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• “For it is largely due to the remarkable reputation of the Montreal goaltender among his peers that much talk about the format of what appears to be a summer 24-team tournament has fixated on how unfair it would be to face Price in a best-of-three, multiple sources report.” [NY Post]
• “NHL players in shields from forehead to chin? The death of autographs, selfies and handshakes?” How sports will never be the same. [NBC Sports]
• Akim Aliu on why hockey is not for everyone: “The purpose of this story is not to drag everyone in hockey, or the sport itself, into the mud. This is about the biggest problems facing the game I love — and how we can fix them. ” [The Players’ Tribune]
• Could a 24-team playoff be more than just a one time solution for the NHL? [Toronto Sun]
• An interesting look at how defensemen on the power play have evolved. [TSN]
Outside of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the Senators will be searching for a new core in the coming years. Due to the failures of the San Jose Sharks this past season, the Senators have two premium picks in the upcoming draft, including the second-and third-best odds to land the top selection per the current standings. In addition, they have six picks in the second and third round if they want to move up in the draft or acquire additional talent.
Similar to other rebuilding franchises, the tough decisions are looming. Their farm system has a number of potential pieces, but general manager Pierre Dorion needs to find a few difference makers.
Ottawa wisely signed Chabot to a long-term extension prior to the season and will most likely try to lock up Tkachuk this upcoming summer.
Colin White, a 23-year-old, has five years remaining on his contract upon the conclusion of this season and will likely play a central role in the years to come. For the next few seasons, the primary focus will be on player development not on-ice results.
Outside of Bobby Ryan’s contract which lasts until the end of the 2021-22 season, the Senators do not have a salary cap issue. Dorion could wisely use his cap space to acquire additional draft capital, or overpaid NHL players on the cheap as long as he does not exceed the internal budget.
While the Senators will not be making the Stanley Cup playoffs in the immediate future, they do have endless potential with a treasure trove of draft picks and valuable cap space. The biggest question ownership will face is if Dorion is the right general manager to lead them out of the abyss.
The Senators have a need at every position. Chabot has proven himself to be an elite defenseman and Nikita Zaitsev is an NHL-caliber blueliner, but the team will need to develop or acquire a lot more talent.
Anthony Duclair is the type of player the Senators should be currently looking to fill their roster with for the short-term future. Ottawa could give players ample ice-time and special teams opportunities that other teams do not have patience for. Think of players such as former first-round pick Joshua Ho-Sang that are looking for a chance to prove themselves after a rough start to their career.
It was mentioned above, but the greatest strength of the Senators organization is the arsenal of draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. They have three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and 10 picks in the second and third round over the next two seasons. The decisions made this offseason and next will likely define the success of the franchise in the next decade.
When you’re trying to rebuild an NHL team, winning isn’t the only thing. Sometimes it’s the thing you want to occasionally avoid.
Such a thought comes to mind with the surprisingly scrappy Senators, who’ve rattled off wins in four of five games (and eight of 12) to build a respectable 10-11-1 record. Their 10 regulation/OT wins rank ahead of the Maple Leafs and Lightning, both stuck at nine.
Ottawa can really hang its hat on just how challenging this red-hot stretch should be on paper, with eight of their last 11 games coming on the road.
It all brings up a fascinating-if-awkward question: how much success would be too much success? What are the best ways to find the right balance between not (at least overtly) sabotaging immediate results in the interest of taking bigger swings in the future?
It brings to mind a key point: there’s an art to “tanking” while not torching the confidence and habits of the players you want to keep around for the better days. When you look at teams that have been stuck in agonizingly long rebuild cycles such as the Buffalo Sabres, you’ll note players like Ryan O'Reilly burning out at the constant losing, and sometimes getting shipped out of town right when Buffalo might have been more situated to restore his love of the game.
Ideally, the Senators will start to build a structure for the future, while also losing enough to bank some big lottery odds. Judging by head coach D.J. Smith’s comments to Salvian, it seems like the organization is taking a sober approach.
“This is a process,” Smith said. “For us, whether its three years, four years, however long it takes for these kids to develop … But that’s been the best part, we are finding ways to win with the young guys and they are getting minutes and they are getting better.
“My job is to make them better by the end of the year, and if we can win some games along the way, it’s great.”
Building up assets to sell at a high price
Along with developing young players, Ottawa should focus on pumping up the value of non-essential pieces for lucrative trade returns.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau: It’s easy to see why the Senators would want to keep JGP around for the long haul, but if I were Senators GM Pierre Dorion, I’d try to maximize the return for a 27-year-old player who’s on a career-best hot streak, with an unsustainable 24.5 shooting percentage acting as a red flag for his impressive 13-goal, 17-point start through 22 games.
While Pageau’s $3.1M AAV will shrink even more for a cap-challenged contender around deadline time, Dorion should consider selling him at his peak value (right now) if a desperate team would be interested.
If there’s angst about letting Pageau go … well, Ottawa could bring him back in free agency next summer.
Craig Anderson: The cynical rebuilding thing to do would be to keep Anderson (not playing well) and Nilsson (playing very well) in a platoon situation to lose more games. There’s a different bonus that could happen here, though: if Anderson plays at least competently, a team might look at him as a decent insurance policy, even at 38. Especially if Ottawa retained some of his $4.75M AAV … which isn’t a guarantee with Eugene Melnyk writing the checks, but still.
Anthony Duclair, Mikkel Boedker, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ron Hainsey, etc.: The Senators have a wide variety of expiring contracts for different tastes, in some cases with unclear injury situations (Namestnikov is on IR). If Ottawa can get value from trading any of them — even Duclair — they probably should.
For those grimacing at the notion of the Senators not putting their full weight behind a playoff push, consider a point Salivan made in passing: Ottawa had 21 points in 22 games last season, too.
The Senators’ greatest focus should be on the future, but they don’t need to totally look beyond the present to do so. Finding the right balance could really help in the construction of this rebuild.
You’d imagine that there’s no animosity on either side, as that trade allowed the Sharks to get out of Mikkel Boedker‘s problem contract.
For many, it was a mere transactional curiosity, something that would inspire a few “Oh yeah, that happened,” type responses.
Yet, for a group of Sharks fans, Hoffman’s “return” to San Jose provided an opportunity for trolling at such a level that even Hoffman approved. Teal City Crew, a “fan-driven supporter club of the Sharks” located in section 218, decided to create a banner honoring Hoffman’s mere hours with the Sharks.
It was very good, so good that Hoffman had to have it for himself.
With any random scroll on social media, you face uncomfortably high odds of seeing something terrible. If you follow a lot of sports fans and figures, sometimes things go too far when a player has a tough game.
So, while these gestures seem minor, it’s pretty refreshing to see such friendly interactions between players and fans of rival teams.
Hot take: being nice is even more underrated than Mike Hoffman.
1. Mikkel Boedker, Ottawa Senators. It was a big day in Ottawa as Erik Karlsson, one of the best players (arguably the best) to ever wear a Senators uniform returned for the first time as a visitor. In the end, it was Mikkel Boedker that ended up stealing the spotlight on Saturday with a four-point effort in the Senators’ 6-2 win over Karlsson and the Sharks. The Senators acquired Boedker over the summer in their other big trade with the Sharks when they sent Mike Hoffman to San Jose as part of their ongoing rebuild. His performance on Saturday snapped what had been a four-game point-less streak and was just his third multi-point game of the season.
2. Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens. He has only played two games this season but Shea Weber has already made a huge impact on the ice for the Montreal Canadiens. After recording 25 minutes, 13 total shot attempts, and an assist in his 2018-19 debut, he had an even better game on Saturday night by scoring a pair of goals in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers. That win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Canadiens.
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes won their third consecutive game on Saturday night by crushing the St. Louis Blues, 6-1. Clayton Keller was the big star in this one with a goal and two assists, one of which was an absolute beauty to set up Alex Goligoski. One of the NHL’s top rookies a year ago, Keller is now up to eight goals and 10 assists in his first 25 games this season. With a 12-11-2 record the Coyotes are significantly ahead of where they were at this time a season ago. They did not win their 12th game of the 2017-18 season until Jan. 22, so there are definitely big steps being taken in Arizona.
Other big performances on Saturday
— The New York Islanders made quite a return to the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday by rallying from a two-goal deficit to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2. After allowing the Blue Jackets to jump out to a 2-0 lead, the Islanders scored two goals during a five-minute stretch in the second period to tie the game, setting the stage for a Casey Cizikas game-winner in the third period.
— Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald is not really known for his offense but he recorded three assists in their 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
— Starting goalie Ben Bishop returned to the lineup and stopped 24 out of 25 shots in the Dallas Stars’ 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
— With Wililam Nylander finally signed to a six-year contract and Auston Matthews back in the lineup we are about to see the firepower of a fully armed and operational Toronto Maple Leafs team. They were 5-3 winners against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night with Matthews scoring his 13th goal of the season. He is averaging a goal per game this season and is now up to 20 total points. He has four points (including three goals) in two games since returning to the lineup.
— Gustav Nyquist had a goal and two assists for the Detroit Red Wings in their 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
— Mikko Koskinen improved to 8-2-1 for the Edmonton Oilers with a 31-save effort against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Highlights of the Night
The Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils played one of the best overtime periods of the season on Saturday night. Keith Kinkaid made some incredible saves for the Devils, but Mark Scheifele made the play of the game when he stole the puck from Nico Hischier, collected his own rebound, and scored the game-winning goal.
Brayden Point scored his 19th goal of the season to complete a huge comeback for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was also his 15th game-winning goal since the start of the 2017-18 season. No one in the NHL has more since then.
The Nashville Predators had quite the start on Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was another tough game for the Blackhawks, and especially defenseman Duncan Keith as he was ejected and assessed 27 penalty minutes in only four minutes of ice-time.