 1979 the Senators are just the fifth team to have two top-five picks in the same draft class. The previous four teams produced very mixed results.

• The 2000 New York Islanders selected Rick DiPietro (No. 1) and Raffi Torres (No. 5)
• The 1999 Vancouver Canucks selected Henrik Sedin (No. 2) and Daniel Sedin (No. 3)
• The 1997 New York Islanders selected Roberto Luongo (No. 4) and Eric Brewer (No. 5)
• The 1988 Quebec Nordiques selected Curtis Leschyshyn (No. 3) and Daniel Dore (No. 5)

The Canucks crushed it, and the 1997 Islanders could have crushed had they not traded each player within two years.

The Senators have given themselves a lot of swings. Let’s see how many times they connect.

The Matt Murray question

The most fascinating move of the offseason was the Senators’ dive into the crowded goalie market.

Not so much because they went for a goalie (they needed one) but because of the investment they made, acquiring Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins (for prospect Jonathan Gruden and a second-round draft pick) and then signing him to a four-year, $25 million contract. Of all the goalies that changed teams this season, this is the one that had the largest investment in terms of assets given up and salary cap commitment (no free agent goalie signed to a bigger cap hit this offseason).

It all comes down to which version of Murray you think the Senators are getting.

He still has “two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie” in big letters at the top of his resume. But he has not consistently played at that level, and there is still some question as to how good of a goalie he can be and whether or not he can return to that championship form.

If he does, then it is a big position that gets solved relatively easily. If he doesn’t, that is a big contract with a modified no-trade clause that you have to deal with.

Their other long-term goaltending option is prospect Filip Gustavsson, also acquired from the Penguins a couple of years earlier.

The outlook

This team is going to be very bad again this season, and best case scenario for a potential playoff spot is probably at least two years away.

Still, there is some reason for long-term optimism.

They have two very good building blocks in place (Tkachuk and Chabot) and they have all of the recent high draft picks that have entered the organization.

There are two things that will determine the success of this rebuild.

The first is the actual development of those prospects. If players like Brannstrom, Stutzle, Sanderson, Norris, and Drake Batherson do not pan out, then it is hard to see how this thing ever turns around anytime soon.

The second is Melnyk. His entire ownership has been one saga of chaos after another, and at some point you have to see some proof that he is going to invest and commit to building a championship caliber roster. Without that, absolutely nothing else matters.

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

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    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

    flyers trade
    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.