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Five Thoughts for the Real Thing

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When the sun gets to here we can watch the Sens again

2020 NHL Draft - Round One
Soon we’ll have new lead art!
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Neighbours, no one loves you like we love you. And we couldn’t feel any more grateful that you have chosen to visit this, our most beloved blog, on the first day of the Clark Bishop Tim Stützle era. We have just a tiny bit of house cleaning left to do here at Silver Seven and then it is game time, baby! Before we go any further, I need to take a moment to shout out to two of our most talented young writers here at the blog: Nada (link) and Brandon (link) took to the airwaves this week to get the masses hyped for opening night and you should check those clips out now if not sooner!

In the days leading up to opening night, we’ve had plenty to talk about. The Sharks claimed Rudolfs Balcers (over 200 comments and counting!), Pierre Dorion traded Max Lajoie to the Hurricanes, DJ Smith cut Logan Brown again, Colin White skated as an extra forward on Thursday, and, finally, our one-of-a-kind general manager also took to the airwaves to inform and stimulate(?) the fanbase.

Like many of my fellow red-black-and-gold-blooded Senators fans, I care a lot about things like asset management, talent evaluation, and maximizing returns. The thing is, tonight Tim Stützle (the most hyped international prospect the Sens have drafted since Yashin) will take the ice in the nicest uniforms the Sens have worn since the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, after the longest wait we’ve had as a fanbase for regular season hockey since 2005. So all that to say: let’s have some goddamn fun.

On #Actually having the best fans in the league

For those of you that missed it, some of our fanbase’s most intrepid members (along with some of the Sensphere’s bigger celebrities) came together to support Canadian Blood Services and friend-of-the-blog Brian Fraser. If you aren’t familiar with Brian’s story, Brandon has you covered. In a matter of merely one week, supporters helped the organizers double their initial goal of $5,000 and raised awareness (and some actual blood donations) along the way. For all the joking we do (largely self-deprecating) about our Senators fandom, this community always finds a way to outdo itself when it matters most, and I feel so privileged to interact with such a special group of individuals.

On forging that elusive identity

At the 2020 entry draft when the Senators selected a couple of towering defenders in Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, a couple of pesky forwards in Ridly Greig in Roby Järventie, and the message became very clear that Pierre Dorion and company want to build a team that other teams hate playing against as much because of their irreverence as their skill. In fairness, the plan still has its detractors and it will take years before we know the efficacy of this strategy. And while none of the aforementioned players will likely suit up in Ottawa this year, the unique formatting of the 2021 NHL season will provide a fortunate, if not unexpected, early trial period.

The Senators will likely never get a better chance to test their grittiness and tenacity than they will this year with several mini-series against the Leafs and Habs in a condensed period of time. (Lots of head-to-head matchups with the likes of Flames and Jets won’t hurt either.) If Dorion and Smith mean business with this approach then it’s now or never, and I imagine that fact, in part, informed the team’s decision to bring in the likes of Erik Gudbranson, Braydon Coburn, and Cedric Paquette. I should clarify that I don’t endorse a brand of hockey built around the Senators merely punchasizing guys’ faces for free. So just imagine 56 nights of the Brady Tkachuk Friendship Tour.

On appreciating Josh Norris

For as much as we’ve wrung our collective hands over the lack of rookies on the opening night roster (maybe two or three if we’re lucky) I think we may have focused too much on individual omissions such as Erik Brännstrom, Logan Brown, or Alex Formenton instead of accepting that this is a team of veterans with four or five outstanding exceptions. Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Tim Stützle were never in doubt, and Drake Batherson has looked exceptional for years. So Josh Norris ends up the only real surprise for me as I had him pegged to join all the other prospects in Belleville while Ottawa rolled out a lineup composed largely of players who don’t fit into the Senators’ long-term plans plus three or four key youngsters.

I don’t ultimately see the results as a failure on the part of Logan Brown or a betrayal by the coaching staff so much as a significant achievement by Norris, as maybe the only non-core prospect of the organization to crack a lineup that was built around veterans. Norris forced his way up the depth chart past the likes of Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, and Chris Tierney despite the evident preference of the staff to keep the kids in Belleville. To me, Norris is the story here. Since the Senators acquired Norris as part of the Erik Karlsson deal, he has had a dominant sophomore season in the NCAA, won AHL rookie of the year, and now could start the NHL season as a number-one centre. Josh Norris might be good.

On sleeping on Galchenyuk

In the past ten seasons, two U17 players have accumulated more than 80 points in an OHL season. One of them is Connor McDavid (duh). The other one is an Ottawa Senator. Alex Galchenyuk has had such a tumultuous decade that we easily forget that as a teenager he looked like the next big thing. As much as I would rather joke about how Montreal wasted a third overall pick on a player who never lived up to his potential, I instead respect that they gambled on a player with a history of injuries who, under different circumstances could have gone first overall in an NHL draft. Senators fans know all about the risks of using high draft picks on players coming off of serious injuries and/or surgeries. Like everything else at the draft, it comes down to luck.

And despite everything, Galchenyuk has had a 30-goal season in the NHL, and at one point you could almost guarantee him scoring 20 goals annually. Mostly because of injuries however, Galchenyuk finds himself on his fifth NHL team in four years making almost the same amount of money that he did as a rookie. When I speculated about who could follow in Anthony Duclair’s footsteps in Ottawa, I didn’t even have Galchenyuk on my radar as I unwisely assumed a team with better resources would certainly sign him first. As much as I theoretically disapprove of Dorion’s veterans-first approach this season, I find the Galchenyuk signing fascinating and I look forward to his next act.

On gaslighting with Gary

I’ve ruminated this Bettman quote for days and it vexes me now as much as it did on Monday. Something about billionaires keeping their businesses running during a pandemic and telling me they do it for my benefit just doesn’t sit right with me. I wonder why. I have this sneaking suspicion that maybe NHL teams are operating at a limited capacity during COVID at a loss of tens of millions of dollars because suspending operations altogether would result in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. Tens of millions of dollars saved are tens of millions of dollars earned.

Apparently James Bagnall had this on his mind too because he crunched the numbers to make sense of the Senators projected losses this season and how they play into Eugene Melnyk’s long-term finances. As it turns out, when you control assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the banks will always find a way to keep you financed. Must be nice! So Gary, spare us your mendacity and fake altruism. Some of us are still over here hypocritically suppressing our COVID guilt in an effort to enjoy our city’s culture.

Long gone are the days of false hope that benevolent league would free the hostages from the temperamental owner because, ultimately, there is no honour among thieves. Nice guys don’t own sports teams. And if any fan base won’t swallow lines from Bettman about what our best interests are, it’s this one. We still get our scheduled slips of the tongue from uncle Eugene as Trevor mentioned on Thrusday. We’ve heard it all and we’re still here because the unsavoury business element is an ineluctable reality of sports fandom that we accept (especially throughout COVID). Sports fandom is a bit of a faustian pact. Still, tonight is about enjoying the thing. You deserve at least that. Stay safe, valued reader. Enjoy the game. Leafs suck.