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Senators bringing back Guy Boucher with changes in mind

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The Ottawa Senators’ plan is for next season is all about change. But there will not be any change for the man in charge behind the bench as general manager Pierre Dorion said on Tuesday during an interview with TSN 1200 that Guy Boucher — and his full staff — will return.

Dorion and Boucher met on Monday and the result of their chat means the head coach will work the final year of his deal. The decision makes sense since it wouldn’t be like owner Eugene Melnyk to allow a coach to get paid for a year and not be working for him.

“They came up with a game plan and we’re really happy with the direction the staff wants to go,” Dorion said.

The Senators finished with 31 fewer points this past season than 2016-17 when they made it to within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Things fell apart quickly, and a three-way deal that sent Kyle Turris to Nashville and Matt Duchene to Ottawa didn’t improved things. Once the season started to slip away, rumors surrounding Erik Karlsson’s future with the franchise bubbled over, but the captain stayed with the team through the trade deadline. This summer, however, could be a different story.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Back to the changes. During their meeting, the GM wanted a gameplan moving forward from Boucher, who will also take over duties running a bottom-five power play. What Dorion heard pleased him, and so the staff stays in place, but not before Dorion passed on a few specific things he’d like to see.

First, Dorion wants the head coach to play the kids more with Colin White, Logan Brown, and Thomas Chabot, among others, seeing the ice more right at the start of the season, rather than after playoff hopes have evaporated. The future is now for the Senators, so rather than treading water with highly-priced veterans, they need to develop those players at the NHL level and determine if they can cut it.

The other change Dorion wants is more practice time, something he mentioned at his end-of-season press conference.“Rest is a weapon. If I hear that one more time I’ll go crazy,” Dorion said in April. He’s going to get that wish after it making it very clear in his chat with Boucher.

“Our intentions, and they were discussed with the coaching staff right after the year, is that we’re a skating team,” he said. “We need to practice. I think speed was Guy’s mantra when he came on board, and I think we derived a bit from it last year and we need to skate hard in practice to play as hard and as fast as much as possible, and they understood that.”

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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.

Erik Karlsson picks up puck after potential last home game as a Senator (video)

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If Monday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets was the last time Erik Karlsson will suit up for the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre, he’ll have something to remember the occasion.

Jets forward Adam Lowry shot the puck into the empty net at the end of the game in a 6-5 loss for the Senators. After the final buzzer, Karlsson skated over to the net, fished the puck out of it, and put it into his hockey pants, perhaps foreshadowing an end of an era in Canada’s capital for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

Karlsson’s future has been the focus of intense speculation for much of the season, and the thought is he will depart Ottawa at some point this offseason after a deal at the trade deadline didn’t come to fruition.

The 27-year-old has one year remaining on his contract.

Karlsson had three assists in the game, eclipsing the 60-point mark for the fifth straight season.


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

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

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The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?

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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.

Eugene Melnyk writes to fans, commits to keeping Senators in Ottawa

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If you’re still listening, Ottawa Senators fans, your owner has a message for you.

Eugene Melnyk wants you to know that things are going to change, that the future looks better than the grim picture Melnyk is responsible for painting.

Senators fans will remember that just a few months ago, it was the same Melnyk writing fans on Thursday that threatened to move the team if disaster struck.

This season for Ottawa has been nothing short of a disaster, but Melnyk was singing a different tune in a letter sent out to season ticket holders and fans on Thursday.

“When I came on board, the Ottawa Senators were in deep financial trouble,” Melnyk wrote. “Together, with your support, we brought this team back to life and we have had Canada’s most successful NHL on-ice performance over the past 15 years. Backed by Ottawa fans and the entire community, I have demonstrated my commitment to giving you the best possible team over and over again. Today, I am just as committed to the Ottawa Senators and to keeping them in the City of Ottawa, as I was in 2003.”

The letter is a lot of what you’d expect from an owner of a struggling team trying to make sure season ticket renewals go as smoothly as possible for a team stuck in 29th place in the NHL, just months removed from being a goal away from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Melnyk reminded fans that the team wasn’t far away from competing for hockey’s holy grail. He went into roster changes at the trade deadline, plans to improve the fan experience and getting the Senators back to winning ways.

“This has been a disappointing season for our team,” Melnyk said in the letter. “Our place in the standings speaks for itself. Trust me, no one is more aware of this — and more frustrated by it — than I am.”

Maybe.

Let’s remember, however, that Senators fans are willing to not only shell out their hard-earned money to watch the atrocity play out on the ice, they’re also willing to spend thousands to erect a billboard showing their immense frustration for Melnyk.

The letter’s biggest omission, however, is the lack of Erik Karlsson‘s name.

The team’s best player, one of the league’s top defenseman, and a player that’s been so horribly mismanaged by the club, to the horror of its fans, is nowhere to be found in Melnyk’s thoughts to his fans.

That’s rough.

The little hope that Senators fans have left remaining is planted in Karlsson’s future. Melnyk failing to commit to repairing that relationship and trying to re-sign a player that is nothing short of a generational talent makes everything else seem superficial.

Time will tell if Melnyk can restore the Senators from being the league’s laughingstock.

But it’s hard not to imagine that fans wouldn’t have rather read a letter from Melnyk that apologized for the shambles it’s currently in; a letter that told the truth to fans, that he has failed the organization, its players, and its dedicated fanbase.

Ottawa deserves that, at the very least.

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

No ‘significant hockey deal’ keeps Erik Karlsson a Senator

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The 2018 NHL trade deadline has passed and Erik Karlsson is still a member of the Ottawa Senators. Why was general manager Pierre Dorion unable to consummate deal to trade away his captain for a bounty? There simply wasn’t a good enough offer out there

“It would take a special hockey deal to move Erik Karlsson,” Dorion told reporters Monday. “Today, we didn’t feel that that was something on the table. I always listen. I had offers on Erik Karlsson no one knew about over the course of the summer.”

Karlsson’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2018-19 NHL season, so a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Vegas Golden Knights — who were rumored to be heavily involved in discussions on the Senators defenseman — could have acquired the two-time Norris Trophy winner for a pair of playoff runs. But whatever packages that were discussed with Dorion weren’t to his liking, so now this trade gets pushed the summer, which should make the June draft in Dallas very interesting.

[Lightning trade for Ryan McDonagh, not Karlsson]

Dorion said that he believes Karlsson wants to be a Senator “for life” and if the he reaches July 1 still a member of the team, a contract extension will be offered. But with teams phoning since the summer gauging what it would take to land the superstar blue liner, surely seeds have been planted for a future trade. You also can’t rule out Karlsson’s feelings on the situation. There will be a time, if it hasn’t happened already, where the question will be asked if he wants to stay in Ottawa and then the GM will have to make his move. He does possess a 10-team no-trade list. How much does that expand in the off-season?

A summer trade benefits Dorion and the Senators much more than a trade deadline deal. We’ll know what the salary cap ceiling is for 2018-19 and the other 30 teams will have a better idea of what their roster looks like going forward. It’s already a mess in Ottawa, so what’s the big deal with a few more uncomfortable weeks?

“We always have to look at our roster. We’re in 29th place. Do we feel we have a team that’s of 29th place calibre? Probably not,” Dorion said. “But in every situation when we’re evaluating ourselves, we have to listen on every offer from teams. We did not actively shop Erik Karlsson. We did not. But when a player of his calibre is rumored to be on the market or when a team is struggling like ourselves, teams are going to inquire about him and we have to listen. We have to do what’s best for this organization in the short-, medium- and long-term. I don’t think we would be doing our job if we wouldn’t be at least listening on offers.”

Nine months ago the Senators were a goal away from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Now they’re in total rebuild mode, with Karlsson likely heading out the door and Mike Hoffman and others likely joining him in the summer. Dorion said he took calls on every single player on the roster and owner Eugene Melnyk told him to make the best “hockey deals” for the team. None of those deals were out there today, but they certainly will be there in the off-season, with Karlsson being the biggest prize.

So what was Dorion looking for in a potential Karlsson trade? A haul.

“Many pieces… When you’re going to trade away a generational defenseman, I think you’re gonna make sure that your return can be very good,” he said. “It would have to be a significant hockey deal.”

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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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.