Chris Tierney

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Senators GM must manage rebuild — and Melnyk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa handing Colin White a six-year, $28.5 million contract was more than just conveniently timed for Senators Day here at PHT. It was also a pivotal moment for a big Senators X-factor: GM Pierre Dorion.

To be more specific, this team’s future hinges on how Dorion manages the Senators’ rebuild … and in what might be an even bigger challenge: managing owner Eugene Melnyk.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

You don’t have to be an accountant to notice that, at least in the short term, the vast majority of the Senators’ moves have been about saving money. It’s to the point that people are already joking that White will be long gone from Ottawa before his actual salary peaks at $6.25M in 2024-25:

But that really was an eye-opening signing because it shows that Dorion can occasionally convince Melnyk to fork over dough for “core players.”

It will be interesting, then, to see how the rest of that core develops, as there are some other potentially pivotal contracts to sign, and Dorion will eventually need to add pieces, whether that means NHL-ready players through trades and free agency, or additional prospects through the volume of draft picks the team has (painfully) accumulated by trading away the likes of Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene.

Consider Thomas Chabot the next pressing test case. He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, so will Ottawa get that done briskly, or will that situation linger ominously? There’s nightmare scenarios where another team poaches Chabot with an offer sheet, knowing that Melnyk seems allergic to signing bonuses.

Dorion truly needs Melnyk on board in cases like these, especially since more are on the horizon, notably with Brady Tkachuk‘s entry-level contract expiring after 2020-21.

There are a ton of factors that could sway things as time goes on, from Seattle’s expansion draft to possibly even a new CBA forming as the Senators’ rebuild goes along. Such thoughts might complicate things if Melnyk believes that a new CBA would be kinder to his wallet.

But, even in the shorter term, Dorion could make some interesting moves if he’s creative — and in cases like retaining salary to get trades done, if he can get Melnyk to buy in.

I’ve already argued that the Senators should embrace short-term pain for long-term gains, not unlike the Hurricanes absorbing Patrick Marleau’s buyout to land a first-round pick. That’s not to say Ottawa needs to clone such moves detail by detail; instead, the point is that Dorion should be creative, and also embrace the likely reality that this team is unlikely to be any good this season, so they might as well build for the future.

That’s where the 2019-20 season presents interesting opportunities.

Craig Anderson seems long in the tooth, but he’s surprised us before with seemingly random near-elite years, and what better time for the 38-year-old to pull another rabbit out of a hat than this one, where he’s in the last season of a deal that carries a $4.75M cap hit?

That sounds like a hefty sum today, but it would be manageable for a contender around trade deadline time, where they could “rent” Anderson. Maybe Ottawa would take on a contract a contender doesn’t want (perhaps Anderson to the Calgary Flames in a deal that involves Cam Talbot and Michael Frolik, if Talbot doesn’t work out) for the price of picks and prospects?

Ottawa doesn’t have marquee trade bait like they did with Karlsson, Duchene, and Stone last year, but you can land nice assets for mid-level players, too, from Anderson to someone like Chris Tierney.

There’s only so much Dorion can do about Melnyk’s penny-pinching ways, whether the Senators owner is truly just being “cost-conscious” now only to eventually spend when it’s time to contend, or if that “unparalleled success” talk was merely just talk.

But as we’ve seen with teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, you can build something pretty special even while dealing with budget constraints. You need some creativity from a GM, and an owner who will spend money when it counts.

Is Dorion up to the task? So far, the results have been mixed, but how he handles this situation (now, and in the future) is an enormous X-factor for the Senators.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Couture extension continues Sharks’ summer spree

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The San Jose Sharks aren’t messing around this offseason.

The deal won’t become official until Sunday, but Logan Couture is set to sign an eight-year extension with the Sharks worth $64 million.

The signing could kick off a wild next 24 hours for the Sharks, who are reportedly one of the top teams in the running for unrestricted free agent John Tavares.

The team already locked up forward Evander Kane to a seven-year, $49 million contract earlier this spring, further solidifying a forward contingent that was already in the top half of NHL goal-scoring.

Couture was a big part of that, scoring a career-high 34 times to go along with 61 points in 78 games. He had four goals and eight assists in 12 playoff contests with the Sharks.

The move doesn’t change the cap (currently at $60 million and change) for the Sharks this year as Couture’s extension doesn’t kick in for another year.

The Sharks have two pending restricted free agents still to sign in Tomas Hertl (who is going to get paid) and Chris Tierney and have still yet to sign Joe Thornton, who is a UFA and 39 years old but still coveted by the team.

Couture’s signing should make what Sharks choose to do with their captain Joe Pavelski — who is entering the final year on his five-year, $30 million contract — interesting going forward.

But over the next few hours, what Doug Wilson can do regarding Tavares might just cement him as the best GM in the league this summer.

Getting Tavares, without trying to understate this, would be massive for a team that’s solid up front — with Kane, Couture, Pavelski and Hertl — solid on the backend — with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — and with a quality goaltender in the crease in Martin Jones.

Wilson has done a solid job of laying out a good future for Tavares to walk into if he so chooses.

And now we wait to see if Tavares wants to build there.


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

Senators rally in third to beat Sharks, surpass Bruins in Wild Card race

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Back in mid-February, Ottawa required nothing short of a miraculous run to get back into the playoff race. Enter 27-year-old rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond. He’s reversed the course of the team to the point where they are actually in possession of a Wild Card spot after earning a 5-2 victory against San Jose Monday night.

San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Chris Tierney did managed to score just 30 seconds apart in the second period, but that’s all Hammond allowed in his 29-save effort. Ottawa did the rest courtesy of a third period rally with Senators forwards Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan leading the charge.

Zibanejad netted Ottawa’s first two goals of the game while Ryan was credited with three assists, including the 200th of his career.

Starting with Hammond’s first start on Feb. 18, the Senators have gone on a 15-1-1 run. The sole regulation loss came during one of Craig Anderson’s two starts during that stretch. Coupled with the Bruins dropping five straight games, Ottawa now has a one-point edge over Boston in the battle for the second Wild Card seed. On top of that the Senators have played in one less game.

The stakes will be very high for the Bruins on Thursday when they take on the Anaheim Ducks.

For the Senators, as big as tonight was, there might also be a somber note to it. Although Hammond played the full 60 minutes, he suffered an ankle injury that required treatment after the contest, per the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch. Zibanejad also blocked a shot with his arm but said he’s okay.

John Scott to play for Sharks versus Kings at Levi’s Stadium

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John Scott, you’re going in.

The towering San Jose Sharks forward, who has two goals and three points in 24 games this season, will play against the L.A. Kings at Levi’s Stadium in Saturday’s NHL Stadium Series game, according to multiple reports.

As a result, Chris Tierney will come out of the lineup, as per CSN Bay Area.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has opted for size in such a big game, before what will be a huge crowd. Scott last played Feb. 11 against the Washington Capitals.

“John Scott had a big factor in the game we played against L.A. last time,” said McLellan, as per NHL.com.

“He played really good minutes, hard minutes. They’re a big team, and John is that. That’s called ingredients. You need different types of ingredients on any given night to win. The last time we used those ingredients we had some success.”

The Sharks are shaking up their lines

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With just two wins in their last nine, the San Jose Sharks are shaking up their lines for tonight’s game in Dallas.

From CSN Bay Area:

Against the Stars, indications are Logan Couture will center Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels on the (top?) line, while Joe Thornton skates between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson on another line. Tyler Kennedy will get bumped up to a third line role with center James Sheppard and Matt Nieto, while rookie Chris Tierney will be between Tomas Hertl and Andrew Desjardins on the fourth line.

Couture has spent most of the season skating with Marleau, while Thornton has most often been with Pavelski.

Of the four, it’s Marleau the Sharks could use more from. The 35-year-old has just 11 goals in 59 games. He finished last season with 33 goals.

Five-on-five, Marleau and Thornton haven’t skated regularly together since 2011-12.

Related: Sharks risking ‘national embarrassment’ in outdoor game: columnist