It is August 20th and, like many August 20th’s before it, there is not a whole lot to talk about. The Senators have had a quieter offseason than many expected and fans appear to be relatively split on if that’s a good thing or not. Alas, we’ve talked about potential acquisitions, RFA contracts and the like for what feels like years, at this point, so we’ll keep today’s Five Thoughts as free of those things as can be.
Here we go.
On Jersey Advertisements
I’ve been seeing a lot of feelings on this topic. It ranges from not really caring to being appalled at the idea of adding a small ad patch to an NHL team’s otherwise ad-free jerseys. I understand the frustration and, potentially, fear that this is just the “tip of the ice berg” and soon NHL teams will be hitting the ice looking like this:
While I, too, would loathe a reality like this for the NHL, we are a million steps away from it and if you’re frustration with the announcement that the NHL will be adding small ad patches in 2022-23 is about this, we can all take a deep breathe and relax. Realistically, fans won’t notice shortly after they come into effect and it’s likely NHL teams will sell jerseys to fans ad free. At the end of the day, the marketing impact from these patches really only comes from them being seen by famous professional athletes playing on TV - the companies paying for this ad space don’t particularly see the average hockey fan walking down Bank Street as the revenue generating machine here.
Similarly, let’s take a moment, as Sens fans, and think about what this means to the team. We all know there’s a money problem in Ottawa. Either Eugene Melnyk doesn’t have it or he does but refuses to spend it. It’s outlined in this piece from Sportico what this revenue could mean to NHL teams around the league. The helmet ad space the NHL implemented during this past season netted teams a total of more than $100M. It’s expected the revenue from the jersey patches will easily surpass this, as the NBA’s recent patch program brings in around $150M annually.
All this is to say yes, a jersey with an ad patch will not look as crisp and clean as we’re used to. Yes, it may be an eye sore, particularly at the beginning while we’re getting used to it. But, at the end of the day, the Sens need money wherever they can get it and if this program has a non-zero chance of Ottawa expanding their front office, bringing in star players or, otherwise, investing more financially into this team, us Sickos should just embrace the idea and maybe even hope for images closer to the one above.
After all, for the Sens, Mo’ Money is actually Less Problems.
On Making the Cut
As it stands today, once the important RFAs inevitably put pen to paper, the Senators have what I would classify as ten forwards, eight defenders and three goalies who will certainly start the season in the NHL.
For the back end of the roster, this is pretty much solidified barring any kind of major injury. A player like Jacob Bernard-Docker could challenge for a spot but his two way contract status and likely need for some seasoning in the AHL anyways makes these eight defenders the locks. The only question is where they play and who sits out.
The big question, of course, is up front. Above, we have three players who played centre last season listed, with a fourth in Nick Paul who could probably line up down the middle in the bottom six and do well. This is the opportunity Shane Pinto has been hoping for. Thus far, the Sens haven’t added any help down the middle from the outside - despite announcing to the world that they were in the market for a top 6 centre - so, at this point, I think Pinto makes the cut. The only thing that would change that opinion for me, of course, is if Ottawa acquires someone between now and training camp.
This brings us to eleven forwards. With Tkachuk, Stützle, Paul and Formenton on the left side, the two spots left would be on the right side and then the thirteenth forward. On the right, there are a few options. First is Egor Sokolov who came crashing into the hearts of Sens fans last season as he was a dynamic scorer for the BSens. That being said, he only has a 35 professional hockey games under his belt, all in the AHL. Looking at how the Sens treated promising prospects like Batherson, I imagine Sokolov heads back to Belleville to start the season.
Ottawa did bring in a few other players who could be working for those final forward spots in Kole Sherwood and Andrew Agozzino but I do think, given this is likely to be depth and fourth line opportunities that there are two more likely answers to these final roster spots.
I think the 4RW and 13F will be some combination of Parker Kelly and the newly signed Scott Sabourin. For me, Kelly provides a bit more on the ice so I see him playing more than Sabourin but DJ Smith hasn’t been shy with dressing a tough guy in the past and I can see him doing that again for certain matchups.
One surprise candidate could be Ridly Greig. Dorion has been caught gushing about him on more than one occasion and he did play quite well in his short stint with the BSens. I do think, however, that he’s bound for the WHL. There’s no rush for Greig, you might as well give him a full, normal year to dominate.
I don’t think the above roster gets you deep into the playoffs and think there is still some work Pierre Dorion should be doing to bolster the offense between now and camp, but this is my best guess for how things will shake out.
On Sophomore Slumps
One of the cool things about following the Sens last year was getting watch a team ice multiple really solid rookies, who all ended up being top minute contributors by the end of the season. Not only was it great for team performance but the likes of Norris, Batherson and Stützle all having really good campaigns also lit a fire in the fanbase. I know I certainly felt more optimism about the Sens towards the end of last season than I have in years.
With fantastic rookie seasons comes expectations, though. Every fan and likely most of the Sens front office is expecting this trio of forwards to be better than they were last season. This means that over an 82 game season, Norris and Batherson will be expected to clear 50 points while Jimmy Stü will be looked at for at least 45.
The good news is these aren’t particularly crazy point totals for good offensive contributors to handle. The bad news is as expectations rise, so will how seriously the competition takes these players. We saw it last season almost every time the Sens faced off against the Habs where Stützle was regularly on the receiving end of slashes, elbows and high sticks. When the puck drops for the regular season, teams will know to be on the lookout for #9, #18 and #19 and may even plan their attack targeting these players.
With no real additions up front to this roster (yet?), and one subtraction in Evgeni Dadonov’s likely 20+ goals he would have contributed this upcoming season, that’s a tall order to expect all three of these players to take that next step without any additional help. It’s possible that they can, but it sure is a gamble.
If I were a betting man, which I’m really not, I’d say one of these three are unlikely to take that next step this season and will likely plateau or maybe even drop in their production as they get used to their new star power. If I had to guess which player, I’d go with Stützle. I imagine Batherson and Norris will suit up with Tkachuk again, leaving Stützle on a second line with a less dynamic centre. It’ll be no fault of his own, he’ll do the best he can, but he won’t be set up for success as well as Norris and Batherson, so that makes him my pick.
Hopefully Dorion has something else up his sleeve to give these players the depth scoring they need to take the pressure off.
On Development Camp
We are roughly a month away from training camp and so far we haven’t heard anything about a potential Sens development camp plan. Teams around the league are hosting their prospects now - some have already had their dev camp wrapped up - but we haven’t heard a peep from Ottawa on this topic.
wIf I had to guess, I’d assume travel and covid related restrictions that still exist in Ontario would be a factor holding this plan back. And, if it’s not specific restrictions, it’s probably something they’ve opted out of planning because of complexity and possibly to give players a long enough break from the rink, since this offseason was slightly shorter than normal even for a team that didn’t make the postseason.
The good news is, we aren’t necessarily missing out on anything exciting from the perspective of a fan. The big name, young players in the Sens organization today were mostly with Ottawa last season, so we’ve got to see them play. Would I have enjoyed watching Tyler Boucher cause a ruckus? For sure! Would it have been great to see some silky moves featuring Ridly Greig or some booming hits from Tyler Kleven? Most definitely. At the end of the day, it’s probably just fine from a development perspective if the Sens do, in fact, forgo a dev camp plan.
Now, there’s still a possibility that Ottawa plans to bring prospects to the nations capital ahead of regular training camp, perhaps the week before, and plans for that just haven’t been released.
Either way, should we just hand out the Jonathan Pitre Award for the hardest worker to Parker Kelly now anyways?
On the Quebec City Coyotes
As fans of the Ottawa Senators, we’re used to being the punch line for many things. Earlier this week, news broke that the Arizona Coyotes would need to be looking for a new home, as the City of Glendale broke off talks to extend their lease at Gala River Arena.
We can certainly empathize with Coyotes fans here. Arena drama? We’ve been there. We’re, kind of, still there. The Coyotes have had multiple instances where they’ve been scrambling for a new home, had drama with ownership and, most recently, had to forfeit their first round pick for breaking draft rules.
At this point, my heart (and brain) breaks for Coyotes fans. Perhaps it’s because the Sens seem to finally be getting to a spot where there isn’t off the ice drama every other week, but for the Coyotes it feels like they’ve been in this tunnel for a decade and will never get themselves out.
Once the news broke, the same old jokes hit the Twittersphere - particularly around moving the team to Quebec City. This, of course, is something that gets mentioned any time any team has any kind of drama ever. I understand that Quebec City is a logical choice as they are a former NHL home and have the facilities to make it happen. That being said, it’s hard to imagine the NHL moving a team to Quebec City.
It’s not that it can’t be a “hockey town”, it’s that the entire city is almost certainly full of loyal Habs fans who aren’t going to switch allegiances in droves. A reason, for me, Seattle works so well is it’s proximity to another NHL team is geographically close, but it’s in a different country. I imagine there are plenty of American Canucks fans in Seattle who are happy to support a team in their town, in their country.
It’s tough because most cities across Canada and the United States are now close enough to an NHL team, with 32 of them in existence, that moving a team pretty much anywhere runs the risk of not being able to grow a fanbase. But if I’m going to avoid anywhere, it’s definitely cities like Quebec City, anywhere in the GTA, and the entirety of the Northeastern United States.
You’re more likely to steal fans from the Dallas Stars by putting a team in Houston, in my opinion. Texas has 28 million people in the state, I imagine there are more people willing to switch allegiances to the Houston Whatevers than the 700,000 people in Quebec City - 90% of whom were wrapped in a Habs blanket moments after exiting the womb.
Bonus Thought: Iced Coffee?