Zack Smith

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Senators’ Smith, Lightning’s Kucherov fined $5,000 each

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NEW YORK (AP) — Zack Smith of the Ottawa Senators and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning have been fined $5,000 each Saturday for rough play during separate games.

The NHL said Smith was disciplined for elbowing Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson. The infraction came during the second period of Pittsburgh’s 5-3 home victory.

Kucherov was fined for a dangerous trip of New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield during the first period. Tampa Bay won 1-0 in a shootout.

Both players drew minor penalties during the Friday night games. The fines are the maximum allowed under the labor agreement, with the money going to a player assistance fund.

Senators handle Uber video nightmare in very Senators way

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The Ottawa Senators latest PR disaster (it’s already getting the “-gate” treatment) surfaced on Monday, as the Ottawa Citizen reported that an Uber video leaked of players trashing assistant coach Marty Raymond.

In true current-day Senators fashion, it seems like it’s only getting stranger from there.

One very “Senators” factor is that the players involved didn’t answer questions from the media after their morning skate on Tuesday. Instead, Mark Stone, Zack Smith, Mark Borowiecki, and head coach Guy Boucher were among those speaking for Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Duchene, Alex Formenton Chris Tierney, Chris Wideman and Colin White.

It’s crucial to note that, while the video leaked recently, it appears to have happened on Oct. 29, in the middle of a four-game losing streak where Ottawa lost to Vegas on Oct. 28 and the Coyotes on Oct. 30. That context helps explain why Stone and Boucher were among those explaining that the matter was already addressed, and that the team knew about it “long before” the footage surfaced.

“It was dealt with internally, the way it should be, we’re going to move forward and grow from it,” Stone said. ” … This is only going to make our team stronger moving forward.”

Such comments make you wonder if the video was leaked intentionally, or at least by an unhappy front office member. Considering how things are going – poorly – for the Senators from a PR perspective, management hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt.

Update: TSN’s Ian Mendes went in-depth to explain how the Senators knew about the video in advance, and more.

To paraphrase Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight,” what doesn’t kill the Senators might not make them stronger; it might just them stranger.

It’s tough to believe that any of this will really make the Senators kill penalties more effectively, score more frequently on the power play, or listen more closely in team meetings. Instead, this is just a reminder that the bloom is off the rose as they’ve fallen to 5-6-3 after a promising 4-2-1 start.

After all, it’s not exactly as if the Senators have rallied since … whenever this mystery team meeting took place. They’ve lost six of their last seven games, with their only win (4-2 against Buffalo on Thursday) immediately being followed by the Sabres getting revenge to the tune of a 9-2 shellacking on Saturday.

Now, to be fair, it’s not that unreasonable to imagine players on all 31 teams having conversations like the one Duchene & Co. enjoyed while unknowingly on candid camera. Zack Smith pointed out as much, saying that if a camera followed him around during his career, he doesn’t think he’d still “be in the league.” Some of this boils down to the fact that technology opens the valve for leaks like these to happen more and more often.

So, perhaps the distinguishing factor is that this surfaced, rather than being contained.

Whether it comes down to self-inflicted wounds or mishandling crises that would challenge even the most stable management, it’s been a dizzying stretch of terrible developments for the Senators.

  • If management had any sense of the trouble brewing between Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson, then it makes the drama that much tougher to stomach, particularly since embattled GM Pierre Dorion settled for pennies on the dollar in the eventual trades.
  • Now-former-assistant GM Randy Lee resigned over charges of harassing a hotel shuttle driver.
  • There are all sorts of questions about the Senators front office. A litany of moves look questionable, from the worse-by-the-day Duchene trade (and the draft pick implications), as well as Alex Burrows’ failed experiment ending with a buyout. Perhaps just as pressing: does Dorion really have any faith in Boucher, considering how he undermined him heading into what would be a turbulent summer?
  • Fair or not, a lot of the turmoil can be traced to owner Eugene Melnyk, whose bizarre video with Mark Borowiecki seems more and more like comic relief amidst all these nightmares.

Would the Senators even employ the same coaching staff that players criticized if their owner wasn’t so, um, budget-conscious? Could a crisis been averted or at least minimized if Karlsson was moved at the trade deadline? How unhappy are people behind the scenes? It’s easy to see why Senators fans aren’t pleased with many things, with the team’s owner ranking as possibly the biggest area of discontent.

The Senators ultimately face some crucial decisions after this latest headache emerged.

It would be rash to trade every player involved in that video, yet one cannot help but wonder if this is yet another sign that Duchene could find himself traded once again (the speedy, occasionally attention-lapsing forward is in a contract year). Chris Wideman is also slated to be a UFA. Conversely, Stone was not in that video and was instead tasked with facing the media, and he’s also in a contract year. What will Dorion do with players like these? How many of these players are part of the solution, particularly when all of these leaks feel like telltale signs of a sinking ship?

The Senators’ problems run deep, and putting them off might be why they’re in such a mess. Management has to start digging out of this hole, or the nightmares will just continue.

As poorly as the Sens have been playing, it’s probably a relief that they’re getting back on the ice, as Ottawa hosts the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Of course, if we’ve learned anything from the Senators, it’s that things can go sour fast … so expect fans to boo their own team, probably very soon.

Update: Matt Duchene spoke to the media following Ottawa’s 7-3 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Duchene made a brief statement before answering questions from reporters.

“I want to take this opportunity to extend my absolutely sincerest apologies to Marty Raymond,” Duchene said. “He’s a heck of a person and coach, and he did not deserve what we said. That’s all I can say on it right now, unfortunately. I sincerely, sincerely mean that, on behalf of myself and my teammates.”

Duchene said the win was big for the Senators, especially given the events over the past couple of days.

“We’ve dealt with things and everything in here is good,” he said. “Just how I feel, it’s hard for me to even talk about it because it makes me emotional. That’s not the person I am or any of us.”

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Athanasiou’s big preseason; Is Horvat ready to be captain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Auston Matthews tells GQ Magazine that his fashion idols are Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and actor Leonardo Di Caprio. The full Q&A is pretty interesting. (GQ)

• Who are the most prominent NHL players that are in new places to start the 2018-19 season? NHL.com has to covered. (NHL.com)

• Is Bo Horvat ready to be the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks? (Canucks Army)

• The Arizona Coyotes have a lot of young talent, but injuries to their centers might put them behind the eight ball heading into the regular season. (AZ Central)

• Brandon Davidson, who was attending Blackhawks training camp on a PTO, signed a one-year deal with the club on Thursday. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• It might be awkward, but the Sens and Zack Smith have to move on from the “waivers incident” that occurred at the beginning of the week. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou was a hold out case during training camp last year, but he’s using this year’s preseason to set the tone for his upcoming season. (Detroit News)

Mitch Marner looks like he’s about to have a huge 2018-19 season, which is both good news and bad news for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (The Hockey News)

• The Rangers need Pavel Buchnevich to have a huge season. So far he’s delivered in the preseason. (Blue Seat Blogs)

Danick Martel is hoping to stick with the Bolts after he was claimed off waivers from the Flyers last week. (Tampa Bay Times)

• After reports surfaced about Devante Smith-Pelly‘s absence from training camp, the Caps forward denied that it had anything to do with being out of shape. (NBC Sports Washington)

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.

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

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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.

Senators’ Cody Ceci awarded $4.3 million deal in arbitration

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Hours after the Ottawa Senators announced a one-year extension for Mark Stone, an arbitrator sided closer to the team’s case following their hearing with defenseman Cody Ceci.

Ceci, 25, elected for the hearing and was seeking $6 million, while the Senators offered $3.35 million. The arbitrator decided on a $4.3M salary for one season.

If no extension is reached by next summer, Ceci will once again be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

Last season, Ceci scored five goals and recorded 19 points in 82 games. He led all Senators defensemen not named Erik Karlsson in time on ice with 23:20 per night, the second straight season he’s played that many minutes a game.

His underlying numbers are not good, however, as Silver Seven Sens pointed out earlier this week:

“Ceci finished the season ranked 131st out of 133 defensemen in terms of even-strength puck possession with a negative 43.76 Corsi. He also held the honours for being the defenseman with the highest amount of shots attempted against with 1862. All in all, Cody Ceci has been on the decline for the past 2 seasons and has not been showing any signs of revival.”

Late bloomer? The Senators would certainly hope so, and Ceci’s one-year deal puts general manager Pierre Dorion in an interesting position before next summer. At the moment, Ottawa currently has nine players — Stone, Matt Duchene and Erik Karlsson included — set to become unrestricted free agents and three scheduled to become RFAs on July 1, 2019. That should spell a lot of change for the roster, one that sorely needs an overhaul. 

So as we wait for the inevitable Karlsson (and maybe Bobby Ryan, too) trade, Dorion has a massive job ahead of him in turning a team with likely a high lottery pick next June back into a playoff team.

But the big issue, as in the Stone case, is Dorion’s inability to lock up the team’s best players long-term. It was a big move in acquiring Duchene last October, but it all went in the wrong direction and the only three players signed beyond 2020 are Ryan, Marian Gaborik (buyout candidate) and Zack Smith. Who would want to commit to losing for the next several years?

What once was looking like a strong core to build around is falling apart and there doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

————

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.