With the Stanley Cup playoffs deep into action, things have been relatively quiet in the land of the Ottawa Senators. There’s been a handful of news tidbits sprinkled throughout, though, which I think are worth covering in some more detail. Thomas Chabot’s new contract, Johnny Gruden heading to London, and much more are in this week’s edition of Five Thoughts for Friday.
While Pierre Dorion has his work cut out for him this off-season following the team’s last-place finish, he certainly shortened his summer workload by trading all the major upcoming free agents in four blockbuster trades. While Ottawa is generally one of the quieter teams during Free Agent Frenzy, there’s a chance they could make a splash this year in a different way — by potentially inking Thomas Chabot to a new contract extension.
In Bruce Garrioch’s column last week, he mentioned that the Sens are looking to sign the young defenceman to an extension on July 1st, the first day that he’ll be eligible. At 22 years old, Chabot still has a year remaining on his entry-level contract, with three more RFA years after that (i.e. a four-year extension would have him expire as a UFA in 2024). He also doesn’t have arbitration eligibility, which helps the Sens avoid a situation they’ve fallen into the past with players like Mike Hoffman, Alex Chiasson and most recently Cody Ceci.
Signing Chabot this early would be unprecedented for a few reasons. Most notably, the Sens have never extended a player for future years in the month of July, let alone on their first day of eligibility. Even for players like Craig Anderson and Mark Borowiecki who signed their contract extensions really early, Dorion has a tendency to wait until the season has already begun or is close to starting.
Sens management also has a recent history of delaying negotiations (or procrastination, same thing), such as with Stone and Duchene. Then again, AGM Peter MacTavish was hired to specifically deal with these contract situations, so hopefully he’s already on top of this.
The other big difference is that Dorion has become somewhat notorious for adhering to stringent deadlines. It’s fairly commonplace in the NHL for GMs to hammer out contract negotiations prior to deadlines, without exposing anything to the media since it would violate the CBA. Drew Doughty, Logan Couture and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are all recent examples from last year.
Instead, Dorion tends to be much more cautious in avoiding any kind of CBA fines, making it very clear that he won’t start negotiating until July 1st. This was most prominent when he ‘offered’ Karlsson an extension on July 1st (even though it was ultimately just a poorly executed PR ploy), but that was far from his first time.
Without getting into the numbers, signing Chabot to a long-term deal early would be a big statement to the fanbase, as the team has spent the last year falling further away from being an attractive destination for players. Of course, Chabot’s situation is very different from that of Karlsson or Stone because he’s an RFA and doesn’t have any built-in option to leave. But it’d be nice assurance to know that one of the team’s core pieces going forward will be around for the long haul.
Words vs. Actions
This transitions pretty nicely into a topic I’ve discussed before in this column, and that’s trust. If Melnyk, Dorion and company haven’t broken the fanbase’s trust enough already, their words clashed with their actions yet again this week, as revealed through Mark Stone’s interview at the World Championships.
Here is his quote on the contract negotiations leading up to the trade deadline, emphasis mine:
“There was still time to get something done. I think for me personally, I believe that I tried everything I could to stay. And it just wasn’t going to work out, especially with the team rebuilding, I understand why they didn’t want to fork over a big contract like that, at the time. But I think we left on great terms with the organization, and I think they’re excited with the players that they got in the trade, and I couldn’t be more excited with where I landed.”
To me, this indicates that the Sens weren’t willing to match the 8 years x $9.5 million he received from the Vegas Golden Knights immediately following the trade. Rumours were circulating that the Sens offered a higher cap hit, but on a shorter term, and also lacking lockout and trade protection. Not exactly a match.
Contrast that to Dorion’s comments following the trade deadline, on whether Stone’s decision to leave came down to money. Again, emphasis mine:
“Not from our side of things (laughter). We made offers on all three pending UFAs, so I don’t think money was an issue at all. I think when you ask all three players, all three players are in the prime of their careers and I think all three wanted to be on contenders and you have to respect that. They’ve put in a lot of hard work and I don’t think money at all was an issue. I think the fact of where our team was headed was probably the biggest factor in them not signing here.”
Just another instance where the team had to lie to the fans to try and salvage some PR. Even then, it shouldn’t be hard to frame the situation in a more truthful and less-damaging way. It’s not uncommon that teams get out-priced on their own players. While it still wouldn’t excuse the Sens from letting players of this skill level escape them given their amount of cap space, at least that angle is less insulting to their fans’ intelligence.
He’s nicknamed PR Dorion for a reason. I could go on about his dissonance between words and actions, although at this point I’d just be kicking a dead horse. If he ever plans on rebuilding trust with the fanbase, it will be a steep climb.
Gruden Joins London
In some positive news, Sens prospect Johnny Gruden has signed to play with the London Knights next season. Drafted by the Sens in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, the forward travelled through the highly regarded U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP), en route to college.
His rookie season at Miami University (Ohio) was a different story, though, struggling to get on the scoresheet with three goals and 15 points in 38 games. His team kept picking up losses, culminating in them firing head coach Enrico Blasi after 20 years of being behind their bench.
Gruden signed an entry-level contract with Ottawa last month, and while it seemed premature at the time given his slow development progress, it’s much more clear now that he’s joined London. It got him out of a sticky situation in Miami, and into Canada’s premiere junior hockey development hotbed.
It’s a smart career move for Gruden with assistance from the Sens, and it really helps that the Knights took a chance on him in the 2016 OHL draft. His underlying numbers seemed promising in the USNTDP, so hopefully he can translate that to the OHL. At 19 years old, he still has plenty of time to improve his game.
First the Sens interviewed Rick Bowness and Jacques Martin for the head coaching job, then they hint at possibly bringing back the old 2D logo... now Jason Spezza could be making a return to red? 2019 could really be the year of the ultimate Sens throwback.
As Pierre LeBrun reported in his column yesterday, Spezza, who will hit the open market on July 1st, intends to keep playing next season. Going on 36 next month, his play is a shadow of what it used to be during his time on the Pizza Line. But a return to Ottawa? That’s certainly not out of the question.
“It’s still early in this process but I have a good relationship with the people in Ottawa that are still there,” Spezza said. “It would be high on my list of considerations that’s for sure. I left there on good terms. It definitely keeps the door open. It’s food for thought, for sure. But it’s so early in the process, we’ll see.’’
Spezza’s halcyon days were before my time as a neck-deep Sens fan, so my opinions on this aren’t nearly as strong as many others online. But on the surface, having him play on the fourth line in place of Gibbons/Lindberg would be a slight upgrade, as long as the contract is no longer than a year and with a reasonable cap hit.
The surrounding excitement would certainly be the bigger story, though, so I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the matter. Do you like the idea? If Spezza retires with Ottawa, should they retire his jersey, or should he be the second inductee in the Ring of Honour?
Interview with a Sens Twitter Bot
Closing things off, this might be the weirdest Five Thoughts segment I’ve ever written, but here we go...
Let’s travel back to November 2018, when the discovery of a group of Twitter bots appeared to be connected to the Senators. While the connection was never confirmed, the accounts were promptly shut down. Their mission had failed, as Twitter’s algorithms picked up the robotic scent.
Skip ahead to late March 2019, and a simple account by the name of Jack Maxwell, or @JackMax14140182, popped onto the Twitter scene. His messages praised Melnyk, complimented the newly revealed season-ticket holder plan, and overflowed with optimism for a team that finished in dead last. More accounts started popping up with similar phrases... have the bots returned???
In an effort to figure out the perspective of these newly-discovered tweeting machines, I teamed up with fellow #SensTweep and Silver Seven writer Beata Elliott to reach out to a bunch of the accounts for an interview. Jack Maxwell sadly turned us down, as did many others.
Enter @JoeSens4206911, better known as Joe Sensman. Joe has been the most active of the bunch, and proclaims himself as a “completely normal Sens fan from our nation’s capital”. He loves the Sens, trusts the team’s leadership, and has graciously agreed to answer our questions.
[Allow me to interject myself for a moment: Joe Sensman is not an actual Twitter bot, and neither are Jack Maxwell or any of the supposed bots to appear since March. It’s likely a fan (or group of fans) who are having fun being trolls, and frankly it’s pretty hilarious.]
Below are a selected handful of Joe’s answers:
Q: What is it about Eugene Melnyk that makes you trust him?
Joe Sensman: I’ve trusted Mr. Melnyk from the start. Any man who is willing to borrow money to buy the Senators at a deeply discounted rate while they were going through bankruptcy proceedings is clearly a capable figurehead and deserves our trust forever, no matter how incompetent they are. #MelnykIn
Q: On a related note, is there one thing Melnyk has done for the fans this season that you’ve really appreciated?
JS: As a human resident of Ottawa, Canada, I’ve very much enjoyed all of his interviews on Toronto radio. The Toronto media is just so much more fair, except when they’re being unfair and criticizing Mr. Melnyk.
Q: What would you like to see blogs like Silver Seven do in order to appear less biased against Melnyk?
JS: Mention the things he does that show how much he loves the Senators! Not everyone would make hard decisions like selling his prized racehorses so he could keep owning the Sens even though he clearly couldn’t afford them, or taking someone’s liver so that he could keep living his miserable life just for the sake of guiding the Senators back to the glory of the first round of the playoffs almost every two years. That’s true sacrifice that you only see from a loving man like Mr. Melnyk.
Q: What do you have to say about the accusations that you are a bot?
JS: I’m just a normal human fan in Ottawa who loves the Senators and works at government. I can’t understand these accusations. It honestly doesn’t compute.
Q: How did you come up with the combination of numbers in your username? Does it have any sort of personal significance? (Joe’s Twitter handle is @JoeSens4206911)
JS: 420 for how much I love the Senators on a scale of 1-10. 69 because I think it’s a nice team. And 11, for how many forwards the team should dress.
Q: When the Sens traded Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, did that affect your perception of the team? Why or why not?
JS: Those guys were all bad in the room and we don’t want anybody on this team who’s bad in the room. We only want players who want to be here so bad that they’re willing to take a deal below market value to stay. Otherwise they’re obviously bad in the room.
Q: Should Marc Crawford be brought back as head coach?
JS: I admit I’m not an expert at coaching so I really can’t say one way or the other. That being said, I have complete faith that Mr. Melnyk and Mr. Dorion know what it takes to hire a good, reasonably priced coach because they’ve done it so many times before.
Q: What do you think of the fans who have jumped ship during the last two seasons?
JS: All the real fans are still cheering on the team. All the smart ones are the tens and tens of fans like me who are smart enough to cheer on the Senators even though they clearly hate us. Our dedication will payoff someday when Mr. Melnyk and Mr. Dorion guide us back to greatness and we get to see 2-3 games of home gate revenue in the postseason.
Well, there you have it. I think I’m convinced to join team #MelnykIn now... how about you? Big thanks to Joe Sensman for agreeing to do this interview and bestowing us with his wisdom.