Frustrated Senators owner talks rebuild, arena future

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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.

Pageau earns DoPS hearing after boarding Canucks’ Sautner

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau only received a minor for boarding Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ashton Sautner Thursday night, but the Ottawa Senators forward could be punished again following his discipline hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.

The DoPS will be speaking with Pageau after his second period hit on Sautner. The Canucks blue liner left the game for a bit before returning to finish Vancouver’s 7-4 win over the Senators.

Pageau, who took a big, unpenalized hit from Jake Virtanen earlier in the game, will likely be sitting for one or two games here. He eyes Sautner as he’s going to retrieve the puck along the boards and the Canucks defenseman does not peek behind him to see Pageau coming, nor does he change any part of his body before the Senators forward drills him between the numbers.

Given Sautner’s position on the ice and the fact he didn’t know he was about to be hit from behind, Pageau does not try to minimize contact or avoid his check. That’s a textbook suspension.

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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.

How Mark Stone is fitting in with Golden Knights so far

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With zero goals and just one assist in his first four games in Vegas, many might be tempted to say that Mark Stone hasn’t worked out so well early on for the Golden Knights.

Luckily for Stone (not to mention Golden Knights GM George McPhee), there are plenty of other numbers to suggest that things are going right as planned. More or less.

Most obviously, the Golden Knights are winning. They’re currently on a four-game winning streak, including consecutive 3-0 victories with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

Piling up wins likely cools would-be hot takes, and Stone also doesn’t have to flinch every time he fails to score a point, as he already essentially agreed to an extension upon being traded to the Golden Knights.

The deeper you look, the more promising things get — at least while acknowledging that four games is an incredibly small sample size.

For one thing, Stone is getting his chances. While that first Vegas goal continues to elude the 26-year-old, Stone’s fired 13 shots on goal in his first four contests. Considering Stone’s robust career shooting percentage of 16 (up to 17.7-percent this season), it’s difficult to imagine this cold streak going much longer.

Stone’s carried his strong possession play to Vegas, a team that already showed proficiency in puck hoggery even before they landed Stone. As TSN’s Travis Yost notes, the Golden Knights have been carrying the play when Stone is on and off the ice so far. Overall, they’ve been in a top three possession team (Corsi and Fenwick percentages) since the trade deadline, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.

Gerard Gallant’s made a logical call early on in placing Stone with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, while keeping the Reilly SmithWilliam KarlssonJonathan Marchessault line intact.

Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault has shown some strain in trying to duplicate last season’s brilliant work, but the Stone addition could really make life easier. In an ideal situation, the Golden Knights could essentially boast two “top” lines.

From matchups to adjusted roles, the Stone trade is making a positive ripple effect. Pacioretty stated as much, as Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported this past weekend.

“I think Stone coming in and giving us that balance throughout our lineup, I see a lot of similarities in our forwards now compared to when (Nate Schmidt) came back from his (20-game suspension),” Pacioretty said. “It’s not one player that makes a huge difference. I think it’s one player that puts everyone in a position to succeed with a role that they’re comfortable in.”

The Golden Knights have already been a nightmare matchup during their home games in Vegas. Now imagine how much Gallant might be able to exploit different situations with the last change. Stone could be used to shut down an explosive opponent, while Marchessault & Co. might enjoy cushier zone starts.

With Vegas basically locked in to the third spot in the Pacific (see the Playoff Push here), Gallant shouldn’t be afraid to run with different alignments.

Perhaps there would be situation where the Golden Knights would want to load up with Marchessault, Stone, and Karlsson on a top line? Maybe Alex Tuch might find especially strong chemistry with Stone, as they’re both bigger forwards? Which groups of scorers would work best on the power play, and would Gallant be wiser to either go top-heavy or maybe echo Mike Babcock by aiming for two fairly even power-play units?

In most cases, teams that made big trade deadline purchases can only experiment too much. After all, many of those squads either are desperately fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or are trying to avoid matchups by securing a better seed.

The Golden Knights have the luxury of basically using the next month as a hockey laboratory to see what works the best, and figure out which wrinkles can be ironed out by April.

If the current combinations work best, that’s a nice problem to have, because from the look of things, the Golden Knights plus Stone equals some serious problems for the rest of the NHL.

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 fire Boucher, name Crawford interim head coach

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It’s not just the players getting shipped out of Ottawa.

On Friday, the Senators made the decision to fire head coach Guy Boucher and replace him with assistant Marc Crawford for the remainder of the 2018-19 NHL season.

“I want to thank Guy for his three years of service. He is a good person and has been an excellent representative of the Senators. At this point, however, we need a different set of coaching and leadership skills to guide our team through this rebuild,” said general manager Pierre Dorion in a statement. “In the interim, Marc will bring a different perspective along with a wealth of head coaching experience.”

That’s a big reverse in course following Monday when Dorion said of Boucher, “Guy is our coach. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me on this one that I’ve probably made his job pretty difficult the last few weeks, and we’re going to support him.” Oh, and he told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun this week that a decision on the coaching staff would come at the end of the season. (This is what happens when you lose to the Oilers, apparently.)

Boucher was 94-108-26 in 288 regular season games behind the bench in Ottawa. The Senators made the playoffs only once during his short tenure when reached the 2017 Eastern Conference Final and came within an overtime goal in Game 7 of playing in the Stanley Cup Final. This season they are dead-last in the NHL with a 22-37-5 record and cannot even look forward to this year’s draft lottery since the Colorado Avalanche own their first-round pick, thanks to last season’s Matt Duchene trade.

Boucher — and Crawford, for that matter — was a lame duck coach as his contract expires after this season. The Senators are going full-on into this rebuild — the word “rebuilding” is featured in the press release’s headline — and anticipating the 2021-2025 period where owner Eugene Melnyk says he’ll finally spend to the salary cap ceiling. In what direction will they now go for their next bench boss?

In their press release announcing the change, the Senators outlined exactly what they’ll be looking for in their next head coach:

In tandem with an evaluation of our current coaching staff, we will conduct a search for a new head coach following the season. We will be looking for a coach who excels as:

• A teacher who will focus on the development and growth of each player on the team;

• A listener who encourages feedback from players and the coaching staff;

• A communicator who lets every team member know where they stand and what is expected;

• A tactician who brings structure and game planning that will enhance our rebuild.

This job opening has all the makings of a first-timer. Joel Quenneville or Alain Vigneault are not going to want to go into the situation the Senators currently face the next few years, even with a promising prospect cupboard. Also, Melnyk isn’t going to shell out big bucks for a big name coach.

Will the organization’s AHL head coach, Troy Mann, get a look? What about Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Marlies? His name has come up in the past year connected to various NHL openings. Another name that could be in the rumor mill is Dallas Eakins, now coaching in AHL San Diego, who may very well end up behind the Anaheim Ducks’ bench next season.

Crawford, who is the franchise’s eighth head coach since their 2007 Cup Final appearance, joined the Senators following Boucher’s hiring in 2016. He previously coached 18 years in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Dallas Stars. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1995 and the Stanley Cup in 1996.

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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.

Success of Senators’ rebuild depends entirely on Eugene Melnyk

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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.