“Did we just become rivals?”
In my last five thoughts, after the Senators bought out Colin White’s contract, I implored White not to sign with a team I despise. And he didn’t! But now I have to wonder if he did sign with a rival. Geographically and traditionally the Sens and the Florida Panthers have little to no rivalry to speak of with only the usual on-ice animosity we come to expect from all professional hockey. But now with the Sens paying both White and Michael Del Zotto to play against them, have the vibes changed? The Cats had already snagged Anthony Duclair. Now they’ve added Rudolfs Balcers and Chris Tierney (all former acquisitions from Ottawa’s fire sale). The Senators of course tilted the scale in their favour landing Claude Giroux after his brief tenure in South Florida. Along with the Rangers, Capitals, and Bruins (some of Ottawa’s recent trade partners) the Cats now look like Ottawa’s primary competition for a wild card spot. This could get interesting.
Of the major moves Pierre Dorion made around the draft and free agency, I find the exchange of Filip Gustavsson for Cam Talbot the most nuanced. The acquisitions of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux seem self-explanatory to me. Now, Talbot, like any NHL goaltender has a couple of rough outlier seasons but has largely played above replacement and provides Ottawa with some veteran confidence. We know all about the mercurial nature of goalies and their year-over-year performances. More than anything, I like that Dorion took Talbot off the market before a rival team could acquire him. To me Gustavsson serves as a cautionary tale and even if I don’t love Dorion selling low on a former blue chip prospect, we all should have seen this departure coming. From my perspective, Gustavsson came to North America too soon in his development (thanks a lot Pittsburgh) and just like Robin Lehner before him and it started the contract clock ticking prematurely. Like Lehner, I can see Gustavsson blooming later after his tenure in Ottawa. Without waiver exemption though, the Sens just didn’t have the means to get Gus back on top of his game (especially behind such a questionable NHL defence corps). All the best, Gus!
Hope for the Blue Line
Much like Pittsburgh and Gustavsson, I still harbour some ill will towards Vegas for bringing Erik Brännström to North America prematurely. I have total confidence in Bonestorm and I still see him reaching his potential in Ottawa but he could have avoided a lot of growing pains by not spending a couple of those years going back and forth in the AHL and NHL from team to team. So much faith do I have in the lad that I maintain Ottawa has a season over .500 even without shopping for another external solution on defence so long as DJ Smith distributes minutes to his rookie defenders ahead of the likes of Nikita Zaitsev, Travis Hamonic, and yes even fan favourite Nick Holden.
Getting their Opportunity
It came and went without much fanfare, but the Eric Engstrand era of Ottawa Senators hockey definitely existed I guess. As one of the designated prospect people on the staff I feel compelled to at least offer some parting words for one of Ottawa’s lesser known picks from recent years. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours, Eric. And in a matter of weeks we’ll know whether Jonathan Tychonick will join Engstrand in a very select group of recent Senators draftees who never signed their entry-level contracts. In the past five drafts, only Engstrand and Jordan Hollett saw their rights expire before Ottawa signed them. Less so this year than those previous, we’ve asked the question as to whether the Senators actually draft well or not. And while that verdict remains unrendered, two (maybe three) unsigned draftees in five years seems pretty decent I think.
The Culture of the Franchise
Without going too deeply into sensitive subject matter, and without offering conjecture on a subject about which I have zero actual facts, we could very well see the Ottawa Senators organization face a serious ethical decision in the coming weeks or months. I don’t envy the task of those in a position to address these issues and I don’t pretend to have the answers. And as Nate said a while back, the on-ice product will take care of itself (and it has!) but this organization will face a much more serious challenge repairing its relationship with the fans and the city at a moral and ethical level. Again I have no idea how the organization will handle this extremely serious matter or if they’ll even have to. But these decisions could mean more for the identity of this franchise than any roster move. For now we wait.