Frustrated Senators owner talks rebuild, arena future

4 Comments

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has picked an interesting time to go on a media tour. With just eight games remaining in the Sens’ season and the team sitting in the basement of the NHL standings, Melnyk decided it was a good idea to rip journalists and other teams over the last 24 hours.

“You don’t do a rebuild with a short-term view. You’ve got to have, and it’s tough in sports, a five-year outlook and if you don’t all you’re doing is patching up. I know a team that you know that’s done it for 53 years,” Melnyk said of the Toronto Maple Leafs on CFRA 580 radio in Ottawa. “They’ve been selling out, but all they do is they’ve been patching up. Finally, they collapsed the team, said ‘We’ve got to a rebuild,’ but mistakes were made and somebody forgot about defence.

“They’re going to have a tough time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. They’re hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in, so they’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful. [The Senators have] something like 17 draft picks in the next three years in the first three rounds and that’s a huge inventory of draft picks, plus everything we have in Belleville, plus, plus, plus.”

Last time we checked, only five teams in the league have more points than the Maple Leafs, while no team has fewer points than the Sens. Again, it’s an interesting time for him to be saying stuff like this.

During that same interview, Melnyk made sure to put his general manager, Pierre Dorion, on notice too.

“This next six months are going to be critical for [general manager] Pierre [Dorion] and his team, and the whole operations [staff] to get their act together in a big way to be able to use these assets – all the 17 picks we have in the first three rounds for three years, plus all of the other prospects. This core group, that’s sitting in Belleville and playing up already are going to stay. And yes, they’re all going to need those big contracts and I’m prepared to step up for that.”

Melnyk also took a shot at TSN 1200 radio host Ian Mendes.

At what point does the NHL have to get involved in this? Even if they don’t want to force him to sell the team, they have to find a way to keep him quiet. The situation in Ottawa has become embarrassing enough that they don’t need the owner to come out and say controversial things about reporters and other teams.

During an interview on the FAN 590 in Toronto, Melnyk also discussed the possibility of the team building that downtown arena everyone’s been talking about.

“It’s dead as far as the process is concerned. They’re now talking about all sorts of different machinations of things and they’re looking at dividing it up into six little projects. I think it’s very fluid right now especially in an election year.

“If there’s an opportunity there, we’ll listen to them. At this point, we’re not in any hurry. I’m still trying to pursue it, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m just as happy to stay in Kanata and do what we’re doing out there and actually expand upon what we’re doing and what we have.”

On the ice, the Sens have some solid youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Erik Brannstrom and a few others, but it takes more than that to be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. By their own admission, they’re in rebuild mode, but Melnyk is convinced that this team can turn things around fast. Really fast.

“The whole objective is that three years out we have a true Stanley Cup contender and that we don’t have the gaps that some teams have and that we stay within the cap,” he said. “We know what the cap is going to be but my worry is you’re going to be bumping into that if you have five or six real starts that you’re paying $10 million to.”

Good luck with that, Eugene.

And, oh yeah, the bots are back!

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.

Success of Senators’ rebuild depends entirely on Eugene Melnyk

6 Comments

The Ottawa Senators’ teardown is all but complete. Now the building back up has to begin.

On Monday, general manager Pierre Dorion traded the last meaningful remnant of a roster that was one goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final not even two full years ago when he sent Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights. It was a huge trade that could significantly alter the Western Conference both, now and in the future with Stone agreeing to new terms on a contract in Vegas, and gave the Senators what should be one of the biggest pieces of their rebuild in stud defense prospect Erik Brannstrom.

That trade followed the other pre-deadline deals that saw them send Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a collection of draft picks and prospects that will be used for this massive overhaul of the organization. Together, all means that in under two years the Senators have now parted ways with Duchene, Dzingel, Stone, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, and Mike Hoffman. That Turris-Duchene trade also included what will be this year’s first-round pick … which will almost certainly have the highest odds of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

It has to be a brutal time for Senators fans because not only was that the foundation of a team that was on the threshold of a championship (literally one goal away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final!), but because there is no real hope for short-term success. We saw that play out on Tuesday night in Washington D.C. when what is left of the Senators’ roster was just completely and totally steamrolled by the defending champions.

[Related: Golden Knights win Stone sweepstakes, agree to extension]

There is going to be a lot more of that the rest of this season, and probably even into next season.

What is even more troubling is long-term outlook could be potentially bleak as well because no one really knows how this rebuild is going to go.

The Senators have tried to be transparent with their plans (sometimes uncomfortably so) and they do have some intriguing pieces to build around.

Keeping their 2018 first-round pick (fourth overall) over the 2019 selection as part of the Duchene trade could prove to be disastrous if it ends up being the No. 1 overall pick, but they did get a really good player in Brady Tkachuk out of it. He has flashed top-line potential this season and looks like a keeper.

Thomas Chabot has also been a positive development this season and stepped in admirably to, as best he can, replace what the team lost in Karlsson on the blue line. He has been one of the league’s most productive defenders this season and after all of the trades is the leading scorer — by a wide margin — of the remaining players on the Senators’ roster. He figures to be the centerpiece of the rebuild along with the recently acquired Brannstrom.

Dorion could not say enough positive things about his newest top prospect, referring to him as a “star” and also saying it “was a long day, but we did something good for the Ottawa Senators today.”

If Brannstrom develops as the Senators hope he can, they should have the makings of a dominant defense pairing with him and Chabot.

Even though they lost the chance to potentially land Jack Hughes this season, they still managed to get back a first-round pick (and maybe a second next year) as part of the Duchene trade and now have 27 draft picks over the next three years, including five in the first two round of the 2020 draft. From a pure hockey standpoint they have at least tried to put a foundation in place to potentially build something. They still have to make the picks, and they still have to develop them into NHL players, and they still have to hope players like Tkachuk, Chabot, and Brannstrom become the star-level players they are anticipating they will become.

But what is truly going to make-or-break this rebuild is one man, and one man only — owner Eugene Melnyk.

He recently outlined an aggressive spending plan that, in his words, will lead to an unparalleled run of success that will feature the Senators spending to the league’s salary cap every year from 2021-2025. That would line up with what would be the peak years for players like Chabot, White, Tkachuk, and Brannstrom and leave the door open for the team to be aggressive in free agency or in trades.

On paper, it all sounds like a great plan. But it has to actually happen in the real world for any of it to matter.

Here is why it is hard for me — and why it should be hard for Senators fans — to just blindly accept that it is going to happen.

First, the Senators under Melnyk haven’t shown anything close to a willingness to do that in recent years, even when the team was good. They have consistently been well below the league’s salary cap for the past decade, even when the team was good and a playoff team.

Second, we just watched them send out two homegrown All-Stars in Karlsson and Stone, one of which is probably the greatest player the team has ever had and one of the best players ever at his position, because they could not convince them — or were unwilling to match their salary demands — to re-sign.

If you, as an organization, are not willing or able to pay up to keep players like them, then why should we be confident the team will be willing to keep a player like Chabot, or Brannstrom, or Tkachuk in the future if they become the players the Senators hope they will become?

The answer is you shouldn’t, because actions speak louder than words, and all of the recent actions of this organization suggest this is just going to be a never-ending cycle where the Senators look more like a farm team for the rest of the NHL than any sort of legitimate championship contender.

MORE: Senators’ owner outlines aggressive spending plan

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.

Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL trade deadline

9 Comments

Well, that was fun. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is over and 20 deals involving 32 players were made on Monday featuring plenty of buyers and sellers. There were a number of of trades in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, which has some teams strengthening for a Stanley Cup run and others eyeing the future as they hope they are in the midst of building a contender.

As the dust settles, let’s take a look at some winners and losers from the 2019 NHL trade deadline.

WINNER: Columbus Blue Jackets fans

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have given no indication they’ll re-sign and made it clear they want to test the market on July 1 as unrestricted free agents. So with that news GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t throw away the season and deal them off for futures. He kept them and loaded up to make a playoff run. Adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate deals with the Senators showed that they’re all-in to make some noise in the postseason. They also picked up Adam McQuaid for depth on defense and Keith Kinkaid for some insurance in net. For a franchise that’s yet to win a playoff round, good for them. The value in creating some excitement in the market is greater than whatever futures some team would throw their way in exchange for a couple of rentals.

Blue Jackets power up for playoff run by adding Matt Duchene
Blue Jackets load up with Dzingel

LOSER: Columbus’ 2019 NHL draft plans

With Kekalainen’s flurry of moves before the deadline, the Blue Jackets currently only own two picks in June’s NHL draft: Round 3 and Round 7 (originally Calgary’s). They could add to that if they end up dealing Panarin’s and/or Bobrovsky’s negotiating rights, but for now the prospect cupboard won’t see many additions when the league gathers in Vancouver. They also don’t have a second- or third-round pick in 2020.

WINNER: Nashville’s power play

The Predators’ power play has been atrocious this season, checking in at an NHL-worst 12.6 percent. The unit was at 21.6 percent last season and in the high teens from 2015-17. Simmonds’ addition will help that and the team’s second line. Since 2013, the 30-year-old forward has scored 74 power play goals and recorded 119 points with the man advantage.

Predators go bold at trade deadline with Simmonds, Granlund

LOSER: Jim Rutherford

The Penguins’ blue line through the 2020-21 season will see Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson eating $7.25M in cap space. Not ideal! (Johnson is signed through 2022-23.) You knew they were going to try and add a defenseman with the Brian Dumoulin injury, but…

As our own Adam Gretz pointed out, trading Pearson is also another in long line of decisions by GM Jim Rutherford that he’s undone within a season. Pearson joins Antti Niemi, Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick, Jamie Oleksiak, Riley Sheahan, Derick Brassard, and Derek Grant as being acquired only to be shipped out again.

Rutherford has already brought in Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to aid up front. But with the deadline in the rear-view mirror now, are the Penguins that much better to contend in the East?

Gudbranson – Pearson trade looks ugly for Penguins — on paper

WINNER: Nick Jensen

Not only does the 28-year-old blue liner go from one of the worst teams in the league to the defending Stanley Cup champions who are chasing a Metropolitan Division title, neither side wasted any time extending their relationship. Not long as the trade was announced, the Capitals signed Jensen to a four-year, $10M extension.

Capitals hope to land another defensive gem in Jensen

LOSER: Edmonton Oilers

No one wanted any of the pieces they may have been dangling, leaving interim GM Keith Gretzky with lots of work to do in the off-season.

Edmonton media has been talking up Alex Chiasson lately for some reason, thinking he could fetch a draft pick. The 28-year-old forward has one goal since Christmas and is still shooting 19.8 percent, which shows you how bad the regression monster has been affecting him since starting the season off strong with 16 goals in his first 30 games.

Getty Images

WINNER AND LOSER: Ottawa Senators

We knew that Pierre Dorion was going to be active and in sell mode with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone on the market. Now that all three are gone, the Senators brought in a combined package of:

NHL players: Oscar Lindberg, Anthony Duclair
Prospects: Vitaly Abramoff, Jonathan Davidsson, Erik Brannstrom
Draft picks: Two 2020 second-round picks, 2021 second-round pick, 2019 and 2020 conditional picks

The Stone deal leaves something to be desired, especially since Dorion was unable to get a first-round pick for him. 

These moves, however, leave the Senators with a little over $35M in cap space for next season, per Cap Friendly. They won’t spend to the limit just yet, but they will have to at least get to the projected floor of $58M, so they’ll be active before next season. Maybe that includes taking on a dead contract like, say, David Clarkson’s, which is a $5.25M cap hit through the end of the 2019-20 season.

While the draft picks and prospects could turn into something good in the future, right now there is no confidence from the fan base that the future holds anything positive for the team. The inability to extend Duchene, Dzingel or Stone did not sit well with fans and adds to their lack of belief that Eugene Melnyk will spearhead some huge spending spree in a couple of years as he said he plans to do.

Watching that trio leave has to make you wonder what will happen when it’s time for Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to re-sign?

“We’re rebuilding and hoping to bring a Stanley Cup very soon,” said Melnyk on Monday after the Stone trade. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

WINNER: Mark Stone

Much like Jensen, Stone moves from a bottom team to a Cup contender and gets an extension to boot. Because of tagging issues, the contract won’t be official until March 1, but it will be eight years with an average annual value of $9.5M and a full no-move clause. Stone told TSN that an “ownership commitment to winning” was a big reason why he agreed to the extension with Vegas, which should tell you everything about why he never ended up putting pen to paper on a deal with the Senators.

Golden Knights win Mark Stone sweepstakes, agree to extension

LOSER: Those hoping for a big move from the Flames

As the Jets, Predators, Sharks, and Golden Knights loaded up, the Flames stayed quiet, only making a depth move on defense by picking up Oscar Fantenberg from the Kings and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. GM Brad Treliving had a maximum price in mind that he would pay to add a big name like Mark Stone. What Ottawa and other sellers were looking for was apparently too rich for his blood.

Treliving wasn’t going to part with prospect Juuso Valimaki, and is pleased to go into battle with his current lineup.

“Today, there is no mourning,” said Treliving Monday afternoon. “The hearse is not driving by, and none of us are climbing in. We’re pretty excited about our team. The fact that we wake up and I’m going to have a cold beer right now and still have guys like Valimaki in our organization, that’s a pretty good day. “So let’s all put it in perspective. We have a good hockey team.”

WINNER: Eric Staal

Owner of a modified no-trade clause, Staal said repeatedly he did not want to leave Minnesota. He wasn’t dealt and will be staying for at least two more seasons after inking a two-year, $6.5M extension.

LOSER: Mats Zuccarello/Dallas Stars

This has nothing to do with the deal, as it was a good addition by GM Jim Nill. But the Stars only got to enjoy Zuccarello for barely 40 minutes before he blocked a shot and suffered a broken arm that will keep him out of the lineup for at least four weeks.

Knowing their newest acquisition is out at least a month, Nill didn’t go out and add any pieces on Monday, making it a quiet day in Big D.

Stars land Zuccarello
Zuccarello injured during Stars debut, out at least four weeks

WINNER: Conditional draft picks

Since Oct. 1, 20 conditional picks have been part of deals. The New York Rangers lead the way with four conditional picks acquired, while the Senators picked up three and Los Angeles received two.

LOSER: Henrik Lundqvist

He took the trade of Zuccarello very hard, as shown after Sunday’s game:

We see it every trade deadline when beloved players move on and their former teams really feel the hole they’re leaving behind. Also, the trade deadline affects more than just the players:

WINNER: New York Rangers

The rebuild could take a turn this summer as GM Jeff Gorton will have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 draft to play with. He has said he’ll try to use those to acquire players who can step in and make an impact next season. Right now they could have over $20M in cap space this off-season.

Rangers’ sell-off continues as Kevin Hayes heads to Jets

WINNER: Thomas Vanek

For the first time in three years “Mr. Trade Deadline” stays put after the Red Wings did not deal the 35-year-old forward. Vanek has been dealt on three different NHL trade deadlines in his career.

LOSER: Jimmy Howard

There wasn’t much of a goalie market this trade deadline, and Howard, who can walk as a UFA this summer, stayed put. The price Detroit was seeking was reportedly high, but now GM Ken Holland will turn his sights into trying to re-sign the 34-year-old.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Senators ask fans to be ‘patient’ after Duchene trade

Getty Images
4 Comments

Sometimes, making the right decision hurts. Especially in the moment.

All things considered, the Ottawa Senators essentially “pulled off the Band-Aid” by trading Matt Duchene on Friday. It stings, but if the team is being honest, it was the best move. (Getting a pretty nice bucket of assets for their troubles is the Neosporin of that analogy.)

While their trade partners the Columbus Blue Jackets feast their eyes on a veritable buffet of additional choices at the deadline, the Senators also eye more moves, but they’re basically cleaning up a mess.

You can tell that the organization is bracing for angst from fans, and understandably so.

“All we’re asking for is our fans to be patient,” Dorion said after the trade, according to TSN’s Ian Mendes.

With Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel healthy-scratched (not just Duchene) during Thursday’s eventual loss to the Devils, many wondered if all three might be gone. Dorion seems to label that as “… To be continued.”

Trading Dzingel would make some sense, but the Stone question is especially tough.

On one hand, Stone would be very much on an island if he was one of the few holdovers from this rebuild. After all, last year’s Senators struggled with Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman still in the fold, and this year’s team was in last place with Duchene and Stone up to this point. A “happy” last-place team can only be so happy.

Considering the haul Duchene landed, and the possibility that Artemi Panarin might be off the market depending on what Columbus chooses to do, Stone would fetch quite the bounty if Ottawa decides they have to trade him. And they pretty much have zero choice if he’s walking to free agency.

But there are some perks to keeping him.

For one thing, while the Senators are amassing some nice assets between picks and prospects, there’s a strong chance that they won’t unearth anyone better than Mark Stone. He’s a legitimately elite two-way winger, and at 26, he could still be useful if Ottawa’s rebuild isn’t too prolonged. (At 28, Duchene had to go, whether the Sens really wanted to let him go or not.)

If reviled Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s plan to eventually spend to the cap actually ends up forecasting a brighter future – instead of being another gaffe, or maybe alongside being another gaffe – then it’s conceivable that Stone could be the veteran shepherding a bevy of young players.

From a sheer PR standpoint, Stone would at least give Senators fans something to glom onto, beyond the speculative mystery of “potential.” They could give Stone the “C,” pay him handsomely, and try to keep that locker room as happy as possible.

A lot of work to do, and more suffering ahead

People become intoxicated by the intangible ideas of potential, but the Senators face a steep uphill battle to actually mold all that clay into something competitive.

With or without a Stone trade, Ottawa’s piled up some picks, especially if certain conditions are met. They’ll have a first-rounder from Columbus in 2019, and could have another in 2020 if CBJ re-signs Duchene. They’re most likely receiving the Sharks 2020 first-rounder, and could receive more depending upon what happens with Karlsson. There are picks in other rounds, too, whether they’re extras or ones that replaced other Sens picks. (They’ve made a lot of moves lately, basically.)

The pain part bubbles up again with picks, of course. By deciding to keep their 2018 first-rounder and drafting Brady Tkachuk, the Senators gifted the Colorado Avalanche this year’s first-rounder. Depending upon how the draft lottery goes, the Avalanche could end up landing Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko from the fruits of the trade that sent Duchene to Ottawa. Yeah, ouch.

Even with all of those picks, the Senators might not land someone as great as Stone, or even as good as Duchene.

That said, there are already some building blocks in place. Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the headliners as far as young players already getting NHL reps go. Ottawa also has some interesting pieces in its system, including Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton.

The Senators have to get a lot of things right, or a few things really right to wade through the darkness: developing those prospects, bringing along Chabot/Tkachuk, and making the right draft calls. Getting more picks means more throws at the dart board, and if Dorion really plays his cards right, he might get the last laugh.

Every indication is that the sounds you hear from Ottawa won’t often be laughs next season, but rather groans of agony. Things might get worse before they get better, which is saying a lot for a team that’s suffered such lows as the Sens have recently.

***

Look, it could have been worse. The Duchene acquisition didn’t work out, but at least Ottawa landed a nice trade package for him.

Is it best to keep or trade Stone? That’s really tough to say. Barring a major upset, it’s unlikely that they’ll be any good next season even with the elite winger.

In other words, the Senators are going to need their fans to be really patient.

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.

Blackhawks, Senators combine for 15 goals in thriller

6 Comments

Fifteen total goals.

Four goalies used.

Twenty-three skaters with at least a point.

No, this wasn’t the aftermath of a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, it was a Monday night sizzler between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Ottawa Senators — a wild and wacky affair that, when the dust settled, saw the Blackhawks emerge with an 8-7 victory.

The game had five goals combined within the first 7:55 of the opening period. By the time the 17:46 mark came, there were nine goals scored, and there was 12 lamps lighted just after the halfway point of the game.

Here’s a quick summary:

1st period:

  • OTT – Ryan – 2:06
  • OTT – Balcers – 2:40
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 3:54
  • CHI – DeBrincat  – 5:07
  • OTT – White – 7:55
  • CHI – Kane – 12:36
  • CHI – Strome – 13:22
  • CHI – Saad – 14:53
  • OTT – Stone – 17:46

2nd period

  • OTT – White – 1:32
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 8:19
  • CHI – Forsling – 10:31

3rd period

  • CHI – Toews – 3:51
  • OTT – Chabot – 9:01
  • OTT – Chabot – 14:43

And here’s the full breakdown from the NHL game sheet.

Alex DeBrincat‘s night ended with a hat trick and five points while Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane each had three-point efforts for the Blackhawks.

Colin White had a three-point night for the Senators while Thomas Chabot scored twice as Ottawa nearly came back in the third.

Collin Delia lasted just 7:55 after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Cam Ward replaced him, allowing four on 28 for Chicago.

Anders Nilsson didn’t fare much better, lasting 13:22 after giving up four goals on 12 shots. Craig Anderson came off the bench and allowed four on 30 shots in relief.

Chicago shot at a 19 percent success rate, edging out Ottawa’s 18.4 shooting percentage in the game.

The puck dropped in the game at 7:38 CT and the final horn didn’t sound until 10:11.


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