Senators have hope for the future, but patience is required

Senators
Getty

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Scroll Down For:

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.