Well, Thursday was quite an eventful day for the Ottawa Senators. They lost 3-2 in New York against the Islanders, but that was virtually a footnote based on the big off-ice news from the morning. More on that and other thoughts this week:
Hypocrisy with Sports Betting
Sports leagues are businesses first and foremost and they are going to follow the money. With the legalization of sports betting in Canada and most US states, it's no surprise that the NHL wanted to pounce on that opportunity to include betting advertisements. So what we've had over the past few years is the NHL, Sportsnet, TSN, and other TV networks shoving these incredibly annoying ads down our throats at every possible moment. The Senators even have "Bet99" as a sponsor on their helmet.
It's become so ingrained in hockey media that TheScore app even has its own "bet" section on the bottom of the screen along with scores, news, leagues, etc. No matter where you turn, you see betting lines for games, corny ads, and Cabby Richards talking about lines I could not care less about.
So it's darkly funny that after all this hoopla around betting, Shane Pinto gets suspended 41 games for (seemingly) using one of their products. Without full knowledge of the situation we can’t say anything for sure but if his mistake is having someone else make bets on his account, then that seems more like a young and ignorant mistake rather than something with malicious intent.
I have no issue with sports gambling being legal, although I do hope that advertisements for it follow the route of cigarettes: people can easily get addicted to it, and I don't think they should be able to be advertised. Again, I agree with some sort of suspension for Pinto, but the NHL can't exactly act holier than thou whilst promoting gambling services 24/7.
Timeline with Pinto
According to Elliotte Friedman, the investigation into Pinto began in the early summer, but the Senators weren't made aware of this until just before training camp in September. There are a few interesting things about that: firstly, I'd be incredibly ticked off if I were in the front office because the NHL could've at least given them a heads up about a potential issue early in the summer, even if they didn't end up finding anything. I wonder if that would have changed how Pierre Dorion worked in the summer. Secondly, this confirms that Dorion was not banking on this happening and was going to have to move out salary in order to fit Pinto under the cap.
It's not as if you can say "Pierre knew this was coming so he spent those unused dollars," because things only changed in early-to-mid September. Also, lest we forget, the Sens had to start the year a players short even without Pinto signed. a masterclass is cap management this was not.
Regardless, this might actually end up being a blessing in disguise for the Senators if they're able to sign him for cheap like Bruce Garrioch is saying. In that case, they'd be able to fit Pinto under the cap at the end of January and have him join the team for the second half of the season. If it all works out like that, Dorion might have fallen backward into a salvageable scenario.
Clock is Ticking
In terms of the team on the ice, the Sens’ loss on Long Island last night dropped them to below .500 (3-4-0) yet again...They were 3-1-0 before these three straight losses and things were looking good, but they were also 4-2-0 last season before nosediving. It is comical how bad the DJ Smith Senators have been during the first portion of a season in his tenure:
Sens after first 15 games of regular season under DJ Smith:— Canück 🏒 (Andy) (@canuckofSCU) October 27, 2023
2020-2021 2-12-1 (after starting 1-0)
2021-2023 3-11-1 (after starting 2-1)
2022-2023 5-9-1 (after starting 4-2)
2023-2024 (so far 3-4-0)#GoSensGo
(Or as TSN showed it:) pic.twitter.com/mMZUjwsuxe
Many things can be true: Smith seems like a class act and is well-liked by his players. He is good at cultivating a strong team culture and was important for a young rebuilding team. However, he's never shown that he can be the coach to take this team to a "contender" level, and the slow starts each and every season are a big reason for that. It's not as if these games are solely Smith's fault, but at some point, you need to be better than the sum of your parts and not worse.
It would not need dramatic to suggest the Sens need somebody experienced to guide this team to the next level. Ottawa came into the season projected to be in the 7-10 range in the Eastern Conference, and a few losses here or there could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs, so they shouldn't be acting as if they have a lot of time. I have to wonder how things would have played out if Michael Andlauer took control of the team in May or June...
Erik Brännström had a scary injury in the game last night, and I hope he'll be okay. You could see that his head hit the ice quite hard on a hit that wasn't exactly necessary from Cal Clutterbuck (maybe not dirty, but a pointless hit). He was convulsing on the ice, and players could immediately tell it was a scary situation. The Senators said that he has full use of his extremities, so that is at least initial good news.
Considering he had to go to the hospital, I expect he'll at least be out in the short term. Hopefully he doesn't miss much time, but if he does, then it'll be interesting to see how they try to fill that hole. Artem Zub should be coming back soon, and it's been noticeable not having him there. Possible call-up options could be any of Tyler Kleven, Nikolas Matinpalo, Lassi Thomson, and Maxence Guénette. Out of those, I'd like to see Kleven, although I think the Senators want to give him more time in Belleville, so perhaps we'd see Thomson get the nod. Brännström will always be a polarizing player, but I think people would notice the difference between him and a replacement like Thomson. I sincerely hope all is well with Erik.
“Obviously it’s emotional for the guys and everyone involved. We’re awaiting word. It looks like he’s ok right now, it’s positive but right now we wait for more news.”— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 27, 2023
D.J. Smith on how the team is thinking of Erik Brannstrom right now pic.twitter.com/ZnQ7LrP6jh
Peter Chiarelli Rumours
I don't want to report on anything as fact, and I debated even bringing this up. However, I don't think this rumour is out of nowhere, which is that Peter Chiarelli could be coming in with Pierre Dorion leaving at some point soon.
Not official, but it’s looking like PD’s days are coming to an end and Chiarelli will be his replacement.— SENS TALK (@senstalk_) October 26, 2023
Again, take it with a grain of salt, but Chiarelli was involved in the Andlauer bidding process, and he's worked for the Senators before, so it would make sense. Would I be happy with it? Certainly not, as he's well known for some horrendous trades like the ones that shipped out Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, so I wouldn't say I have much faith in him. If he's more of a #2 behind Steve Staios, that could work out better, but we'll see. I can't imagine he'd be welcomed with open arms by everyone. Dorion has his detractors among the fanbase but folks should be careful what they wish for in this regard.