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:
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 corner – in 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.