Welcome to the last edition of Five Thoughts before the regular season begins. Let’s get to it:
On Colin White’s Future
When Colin White suffered his shoulder injury on Monday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, my first thought was: “Not again!” The Sens’ centre has been frequently beset by injuries for several years now, and has yet to play a full season in his NHL career. As you may have also heard, White is in the third year of a six year deal that carries a $4.75M AAV. If White misses the entirety of this season, a definite possibility if he is on the long end of the four-to-six month recovery time, he will have amassed a meagre 41 points in 106 games for the first half of the contract; not exactly the kind of production the Sens were hoping for. Furthermore, with the emergence of Shane Pinto it’s hard to imagine White ascending above the role of third line centre. Can a cash-strapped team like Ottawa afford to pay their third line centre the kind of coin that White’s deal stipulates they do?
This brings us, naturally, to the question of whether White’s contract is one that Ottawa will be interested in keeping around past this year. The team has historically not been keen on using the buyout provision, but are also not completely averse to doing so: witness the September 2020 buyout of Bobby Ryan. As it so happens, White’s contract is back-loaded in terms of real dollars, and buying him out in June of 2022 would net the Sens over $10M in real dollar savings. Additionally his cap hit would be reduced to $875k, albeit spread out over the six following seasons instead of three.
If White comes back healthy in the first part of 2022 and plays a role in getting the Sens to the play-offs, perhaps he’ll yet be a part of the team’s long-term plans. But if he doesn’t come back healthy, or he struggles when he does return, there’s a very real possibility his time in the nation’s capital will be up.
On Injury “Luck”
It’s difficult to know what White’s career could have looked like were he not injured so frequently, and his struggles are a good reminder that player health in the NHL is not much more than a crapshoot. There are some things that professional athletes can do to maintain against wear and tear, but there’s not much that can be done to prevent the type of high-impact, freak accidents that have befallen White. By all accounts, White is a pro who takes his craft seriously and keeps himself in tip-top shape. Watch the sequence where he is injured:
White gets tangled up with Kampf and his shoulder is wrenched out of its socket; fifty more bench presses in the off-season would not have changed this outcome. And now, regrettably, that shoulder will be much more prone to injury. Even with the best surgeon and the most attentive recovery, there’s a more than decent chance this will cause him to miss more games. Given how frequently he’s been on the injured list, White will likely develop the label of “injury-prone.” Here’s to hoping he gets another opportunity.
On Taking Advantage of Opportunities
Speaking of opportunities, Erik Brännström is back from the (figurative) dead! After most everyone had written off the young Swede’s chances of making the NHL squad out of training camp, he seems to have played himself back into Smith’s good graces. His performance on Thursday night against Montreal was particularly stellar, as he racked up yet another assist and made a few standout defensive plays to boot. Here was an impressive sequence:
Perhaps most importantly to his chances of starting the year in Ottawa, Smith praised Brännström’s game and also rewarded him with the second most ice-time amongst defensemen after Chabot. The smart bet would still have Brännström beginning in Belleville because of his contract status, but that seems far less decided than it was just a week ago.
On Keeping the Stars
The on-going Brady Tkachuk negotiations have come to feel like a waking nightmare, a demented version of groundhog day. The process has been covered to death both here and elsewhere, and I’m not particularly interested in re-hashing the specifics of who’s offered what but this missive from Bruce Garrioch on Thursday really hit me where it hurts:
Will do this again to help all those who don't get it: If you sign Brady Tkachuk to a THREE YEAR bridge deal you may as well give him four years because you're going to march him right into unrestricted free agency anyway. #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) October 7, 2021
Garrioch, for everything else that he is, is plugged into the very top of the Sens’ organization. If he’s saying this type of thing, it’s likely a reflection of Ottawa’s feelings on the matter; the gist of which is that the team is not at all confident in their abilities to keep Tkachuk around past the duration of his next deal if it’s just the three year bridge Brady seems to be seeking. I’m not here to debate whether this is sound business strategy on their part, I just wanted to say that this makes me so tired. I remember this story: it’s the same thing that happened with Mark Stone, it’s the same thing that happened with Erik Karlsson before him, and so on down the line. Thomas Chabot’s eight year contract seems like a minor miracle some days in this regard.
So much of the fanbase’s goodwill the last 18 months has been built on the promise of an ascendant young team, led by Brady Tkachuk. If Ottawa isn’t projecting confidence that they can keep their talisman around, it takes the wind out of everyone’s sails. It’s a bummer to say, it feels redundant, but it still sucks nonetheless.
I maintained for the whole time leading up to training camp that I believed the most likely outcome was that a deal would get done relatively painlessly. Well, the painlessly part is now out the window but much will be forgotten if the deal gets done at all. Thursday was the first where I wondered a bit about whether even that part might happen. And it’s just tiring.
On Josh Norris’ Glow-Up
Ending on a more positive note, it will never cease to amaze me just how big of a break the Sens got with Josh Norris’ development. Full credit, of course, to the player and the organization for the work that’s gone into making him into the player that he is today but this is a guy who wasn’t even in Corey Pronman’s top 100 (!!) NHL prospects in 2018. There’s been a bit of revisionist history lately when it comes to just how well Dorion did with the Erik Karlsson trade because at the time, the general consensus on Norris was that he was an interesting prospect but far from a sure thing to even contribute in the NHL — let alone becomes a first line centre. Norris has been so good since he joined the Sens’ organization that I sometimes think we take his ascendancy a bit for granted but it’s easily one of the most positive stories of the rebuild. The Sens would be exactly Nowheresville at the centre position without him, so every day I thank my lucky stars that Norris was the prospect that Dorion asked San Jose to throw in to make the Karlsson trade. It could not have turned out any better.