Getty

Senators waiving Smith is latest ‘kick’ to Duchene, fans

4 Comments

At this point, it would be tough to blame an Ottawa Senators fan if they decided to just take the year off. Seriously, if you were in their shoes, would you mute mention of the team and its players on social media, and maybe just act as if you’re on a deserted island when it comes to news coverage?

We’re getting to the point where it’s refreshing if there’s only one bad news item per week.

The Senators seemed to meet their quota on Tuesday, then, as waiving forward Zack Smith hasn’t exactly been met with rave reviews from other embattled players. It seems like Matt Duchene is saying hello to his old friend darkness, considering the quotes shared by reporters including TSN’s Brent Wallace and the Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan.

That specific Duchene quote will draw cringes and giggles, yet there are other comments that are honestly a bit more disconcerting, at least if you’re hoping that the Senators can convince Duchene and Mark Stone to stick around.

” … Unfortunately, I guess, sometimes in this business, things happen that are sometimes beyond hockey reasons and things like that,” Duchene said. “It’s tough right now, we are hurting.”

That last bit speaks volumes. The Senators are hurting before they’ve even played their first shifts of an 82-game season.

Hockey teams sometimes depend upon players valuing loyalty and security over getting the most money possible, so the “it’s business” vibe isn’t exactly promising for a franchise that’s projected every sign of penny-pinching.

It’s tough to deny the dark humor of Duchene going from a seemingly miserable situation in Colorado only to eat several extra helpings of extra misery in Ottawa. Still, the situation might be even grimmer for Mark Stone, as he’s spent his entire career with the Sens. Losing his trust risks losing whatever’s remaining of the soul of the Senators.

” … I’m surprised. But again, it’s not my decision,” Stone said, via Wallace. “I have to come to the rink every day and prepare the same way. To say I wasn’t surprised would be a lie.”

In a vacuum, placing Smith on waivers really isn’t that unreasonable.

After generating 30+ points for two straight seasons along with solid possession stats, Smith’s play really slipped alongside his struggling team in 2017-18. For a team trying to count every nickel and dime, there must be real consternation regarding Smith’s $3.25 million salary/cap hit. Moving Smith to the AHL saves the Senators a bit more than $1M, according to Cap Friendly. Such demotions are just a sad way of life in the “What have you done for me lately?” NHL.

With added context, such a move likely registers as callout to players like Duchene and Stone, and could provide yet another pull toward getting out of Ottawa at the first earthly possibility. Loyalty hasn’t exactly been a two-way street with this team:

Yeah, yikes.

Let’s take a quick look back at this debacle of a Senators summer, asking ourselves: how much money would you need to avoid abandoning this sinking ship? (You know, assuming that the Senators won’t just opt to trade Duchene and/or Stone in the near future, anyway.)

The Karlsson – Hoffman catastrophe

You can’t really blame the Senators for everything that happened regarding Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, and those who know them. The franchise blundered their way through the fallout to a jaw-dropping degree, however.

Even outside of the context of the protective order Melinda Karlsson filed against Monica Caryk, the Senators almost certainly could have landed a better collection of assets for Karlsson if they moved the star defender during the trade deadline, rather than before training camp.

Ultimately, they settled for a bucket of “meh,” in part because the lure of one run with Karlsson is less transfixing than the lure of two (as a bidder would have received during the deadline). If it’s true that the Senators limited their offers to West teams, then the situation somehow gets more bleak. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin deserves to get ripped over many of his trades, but he did a whole lot better – after similarly boxing himself into a cornerin getting some actually useful assets for Max Pacioretty.

The Senators also could have parted ways with Hoffman at a more opportune time. Instead, everyone in the league knew that their locker room was on fire, and GM Pierre Dorion received a humiliating return as a result.

Overall, it was a masterclass in how to implode as a front office, and it was far from the only forehead-slapping moment.

Randy Lee

This development might not be on the radar of casual fans, but assistant GM Randy Lee resigning amid harassment charges is likely the ugliest incident of them all. Lee was with the Senators organization for 23 years, including four as an assistant, running the AHL team as part of that gig.

Owning it

The Senators went viral with laughable video moments sandwiching the lousy Karlsson trade.

From The Department of Unforced Errors comes this absolutely surreal interview between owner Eugene Melnyk and veteran defenseman Mark Borowiecki:

[Even more on that odd interview.]

You’re not really going to “top” that, but Dorion’s response to a question about what to look forward to this season at least kept the ball (of shame) rolling.

Time flies when you’re having fun, right Senators fans? (Sorry.)

Not even having the lure of tanking

One can quibble about the Senators selecting Brady Tkachuk over, say, Filip Zadina with the fourth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. That debate is mostly beside the point, though.

Thanks to the Matt Duchene trade, the Senators are sending their 2019 first-rounder to the Avalanche after keeping their 2018 first-rounder. For all the miseries of the 2018-19 season, they won’t at least be able to … “Slack for Jack?” Or would it be “Lose Huge for Hughes?”

(Let me know, Hockey Internet.)

For all we know, a mix of lottery luck and possibly better-than-expected play might leave the Avalanche with an inferior pick in 2019. Strange things happen in hockey, and a combination of a solid-to-good coach in Guy Boucher, a plausible rebound for Craig Anderson, and contract years for Duchene and Stone could propel them into more competitive play.

Still, most are betting on abject misery. The prospect of all of that losing and brooding opening the door for the Avalanche to land an elite talent pours a mountain of salt in the Senators’ many, many wounds.

That’s especially true if Brady Tkachuk ends up being nowhere near the prospect that his brother Matthew Tkachuk is.

***

Those are some of the big-picture nightmares that occurred for the Senators, and they probably overlook some other headaches. (Example: attendance issues should only get worse.)

It was already bad enough that the light at the end of the tunnel seemed so dim, and so distant.

To some extent, every rebuilding team faces asks their players “tough things out.” Sometimes you need to just pull the Band-Aid off, which occasionally means ruffling feathers by doing things like they did today in waiving Smith.

The reality, though, is that the Senators continue to pile on more reasons for Duchene and Stone to want to escape what appears to be an explosively dysfunctional franchise. The controversies and poor trade returns for Karlsson and Hoffman might serve as the haystacks, yet sometimes a smaller move like waiving a well-liked player such as Smith may actually be the last straw.

At best, it’s another kick below the belt.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Highlights from Eugene Melnyk’s bizarre Senators video

Senators / Twitter
7 Comments

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.

Brad Marchand is tired of being labelled a goon

Getty Images
19 Comments

Brad Marchand wants you to know he’s trying.

He’d like you to know that he’s a changed man (despite his recent five-game suspension for a brutal and needless elbow to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson).

He’d like you to know he isn’t the same person that’s been suspended five times previously and fined an additional three times during his nine-year career.

It’s a tough life.

Speaking to NBC Boston’s Joe Haggerty on Monday, Marchand said his image as a dirty player is growing tiresome.

“I’ve tried for a while now to try and get away from that role and I just can’t seem to escape it,” Marchand said with one game left to serve of his latest suspension.

Two years ago, Marchand’s game changed. Handed more minutes, Marchand thrived and put up 37 goals and 61 points in 77 games, the highest totals of his career up to that point in both categories.

Last year, Marchand did one better, improving to a point-per-game player with 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games.

This season, Marchand is again on pace to put up big numbers. In 38 games, he’s amassed 21 goals and 50 points.

“I think, obviously, if you look back at the past few years, I’ve turned into a decent player and it’s tough to be branded with that name consistently,” Marchand said. “Obviously, it’s from my own doing but it’s tough to escape it a bit.”

Yet, despite the fact he’s lost close to $900,000 over 19 games missed due to suspension, Marchand seems to refuse to let go of his past, even if he alludes to it being a burden.

“Devil’s advocate there, it’s what I had to do to get into the league,” he said. “I’ll never say that I wouldn’t go back and play the same way again coming into the league. It’s what I had to do to earn a job.”

A look at Marchand’s suspension history:

  •  2010-11: Suspended two games for elbowing R.J. Umberger in the head.
  •  2011-12: Suspended five games for a low-bridge on Sami Salo.
  •  2014-15: Suspended two games for slew-footing Derick Brassard.
  •  2015-16: Suspended three games for clipping Mark Borowiecki.
  •  2016-17: Suspended for two games for spearing Jake Dotchin.

A look at Marchand’s fine history:


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

Why Brad Marchand is NHL’s most frustrating player

Getty
19 Comments

There are 30 general managers in the NHL outside of Boston that, if given the opportunity, would be willing to pay a king’s ransom to acquire Brad Marchand.

There is nothing that he does not do well, and over the past three or four seasons has rapidly developed into one of the most impactful players in the NHL.

The list of players in the league that are better than him at this moment is a short one, and it seems to get shorter every year.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season his 97 goals are tied for the third most in the league, while his 0.50 goals per game average is tied for second in the league (with Auston Matthews and behind only Alex Ovechkin). His 196 total points are the seventh most, while he is one of just six players in the league that have averaged more than a point-per-game over that stretch. His 57.5 percent Corsi rating is second best in the league. He is a crucial part of what has become the best, most dominant line in hockey — alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak — for what is now one of the best teams in the league and at a salary cap hit of $6.125 million per season is probably still one of the best bargains in the league given what he produces.

That’s what makes his other antics, the ones that keep getting him called into the principal’s office for supplemental discipline so often you would think they were serving peanut butter cups and Yoo-Hoo in there, so damn frustrating.

[Marchand suspended five games for elbowing]

On Wednesday Marchand was suspended five games for elbowing New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson in the head. Johansson suffered a concussion on the play (his second of the season) and is sidelined indefinitely.

Instead of being consistently regarded as one of the league’s best players — which he is! — Marchand’s reputation is still that of a pest, or an agitator, or, if you prefer, just simply a dirty player.

What is worse than the fact that the latter part of the criticism is absolutely true, is that he doesn’t seem to be willing to change. Or Learn.

If he is willing to change or learn, he hasn’t actually done it.

Marchand is no stranger to the folks at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and it’s not uncommon for him to be called in at least once or twice per season. That is not an exaggeration, either.

Since the DoPS was formed before the 2011-12 season Marchand has been fined or suspended by the department eight different times. That is more than any other player in the NHL during that stretch, while the only players in the league to be punished more than four times are Zac Rinaldo (seven times) and Raffi Torres (five times).

That is not a group of players you want to be included with in any context.

(Just a quick note on all of that: I am only looking at punishments handled by the Department of Player Safety. So it does not include the suspension Marchand received during the 2010-11 season — meaning he has actually been fined or suspended nine times in his career — and I did not include punishments handled by NHL operations — so players suspended or fined for PEDs, comments or criticisms, or diving or embellishment are not included in the tallies.)

It has cost him 17 games in suspensions and close to $714,000 in forfeited salary.

It also does not include the incidents that did not result in supplemental discipline from the league but certainly drew attention — like the late hit on John Tavares earlier this season that resulted in a five-minute major for interference, or the dangerous trip on Anton Stralman last season, which came one week after he was fined for a different dangerous trip on Niklas Kronwall, which came after he was warned earlier that season for slew-footing.

The point here is that no matter what he does, or no matter what the league does to him, he still comes back and does the same stuff that keeps getting him in trouble. Again and again and again and again and again.

And again.

On Thursday Marchand apologized for letting his teammates and organization down, while also briefly mentioning that he hopes that Johansson has a quick recovery for the concussion that he inflicted on him.

If those words sounds familiar it might be because we’ve heard similar sentiments from Marchand in the past.

Back in November Marchand talked about how his game has changed, mostly due to the changing style of play in the league, but also because being a legitimately good hockey player tends to lead to a longer career than just being a pest.

Here he is, via the Toronto Star:

“I’m trying to get away from the s— a little bit, and I have, just because they crack down on it so easily now and I can’t afford to get suspended. … There are very few guys on any team that even get into anything. These kids that come up now, they’re all skill players, they don’t get into it. There’s no fighters anymore.”

Here he is apologizing for getting suspended just before the 2016 Winter Classic for clipping Mark Borowiecki. It is a combination of words that looks very similar to the ones he said on Thursday.

“I just want to acknowledge the situation that I put my teammates in and affecting the game for them, and taking away for the excitement for the fans being a part of this rivalry and taking it away from them, and also affecting this game for myself and putting myself in the situation to not be a part of this. So I want to apologize, and I truly am sorry to everyone about, again, the situation. And it was not my intent to make a hit or try to injure anyone on that play.”

That, by the way, was the second time Marchand had been suspended for clipping. In the DoPS era only one other player in the entire league has been suspended or fined for that infraction. He has been suspended for it twice.

He has also been suspended or fined three other times since that incident not even two years ago, including his most recent five-game ban.

It is frustrating. It is infuriating. It is exhausting.

It is all of that because it does not need to be this way. Not that there is ever a valid excuse for a player to do the things that Marchand so often does, but it is not like he is player that has to play on the edge to survive in the NHL or keep his job.

He is not just an energy guy or someone that is paid to rattle the cage of an opponent.

He is a top-line player. There is legitimate argument to be made that he has been one of the 10 best players in the league for a couple of years now. He is an All-Star for crying out loud.

The thing that has to be a concern for the Bruins is that he is probably only one infraction away from really getting hammered by the league.

It is kind of amazing that it has not already happened given what has happened to some other players with similar histories. And even that isn’t entirely fair because few players in the league actually have  a history that compares Marchand’s.

His five-game ban is the third-longest suspension handed out this season.

Rinaldo was hit with a six-game ban for punching an unsuspecting player (a punishment that received vast criticism for being far too light), while Radko Gudas, another player with a pretty extensive history, was given 10 games for slashing Mathieu Perreault.

Habitual repeat offender Raffi Torres finally did so many awful things that the NHL suspended him for half of a season. It predates the DoPS era, but the league became so fed up with Matt Cooke playing in the gutter that they hit him with a 10-game regular season ban plus the first-round of the playoffs (which ended up being seven more games) for elbowing Ryan McDonagh.

You have to wonder if that day of reckoning is just around the corner for Marchand.

When the DoPS handles suspensions or fines the first thing they do, even before looking at a player’s history, is determine whether or not the incident is worthy of supplemental discipline.

When the answer to that question is yes, that is when the history comes into play.

At this point Marchand’s apologies and proclamations that he has changed are empty.

They mean nothing because he keeps doing it and it’s not doing him, his teammates, and most importantly, the players on the other side of the ice that he constantly puts at risk any favors.

He is one of the best players in the league.

He is also by far the most frustrating.

It is act that is getting old and somebody, whether it is the Bruins or the NHL, needs to put a stop to it.

————

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.

Brendan Smith ejected for ‘dangerous’ hit on Mark Borowiecki (video)

5 Comments

The New York Rangers were able to take down the Ottawa Senators on Sunday even though they were forced to play with five defensemen for most of the third period.

With the Rangers leading 2-0 in the third (they ended up winning 3-0), defenseman Brendan Smith was given a five-minute major plus a game misconduct for interference on Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

Borowiecki needed help getting off the ice, and after the game Sens head coach Guy Boucher confirmed that his defenseman lost consciousness on the ice. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion.

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page. 

After the game, Smith made it clear that he didn’t agree with the referee’s decision to toss him from the contest.

“I think it was a bit harsh,” Smith said, per Newsday. “I’m OK with two minutes [for interference] . . . We made eye contact and he was expecting to get hit. He’s a pretty big guy, a strong guy. I kind of just connected with my shoulder. You see those plays happen all the time. It’s just unfortunate, the outcome. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Guy Boucher called the play “one of the most dangerous hits you can make in hockey.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the NHL’s Department of Player Safety hands out any supplemental discipline to Smith on this one.

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.