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Five Thoughts For Friday

On the eve of the first preseason game of the season, there’s lots of be excited about, and lots to be disappointed about

NHL: APR 28 Panthers at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive pairings

Deep down we knew it was going to happen, but it was still annoying to see Nikita Zaitsev paired with Nick Holden to start training camp while Jake Sanderson was paired with Travis Hamonic; suggesting that both Zaitsev and Hamonic are projected to be on the opening night roster. That alignment doesn’t exactly inspire confidence given that it’s very similar to the one they ended last season with (Sanderson of course being the wildcard here), but let me provide a little bit of optimism.

The Sens currently have six defensemen on one-way contracts plus Sanderson, so I’m guessing Brännström will start out as the seventh defenseman and be rotated in if anyone gets injured or falters. Given how this organization has historically handled talented young defensemen, I suspect they’ll want to keep the option of sending Sanderson down to the AHL if he doesn’t immediately become a top-4 defenseman. If that happens, having Brännström ready to step up probably makes sense. Also, we know all too well that injuries happen; we’ll probably see JBD and Thomson in the NHL sooner rather than later. Holden also mentioned in his media availability that he might see time on his off-hand.

It would be great if the team could find a way to trade Zaitsev, but maybe this defensive lineup isn’t the end of the world — and there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s far from set in stone.

French Content

I’m not sure anglophone Sens fans fully understand what an amazing opportunity the Sens have right now, with three francophone players as part of the team’s core. Language is really important to francophones outside of Québec, too, and there are lots of those in the Ottawa area! A lot of francophones also really hate the Habs (exhibit A: me). With Mathieu Joseph, Thomas Chabot and Claude Giroux in the fold, the Sens media now has more options to get quotes from players in French than the Canadiens’ media does, which is incredible, and I really do think that putting out content in French would really help convince a lot of people to cheer for the Sens. Plus it’s just the right thing to do in a bilingual city like Ottawa.

That’s why I was thrilled to see the social media team put out a video completely in French, featuring the francophone trio. Check it out:

A new era, indeed. You love to see it.

Off-Ice Spending

It’s silly, but one of the things I really enjoyed about Dorion’s press conference earlier this week was when he talked about improving the facilities for players, including hiring a chef and buying higher quality soap (no, I didn’t make that up). It might not seem like much, but this was one of the big criticisms of the Sens organization during the Eugene Melnyk era: they didn’t want to spend on anything that wasn’t strictly necessary, and that made Ottawa a less enjoyable place to play.

It seems like such a small thing, but it’s encouraging to see that there’s actual investment in the team beyond the bare minimum.

The Dark Cloud

For all the excitement about the upcoming season, it’s still impossible to ignore the massive elephant in the room: the uncertainty surrounding Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson. The investigations into a sexual assault committed by eight unnamed individuals, including players from the 2018 Canadian World Juniors team of which both were a part, continue. Formenton and Batherson are two of only a handful of players from that team who have yet to comment on the situation, and while we shouldn’t put too much importance in the statements by players, it’s a lot harder to ignore now that the breezy days of summer are behind us and hockey is on the front burner.

The Senators organization had all summer to prepare for what they were going to do about this, and that makes their actions to date extra disappointing. Dorion confirmed that he could not comment on the investigations themselves, which is understandable. But if the organization can’t put out a statement, then why did they choose to feature Batherson as one of four players in a lighthearted golfing video? It doesn’t feel appropriate to have the organization promoting him in this way when fans are all waiting to find out if he was involved in the assault. Either put out a statement to clarify how you’re handling the situation, or keep him out of promotional material until the public knows whether or not he was involved. Declining to make any kind of statement but trying to act like nothing is amiss isn’t going to cut it. There is no doubt this is a delicate situation, but it could have been handled better than it has been so far.

Bad PR

I understand that the team can’t take any punitive action against players as long as the investigation is ongoing, but I’ve been as disappointed as I am unsurprised at the clear lack of any kind of interest in taking preventative measures to get ahead of what is clearly a pervasive problem in the hockey world.

I’ll reiterate that the Ottawa Senators, along with every other NHL team, have had all summer to decide how they’re going to address this situation. And yet, when asked if the team had had any talks with the players recently about behaviour and team culture, Dorion confirmed that nothing was changing on that front - making vague allusions to meetings about “bullying” and “bystander intervention.” It’s good to get confirmation that the organization does talk to the players about those subjects, but now feels like an especially good time to focus on training that’s specifically about sexual and gender-based violence. Vagaries about character are insufficient.

When Batherson was asked about hockey culture during his availability yesterday, he deflected to rave about his career and the Sens’ dressing room culture. The most charitable interpretation of this quote is that he misunderstood the question, but, again, he had all summer to figure out how he was going to talk about this. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a simple “sexual assault is bad” or “hockey culture needs to change” comment. As with Dorion there are perhaps legitimate reasons he cannot comment on the investigations but it would be nice to have some evidence that at the very least he’s done some reflecting on the matter.

This problem is bigger than any one player or team. Players and front office officials in the biggest hockey league in the world absolutely should be ready when asked to talk about the cultural issues in the sport.