Eugene Melnyk

Willie O'Ree racism in hockey
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PHT Morning Skate: Willie O’Ree, others on racism in and outside of hockey

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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.

O’Ree and others on racism in and around hockey

• Hockey trailblazer Willie O’Ree described George Floyd’s death and the events surrounding it as “very discouraging.” O’Ree added that, on a larger level, racism isn’t going to go away overnight. That said, after witnessing statements from the likes of Blake Wheeler acknowledging their privilege, O’Ree wonders if the truth about racism is finally “sinking in.” Maybe players can show that they’ve learned such lessons once play resumes? [CBC]

• Michael Traikos caught up with Kevin Weekes for his perspective on racism in and around hockey. On one hand, Weekes celebrates players “without a horse in the race” such as Jonathan Toews and Blake Wheeler for speaking up. On the other hand, Weekes emphasizes that there’s still a lot of work to do. [Toronto Sun]

• Jeff Veillette spots the sometimes-rampant racism in the “NHL 20” community. Unfortunately, it seems like EA Sports has a lot of work to do to improve this area. Also unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the company is putting a lot of resources into fixing this problem, either. [Faceoff Circle]

CBA talks intensify, and other hockey bits

• Both TSN’s Darren Dreger and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman report that the NHL and NHLPA are intensifying talks to extend the CBA. Stabilizing escrow is a big factor for the players, as the pandemic pause is likely to hit them hard, and for quite some time. [More detail in 31 Thoughts, in particular]

• Read up on the Sens Foundation ending its relationship with the Ottawa Senators. [Sports Daily]

Nick Foligno and his family open up a new chapter with “The Heart’s Playbook.” [The Hockey Writers]

• The Oilers realize that, with the “championship pedigree” of the Blackhawks, an upset isn’t out of the question during the Qualifying Round. [Sportsnet; also read PHT’s previews for the West here]

• Which teams are oddsmakers favoring if action starts up again? [Featurd]

• Emily Kaplan looks at a coronavirus trend for Ducks fans: getting married at the Honda Center. Pretty fun. [ESPN]

• Could the Rangers repair their relationship with Lias Andersson? Such a push could help them as early as the Qualifying Round against the Hurricanes. It certainly beats things only getting bitter and Andersson’s development stalling. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• When you get drafted 34th overall, as Dalton Smith did in 2010, you expect to play in the NHL. You don’t necessarily expect to only do so for one minute and 26 seconds in one game in late 2019 with the Sabres. Smith’s journey is quite the story by Nick Faris. [The Score]

• Grant Fuhr talks about what drove him to become a coach for one of the team’s in the upcoming 3-on-3 hockey league 3ICE. Sounds like it could be pretty wild stuff. [Desert Sun]

• Bill Hoppe goes in-depth on Victor Olofsson‘s chances of having staying power as a scorer with the Sabres. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

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: Players play Fortnite for charity; Progress for NHL return?

2020 NHL Draft players Fortnite charity return
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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.

Progress in return from Pandemic? 2020 NHL Draft updates

• Pierre LeBrun reports that the NHL and NHLPA made some progress regarding a possible 24-team playoff format. Naturally, LeBrun adds that there’s still a lot of work to be done. (TSN, with more at The Athletic [sub required], also check LeBrun’s Twitter thread)

• LeBrun, Bob McKenzie, and others gave recent updates that don’t sound great for an early-June 2020 NHL Draft. There’s still a lot of “to be determined” to all of this, of course. (Various reports, including Thursday’s edition of TSN Insider Trading.)

• Senators owner Eugene Melnyk spoke with FAN 590’s Roger Lajoie about a number of topics on Sunday. In expressing excitement for the 2020 NHL Draft, Melnyk said fans should start seeing signs of a competitive team as early as the 2020-21 season. “Now’s the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.” (FAN 590/Ottawa Citizen)

• Speaking of drafts, David Staples painstakingly compared NHL experts vs. writers/pundits to see how well draft rankings pan out. Seems like it’s very close. If you’re even mildly interested to find out how accurate prognostications can be, this is worth a look. It might be even if you just want to kill some time. (Edmonton Journal)

• Chris Therien took the longform approach with his thoughts on how sports may change thanks to COVID-19. (Flyers)

Other hockey/NHL links (Fortnite fun included)

• Elliotte Friedman provides the lowdown on a class-action lawsuit being settled involving minimum wage in the CHL. (Sportsnet/CHL release)

• Looking back at how Dave Andrews helped to shape the AHL as we know it. (The Score)

• Really great look at Kings prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was raised by his two moms: Fran and Nancy. (Los Angeles Times)

J.T. Compher and Zach Hyman teamed up to create “The NHLPA featuring Fortnite.” More than 60 NHLPA members are participating in the event, which is scheduled to stream on Monday from 2-5 p.m. ET. They’re playing as trios in the battle royale video game, with a charity prize pool of $200K. Hyman will be commentating, while Compher is going to be building walls very quickly and what not with teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Nieto. (More on the event at NHLPA.com/event is set to stream on Twitch)

• Emily Kaplan put together a brilliant “grudge report” list. Kaplan picks one thing that each of the NHL’s 31 fan bases can’t seem to let go. Good stuff. (ESPN)

• Wild defenseman Matt Dumba saw his 2018-19 season cut short when he got injured fighting Matthew Tkachuk. Dumba contemplates a season ending prematurely for the second year in a row. Also, big news: he has a new dog. (Pioneer Press)

[More: November PHT Q&A with Dumba, which included his thoughts on fighting.]

• Darren McCarty dished on feuding with Claude Lemieux, fuming at Mike Babcock (but picking up some coaching tips), on the “Locked on Wings” podcast. (Locked on Wings/The Detroit News)

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Senators

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Ottawa Senators.

Sharks’ staggering disappointments become big, positive surprises for Senators

The fallout of the Erik Karlsson trade remains hard to believe.

Sure, many of us expected the Sharks to eventually suffer with an aging group starring Karlsson and Brent Burns. But for that to happen in such a dramatic way in 2019-20? Few of us saw that coming.

So, remarkably, the Senators have almost as good of a chance to find the next face of their franchise with the Sharks’ 2020 first-round pick as Ottawa does with its own selection. Pretty mind-blowing stuff.

Senators resist the urge to buy high — so far

There were real fears that the Senators wouldn’t be able to resist the siren call with Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s explosive contract year.

We see it plenty of times in the NHL. Whether it’s a contender or a team just trying to save face, a GM gets convinced to ignore red flags and sign a cap-clogging contract extension. Luckily, the Senators shook off such self-destructive instincts.

Now, one can wonder how much the Pageau trade has to do with, erm, “budgetary constraints.” But the result is what matters. Instead of possibly paying a good player too much money — one who, at 27, might be in decline by the time the Senators really can compete — Ottawa landed a bushel of quality picks from the Islanders.

Disappointments around the margins by Senators management

Trading away Pageau was a pretty progressive move, but beyond that, I wonder if GM Pierre Dorion left opportunities on the table.

Look, Anthony Duclair ended up being a great story this season, making an All-Star appearance. As someone who believed that Duclair could be a helpful player for some NHL team, it was nice to see that play out.

Frankly, I believe the Senators would have been wiser to try to sell high with a Duclair trade much like they did with Pageau. Sure, savvy teams likely saw through Duclair’s strong offensive numbers and noted that his defensive shortcomings push him closer to neutral …

Senators disappointments surprises GAR
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

… but someone probably would have coughed up a decent set of assets for a speedy, 24-year-old winger with just a $1.65M cap hit. Right?

Such moves aren’t the end of the world, especially if the Senators don’t go too wild with Duclair’s next contract. Making bigger calls with Karlsson and Pageau move the needle much more.

I do wonder if the Senators missed out on the margins, though, and have for a while.

Selling Tyler Ennis, Vladislav Namestnikov, and to a lesser extent Dylan DeMelo is pretty smart. Most of those assets merely making up for acquiring Namestnikov and Mike Reilly? A little bit curious for a team that’s in an obvious rebuild.

Ottawa’s season wasn’t pretty, but wasn’t the disaster many expected

Yes, the Senators ended up almost where we expected: near the bottom. Maybe credit first-year head coach D.J. Smith for keeping them hungry.

The “could have been worse” theme continues because, unlike some other teams that avoided total humiliation, the Senators didn’t ride on sheer luck. Their goalies were a bit below average, as was their shooting luck. Ottawa’s special teams were putrid, likely the most obvious sign of a glaring lack of talent.

Senators surprises disappointments xG
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

Falling a bit below average by various metrics? Not so bad.

No doubt about it, you’re grading on a curve when it comes to the Senators. When you adjust your expectations, you’d say Ottawa passed many of its tests. The question is, can the Senators graduate from the more remedial parts of this rebuild, or are these small surprises setting the stage for devastating disappointments?

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators.

2019-20 Ottawa Senators

Record: 25-34-12 (62 points in 71 games), second-worst in the East and in the NHL.
Leading Scorer: Brady Tkachuk – 44 points (21 goals and 23 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

Heading into 2019-20, the question wasn’t if the Senators would be good or bad. It was how bad? Would the season be an eternal slog mixed with more groan-worthy headlines regarding owner Eugene Melnyk?

The answers: pretty bad, but maybe could have been worse, and … sure, there were bad Melnyk moments, yet 2019-20 wasn’t as drama-loaded as previous seasons.

Instead of the Senators being the kings of the cellar, the Red Wings were the ones who stunk up the joint quite royally. Sure, Ottawa sits second-worst in both the East and the NHL. They still showed some fight here and there, as the Sharks (63 points in 70 games) and Kings (64 in 70) weren’t that far ahead of the Sens.

Maybe most importantly, they didn’t overreact to, say, Jean-Gabriel Pageau playing over his head. As much as trading Pageau might have stung, Ottawa made the right decision.

With the Senators, you can’t always assume that they’ll make the correct judgments. As a franchise-altering 2020 NHL Draft looms, they’ll need to pair wise choices with lottery luck to make the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Senators

Let’s be honest. It’s probably that the Sharks ended up almost as bad as the Senators.

It’s not yet clear how the 2020 NHL Draft’s lottery will work, but under the old parameters, the Senators hold the second and third-highest odds to land the top pick. Both of those picks have more than one-in-three odds of at least landing in the top three, according to Tankathon.

So, yeah, the biggest highlight or lowlight will probably boil down to whether or not Senators fans see their team’s logo on those prime real estate picks. That doesn’t mean that it’s a disaster if they don’t get the chance to pick Alexis Lafreniere, but the future would look far more promising if they did.

For a more immediate highlight, you won’t beat Bobby Ryan netting a hat trick in his return from dealing with alcohol issues.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:

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.

Ottawa Senators fire CEO Jim Little after only 2 months

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OTTAWA, Ontario — The Ottawa Senators fired CEO Jim Little on Wednesday less than two months after he took the job, saying his conduct was ”inconsistent” with the core values of the team and the NHL.

The 55-year-old Little said in a statement to media outlets that the reasons for his dismissal were simply the result of a heated disagreement with owner Eugene Melnyk.

”On Valentine’s Day, the owner and I had a personal disagreement over the approach that I had been pursuing,” Little said. ”I am a strong-willed person, and the disagreement included me using some strong language with him over the phone, including some swearing, which he did not appreciate and for which I later apologized.

”It was these events, to my knowledge, which led to my dismissal. Any other inference from the statement is wrong.”

Little was most recently executive vice president and chief marketing and culture officer for Shaw Communications. He also has held executive roles at Royal Bank of Canada, Bell Canada and Bombardier Aerospace.

The club says a new CEO will be announced in the next few weeks.

Since 2017, the Senators have parted ways with CEOs Little, Tom Anselmi and Cyril Leeder, COO Nicolas Ruszkowski and chief marketing officer Aimee Deziel.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the reasons for Little’s dismissal were not related to what the league discussed at a board of governors meeting in December. At that meeting, Bettman told reporters that NHL personnel will be required to attend mandatory counselling regarding racism and anti-bullying following a string of incidents that surfaced earlier in the season.

”It’s not what you think,” Bettman said at the NHL’s general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. ”I generally don’t comment on club personnel decisions. … It has to do more with internal operations.”

Ottawa ranks last in the 31-team NHL in attendance, averaging 12,595 fans.