Well, we’ve done it. We made it through a season that many were expecting to be full of pain and sorrow - especially after the first ten games were in the books - that ended with a decent amount of hope and optimism for the future. And, with that, we kick off our first Five Thoughts for Friday of the 2021 offseason.
Melnyk Speaks Again
Earlier this week, Ottawa Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk was a guest on the Bob McCown podcast. As many people felt, my first reaction upon seeing that Melnyk was speaking publicly again was “uh oh.” As has been discussed to an annoying extent, usually when Melnyk speaks, trouble follows. In this case, it was actually kind of fine.
One comment that I found particularly interesting was when speaking about Brady Tkachuk’s new contract and his future with the hockey team. Of late, the Ottawa Senators and, in particular, Pierre Dorion have done an excellent job of keeping their business behind closed doors until there’s something real to talk about. In fact, I was thinking about this earlier today and I honestly can’t remember the last time one of the usual news breakers like Elliotte Friedman or Darren Dreger caught wind of a signing or trade before the Senators were able to announce it on Twitter.
So, while it’s fine for Melnyk to speak about Tkachuk, his contract and his future, one comment about not wanting to give the C to a player on a bridge deal made me ask myself one question: how does Dorion feel about this?
Melnyk stating that they would want the name a captain who is around for the long haul is an interesting move because it could just be Melnyk talking for the sake of it or it could be a form of negotiating through the media, something Dorion has been vocally and rightfully against in the past few years.
Making (Offseason) Moves
There’s been much speculation on what the Sens will do this offseason. After all, they finished the season with an incredible post-deadline record, the kids were hot, the goaltending was strong and the defenders moved the puck better than any Sens blueline we’ve seen in a long time.
This offseason, there are so many things to consider. At what point does the team take the next step and start adding real, talented pieces to this great young core? If they start this offseason and it doesn’t work, they risk looking like they pushed things too soon. If they do nothing this offseason, and they end up around the same spot in the standings next season, they’ll have wasted an opportunity to make improvements.
For me, I’d like to see them take the next step.
At the end of the day, the cupboards are quite full in Ottawa. With the young core already established and the likes of Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, Ridley Greig and more on the way to full-time roles in the next few seasons, the Sens should be looking at their stock of “lesser” prospects and thinking about packaging them to move things along. Of course, the price has to be right and the player has to fit, but it’s highly unlikely that players like Vitaly Abramov, Logan Brown and at least one of their many goaltenders will crack this Sens roster in the next few season. These players, plus the handful of second and third round picks the team has accumulated over the next few drafts should be enough to add some middle-6 or top-4 talent to make waves heading into next season.
In Mann(s) We Trust
There’s been plenty of praise thrown in the direction of Ottawa’s Mann brothers. Trent has been loudly adding solid prospects to Ottawa’s pipeline for years while his brother Troy has been taking those prospects and developing them into NHL-ready talents.
For Trent, you don’t have to look much further than the last few seasons of picks outside of the first round to see what Trent and his team of amateur scouts have been able to accomplish. For Troy, he’s had multiple teams of scattered talent and unpredictable rosters to deal with and has almost always turned those teams into some form of gold - particularly in the past two years.
This past season, Belleville was a shining example of the Mann brother’s hockey prowess. Egor Sokolov, a player twice passed over in the NHL draft, led the BSens in scoring with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games for a solid rookie season. Angus Crookshank, a 2018 fifth round pick, burst onto the scene with 16 points in 18 games after spending a few seasons posting mediocre numbers on a middling NCAA club.
Like their parent club, the BSens started slowly and ended hot, losing eight of their first ten games and winning eight of their last ten. All of this success was thanks to the players Trent brought in and how they were coached by Troy.
My only hot thought for this lovely Friday morning on the Mann brothers is that the Senators need to do anything and everything they can to ensure this dynamic drafting and development duo stay with the organization for a long, long time.
Downtown Connor Brown
After a dazzling season with the Ottawa Senators, Connor Brown is joining Nick Paul and Jacob Bernard-Docker in Riga, Latvia to represent Canada at the IIHF World Championships. Getting underway today, Team Canada announced their leadership group yesterday.
Unsurprisingly, Brown was named an Alternate Captain in his first appearance representing Canada on international ice. Not only a leader on the scoresheet for Ottawa, Brown was relied upon in key situations all season and was a lethal penalty killer to boot.
When the Sens hit the ice next season, their leadership group is likely to look quite different. Thomas Chabot will continue to consistently wear a letter, as will Tkachuk. What letters those are remains to be seen. For me, Brown is the perfect candidate to fill out that leadership group. An NHL veteran who plays “the right way” but is also actually good at hockey. He can play in every situation and clearly is good in the room if he was quickly identified by Team Canada as a leader for their group after spending just a few days together overseas.
I’ve had my doubts about Brown in the past but this past season he proved me wrong. I’d love to see #28 sporting an “A” when the puck drops next year.
A Crowded Crease
Last fall, Ottawa added Matt Murray to the fold to shore up the crease and ensure Marcus Högberg wasn’t all by himself. Throughout the season, neither of the two goaltenders who were pegged as Ottawa’s starting tandem played particularly well for long stretches. Murray showed some flashes and certainly improved down the stretch before missing the end of the season with an injury. Högberg started slow and never really bounced back, earning him a one way ticket out of town this summer.
When neither of the starters could play, the Sens turned to their crowded stable of goaltenders. Both Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson played well and gave the fanbase faith in the future of the crease. In Belleville, Kevin Mandolese had an up and down season but Mads Søgaard crossed the ocean and was absolutely lights out in the final eight games of the season. The Great Dane™ posted a 7-0-0 record with a 0.917 SV% to help Belleville finish the season on a 7-1-0 run.
The Sens have been in a similar situation before. It wasn’t long ago that all of Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner were in the same system here in Ottawa and the Sens had to make a tough choice. In the end, they went with the veteran in Anderson who, I think we can all agree, was a great choice. But, in the process, they moved on from two goaltenders who have also been starters in the league, one of whom has been a Vezina Trophy runner up three times.
While there’s no certainty that any of these young goalies will get to the level of a Bishop or a Lehner, Gustavsson, Søgaard and Daccord all have shown flashes that it’s possible. With the expansion draft coming up, this point may end up being meaningless as one could be out the door, but if I’m the Senators I’m taking a long look at this trio if prospects and giving them every opportunity to play so we can figure out who is to be kept and who might have to move on.
At the end of the day, you can’t have too many goalies but also... you absolutely can.