Another low-event week in a slow offseason. Somehow, your Five Thoughts For Friday continue with their perfect attendance.
On RFA negotiations
Of the two major contracts the Senators are currently working on, Brady Tkachuk’s seems like the more difficult one. An eight-year deal would obviously be great, but it would see him become a UFA at age 29, which isn’t ideal if you’re looking to keep him any longer than that. Whereas a three-year bridge deal would allow the team to re-negotiate with him as an RFA at age 24, which could allow him to remain a Senator for the entirety of the prime of his career. The downside to a bridge deal, of course, is that there’s no guarantee the following contract won’t fall apart in the same way Mark Stone’s did, for example. There’s a risk to both options.
In comparison, an eight-year deal for Drake Batherson, which would expire when he’s 31, is a no-brainer. There’s no reason to sign him to a bridge deal — doing so would run the risk of his following deal costing too much, and even if they don’t want to pay him top-six money in the first few years, they can always work out a back-loaded deal that pays him more money in the later years.
On open spots on the Sens’ roster
We’ve all been keeping an eye on the open 2C position, which may very well end up being filled internally by Colin White, but we’re also still waiting to know the identity of Evgenii Dadonov’s replacement on the third line. For now, they seem to be taking a similar approach to a few seasons ago when they gave Batherson a look in the first few games in 2019-20.
This year, Egor Sokolov could end up being the frontrunner for that spot. The 60th-overall pick from the 2020 NHL Draft had 25 points in 35 games with Belleville last season while making significant strides in his skating, and could be NHL-ready after another dedicated offseason.
Another under-the-radar option would be Pontus Aberg. I have a feeling the 27-year-old isn’t leaving the KHL with the goal of playing in Belleville this year — he’s attempting a return to the NHL. He has 44 points in 132 NHL games with five different teams, and there’s a chance he beats the odds and gives the Senators some depth scoring at a bargain price.
Of course, there’s still an opportunity to add a player through trade, but I think the organization should stay put for now, like in 2019-20 when they waited for a few games before trading for Vladislav Namestnikov.
On hockey being fair and balanced
What makes any hockey team worth cheering for, is the inherently random nature of the sport. We see it take place in the case of the Colorado Avalanche, a juggernaut among their conference for the past two seasons, still unable to reach the third round of the playoffs. I have to imagine that if this sort of thing happened in the NBA, it would be an earth-shattering story, but here, it’s just hockey. It gives a bit of hope to the smaller markets in the league that lack the financial might of their competition.
Looking at the future of the Ottawa Senators, you could look at the potential of having both Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson on the left point, as well as Josh Norris drawing comparisons to Ryan O’Reilly, as cause for celebration. Conversely, you could also question the team’s spotty track record of professional scouting, as well as their willingness to pay Matt Murray twenty-one million dollars over the next three years.
It should be said though, that most teams have these ups and downs, and the past few years have shown that any good team can make a serious run for the Cup. The Montreal Canadiens lost more games than they won in the regular season last year, and at the start of 2019, your Ottawa Senators were looking down on the eventual champions in the standings. I don’t know what the future holds, but the Senators somehow winning a championship would be far from the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in this ridiculous league.
On every team being bad
So, what makes me think Ottawa could win a Cup when the people in charge who led to the team’s collapse a few years ago are still here? For sure, their track record of being one of the worst teams over the last four seasons is a scathing indictment of their ability to build a winning team, but data can be presented in all sorts of ways.
Take, for example, the fact that even with Ottawa being bad by design for a good while, how many teams can say they’ve had more playoff success in the last five years, i.e. reached the third round of the playoffs and won more playoff games? Pittsburgh, Nashville, Washington, Vegas, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Boston, Carolina, Dallas, the Islanders, and Montreal. That’s not a huge list, and it goes to show just how many teams have been spinning their wheels without accomplishing anything of note while teams like the Senators and Kings hang out in the basement, gathering high draft picks. And even when it comes to some of the more dominant teams, they’re far from perfect.
Look at the Hurricanes, moving on from Dougie Hamilton, one of the best two-way defenders in the entire league, because they weren’t willing to meet his asking price, or shipping off Alex Nedeljkovic, a goalie prospect who’d been in the Canes’ system since 2014, and blossomed into a starter this year with a .932 save percentage, for a mere third-round pick. Those are some Ottawa Senators-level shenanigans, right there (except Ottawa actually had another great goalie when they moved Bishop and Lehner).
On the Women’s Worlds
For the first time in over seven years, Canada has struck gold in a major international women’s hockey tournament. Though at first, the on-ice officials weren’t so sure.
They really should’ve ended the game right after the final shot — if there were ten commandments of hockey, one of them would definitely be as follows: “If Marie-Philip Poulin says the puck crossed the goal line, the puck crossed the goal line”. No review necessary, though the delayed celebration by the Team Canada bench, followed by the buzzer signaling a good goal, made her Golden Goal at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World’s all the more iconic.
That’s just part of an insane international resume, too. Game-tying and overtime-winning goals in the gold medal game in Sochi, as well as the game-winning goal in the gold medal game in Vancouver. Spanning over ten years, that’s an unmatched level of clutch. With a record-breaking average audience of 836,000 per TSN watching Poulin continue her legendary career, as well as the rest of the high-end talent throughout both Canada and the USA, that’s a clear sign of there being a high demand for the sport that’s only going to keep going up.
There’s some strong development going on internationally, too. Japan, in particular, caught my eye, having the best result at the tournament in their history with a 6th-place finish. Not only did they go 3-1 in the round-robin, including a 2-1 win over Germany, but they also outshot every one of their opponents prior to the quarterfinal, including the group-leading Czech Republic. It’s something that’s unexpectedly raised my interest in the annual tournament.