It’s Friday morning. Please join me in pouring a nice coffee and reading through my ramblings.
On Front Office Changes
In the past few weeks, the Ottawa Senators have said goodbye to their VP of Player Development and their Director of Marketing.
Pierre McGuire - a hire who lasted all of ten months, and about five minutes beyond the passing of Eugene Melnyk - was a puzzling hire from the start. Not only had he become a bit of a meme on Twitter with his Captain Obvious inspired opinions on TSN 1200 but his role was quite unclear to just about everyone outside of the organization.
Just a few days ago, Roger Lajoie, the (apparently part-time?) Director of Marketing for the Senators - who also happens to be talk radio host in Toronto for the Fan 590 - bid farewell to the Senators. Now, while Lajoie’s statement reads as someone who resigned voluntarily, it came just two days after this tweet, which has since been deleted.
It was quite a peculiar moment on Twitter to see the person who’s supposed to be running the marketing efforts for the Senators tweeting suggestions for improvements for their biggest rival, out in the open. Needless to say, it may not have been a firing on paper but it is pretty clear, given the timing, that this was at the very least a sign that Lajoie wasn’t as focused on the Sens as the Board would want.
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two former Senators employees have direct ties to Eugene Melnyk and were likely both in part (or entirely?) hired because Melnyk said so. What slowly seems to be taking place is a restructure of the Senators front office, from Hockey Operations to the business side of things, and that should give a sense of optimism that change is afoot.
With a number of intriguing names out there, you have to wonder if we’re in for another few changes. As someone who’s been hoping the Sens would start investing more in their front office for years, I sure hope so.
On Bergeron Hanging Them Up
When the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past weekend, footage quickly circulated of Patrice Bergeron embracing his teammates as they left the ice. As Sens fans, we can remember what this feels like as we think back to seeing Erik Karlsson grab the game puck at the final buzzer of what ended up being his final game in a Sens uniform. So this, of course, sparked questions around the pending UFA’s future - both in the organization and in the league.
Any thought of Bergeron playing hockey for nother club was swiftly put to bed at the Bruins end of season media availability. Next season, Bergeron will be in Beantown or he won’t be playing. There’s no third option.
For me, I wonder why he would consider retiring at this point. He’s still an incredibly productive centre who is arguably the best defensive centre of all time and, maybe more importantly, Boston is still good. If Bergeron’s heart was in Boston but the Bruins were about to go through a rebuild, I’d get the idea of hanging them up. At 36, he doesn’t need to go chasing another cup elsewhere if he still wants to play, it’s possible he could chase down one more in Boston with a few tweaks to the lineup.
That being said, you have to wonder if perhaps Bergeron’s body and mind has just had enough. Maybe playing at the level he has this year has had a bigger impact on his body than people outside of the training staff know. If that’s the case, I certainly get it.
Either way, let’s get to the patented How Does This Effect the Sens™ segue.
For the last few weeks, there’s been plenty of talk about how the Sens need to take the next step while recognizing that the Atlantic Division is a tough one, with all of Tampa Bay, Toronto, Florida and Boston fielding very strong teams, while teams like Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo have all taken some steps towards relevancy. The question has been, how is Ottawa going to become a playoff team with the four headed monster at the top of the division? Who will they knock off?
It would be one heck of a lucky bounce for a Senators team that is looking to take the next step if one of the Atlantic’s playoff teams loses their likely Future Hall Of Fame centre when he can still play. Forcing the Bruins to fill the shoes of not only a captain but a still outstanding hockey player right when Ottawa is trying to force its way into the playoff picture would be a fortunate turn of events, one welcomed by this fanbase and front office. While I wouldn’t expect Boston to fall off a cliff, it makes them more beatable than if Bergeron is in the lineup and every bit of help, well, helps.
On Offseason Expectations
I know I have a reputation for pessimism, particularly on Twitter, and I understand why. I like to approach things from what I believe to be a realistic lens which certainly blurs into negativity more often than I’d like but if you’re looking for a rose coloured view of the team, you’re not likely to find it from @spencerdjblake.
As such, I can’t shake this feeling that Sens fans are about to be superbly disappointed by the upcoming offseason. With a shake up in the ownership/management situation, a strong finish to the season and many young stars on the rise, Sens fans around the globe have set their sights on some incredibly large, difficult to pull off, moves.
At this point, if you ask Sens Twitter, two or more of Kevin Fiala, Claude Giroux, Clayton Keller, Alex DeBrincat, Brock Boeser and, at this point probably, Connor McDavid will be members of the Ottawa Senators in October. We’ve got the seventh overall pick out the door, Erik Brännström has been traded about eleven times, while only one of Jacob Bernard-Docker or Lassi Thomson will be in Ottawa as the other will be off to a new team in one of these blockbuster deals.
Here’s the thing. Not only are these deals really difficult to pull off, but I just don’t know that I can trust that Ottawa’s front office, at this point, can identify the right players to target at the professional level. So the idea of them getting it right and ponying up what’s going to be a large cost to acquire a Fiala, Keller or DeBrincat just seems too far fetched for me.
All I’m saying is while we dream of Fiala and Giroux, keep players that are more at the Reilly Smith, Ondrej Palat or Boone Jenner level in your reality.
Hopefully that way, we’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Graeme Nichols posed a question on Twitter that caused some interesting discussion.
If the Senators are only able to move or buy out one of their expensive veterans, which one would you prefer:— Graeme Nichols (@6thSens) May 17, 2022
While many of us dream of a world where more than one of these players is off the roster, it’s a fair question for Nichols to ask because it’s unlikely that the Sens will be able to take care of all of these “problems” - and some they may simply not wish to.
When I look at this, I prioritize the roster spot and on-ice impact of the buyout, rather than looking at it from a financial angle. Buying out Matt Murray would have the greatest financial impact, while Colin White would be a close second. Travis Hamonic only has a year left so I don’t know why anyone would pick that option, but that’s not the point. While it wouldn’t be the biggest money saver, my pick is for Nikita Zaitsev every day of the week.
But I also sincerely believe that Zaitsev has trade value. I know, I know. But Spencer, you regularly rip on his play! Yes, I do. But... NHL coaches and GMs have proven they don’t see things the Spencer Blake Way™ all the time, particularly when it comes to defenders. I think if DJ Smith loves Zaitsev as much as he does, there’s probably a dozen other coaches around the league who agree with him.
So, I don’t think they’ll need to buy Zaitsev out because I believe they can trade him. But, if they can’t he’d be my number one choice as the addition by subtraction of replacing Zaitsev with, honestly, any right shot defender in the Sens organization would be a game changer for the Sens blueline next year.
I know, I see the irony. I just finished a thought tempering expectations on a big acquisition this offseason while questioning the Sens ability to acquire the correct player(s). Which I then followed up by ripping on DJ Smith for loving Zaitsev. Now, here I am, talking about optimism. It’s just proof that I’m trying, ok?
While I need Dorion to prove to me that the Mathieu Joseph acquisition is a sign that he can properly scout professionally, I do feel there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about where the Senators are headed.
We saw massive strides from virtually every piece of the core this season, and we haven’t even got to add Jake Sanderson to that mix yet. Anton Forsberg had his coming out party and hinted that he may, in fact, be an NHL starter. A few personnel who remind us of the Melnyk era have moved on while reporters across the league have, in reality, tied the Sens to interest in genuinely good players like Fiala and Giroux.
This offseason, like last offseason and the one before, is a pivotal one for the Senators as they look to earn respect in the handshake line around the league. I can’t remember the last time the stakes were truly this high. It feels like a few clouds have lifted, giving hope that others could follow suit.
We’re less than two months from the 2022 Draft and we can expect about 5-6 weeks from now to start to hear things heat up on the trade front. It’s well documented that Ottawa is open to moving the seventh overall pick for a high impact return so we may get our next hint of optimism sooner rather than later. NHL teams can make trades at any point - those players just can’t play in the playoffs - and the teams with which Ottawa has been tied in some way, shape or form, on the trade market are all eliminated. So the capacity of the front offices in Minnesota, Chicago and Arizona, for example, to get some trade talks going is certainly there.
In my journey into optimism, what I’ll choose to believe is if Ottawa steps up to the podium on July 7th and makes the seventh selection in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, it means Dorion has found a different way to get that impact player and is confident in his ability to either acquire or sign them following the first round of the draft. It will mean that Giroux is coming home or that he’s got leads on a Fiala, DeBrincat or Keller level player where he can move existing players, prospects and/or picks that aren’t seventh overall. After all, the Sens own ten picks from the second to seventh rounds in 2022 and, while the seventh overall pick is certainly valuable, acquiring two seconds or more could be just as valuable to a confident scouting group.
Optimism, here we come.