Senators Weekly: Bettman, Gibbons, Gustavsson, Coaching & More

Welcome to Senators’ Weekly, where you can catch up on the past week of the Ottawa Senators throughout the 2018-19 season. From trending topics to surging prospects to news and notes, this is your weekly roundup on all things Sens.

The Senators came into the week having just won their first game after a seven-game losing streak. This week didn’t exactly keep the team trending in the right direction. They dropped a home-and-home against the New York Islanders 5-4 in a shootout and then 4-2, before dropping their match versus the Boston Bruins 3-2. The team is still in last place in the league, four points back of the Los Angeles Kings.

With the loss to the Bruins, the Senators are officially the first team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. This season marks the first time since 1995 and 1996 that the club has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Here are the notable headlines and stories from the past week.

Bettman Believes No Reason for Concern for Senators

After losing out on the LeBreton Flats area in downtown Ottawa, the rumours started pouring in about a possible sale of the team or moving to a different city. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman assures Senators fans that the Senators are not going anywhere.

“The major projects [LeBreton Flats arena deal], the ebb and flow of team performance is something that will change over time,” Bettman told reporters, “I know Eugene Melnyk is very focused on looking at what he has to do and what his best options are under the circumstances.”

Gary Bettman
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the Ottawa Senators aren’t going anywhere (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

He continues, “Teams go through ebbs and flows and with their fan bases and Eugene Melnyk is doing what he has to do as an owner in terms of meeting the team’s obligations – and management, ownership for any franchise, at any given point in time, may think it’s time for a rebuild and that’s what has to be done and teams go through cycles.”

There has also been speculation that the NHL would step in and help guide the Senators back in the right direction, but Bettman shot that down, saying “I haven’t been asked to step in and we’ll always help when it’s appropriate and we’re asked.”

There is some belief that Bettman is minimizing the troubles in Ottawa, but that will remain to be seen. The Senators announced that they will continue to look for arena location options, so it seems this story is far from over.

Gibbons Impressing Since Trade Deadline

The quietest deal of 2019 Trade Deadline for the Senators was sending minor-leaguer Patrick Sieloff to the Anaheim Ducks for Brian Gibbons. Gibbons has been quite surprising since coming to the Senators, giving the team some much-needed offence after sending away their top three goal scorers. In seven games in the nation’s capital, the newcomer has two goals and three assists. That matches his point total over 44 games with the Ducks.

Gibbons has had some solid seasons, however, with his best coming last season with the New Jersey Devils. He collected 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 59 games and was named to Team USA at the World Championships.

Brian Gibbons #39, New Jersey Devils
Newcomer Brian Gibbons has been a solid addition early on for the Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Head coach Mark Crawford referred to Gibbons as an “underdog” this week, but Gibbons doesn’t put too much thought into the label.

“Maybe, but it’s not something I look at too much,” said Gibbons, “I know I’m smaller and wasn’t drafted and things like that, but I have to enjoy each step of the process, whether I’m in the AHL or here.” (From: “Gibbons continues to provide late-season spark for Senators” – Ottawa Sun – 3/7/19).

Related: Senators 2019 Trade Deadline Review

Gibbons is currently on a one-year, $1 million deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. With the success he’s having early on, it seems likely that the team would try to re-sign the 31-year-old for next season, which looks to be another rough one for the Senators. He should be able to provide a veteran presence as the team gets younger, whether that’s in the NHL or even with the Belleville Senators.

Gustavsson Sent to Brampton Beast

Belleville announced on Sunday that goaltender Filip Gustavsson has been loaned to the ECHL’s Brampton Beast. The goaltender is 12-15-2 with a 3.42 goals-against average (GAA) in 30 games during his rookie season but has been serving as the backup through the recent stretch of success. Marcus Hogberg has a firm grasp on the starting role and the team will be riding him as they make a push for the playoffs.

Filip Gustavsson
Goaltender Filip Gustavsson has been loaned to the ECHL’s Brampton Beast (Tomas Bergman/Lulea Hockey)

This is Gustavsson’s first full season in North America, and at the beginning of the season it seemed like he would be the number two goaltender. That plan didn’t last long though, with the shaky play of Mike Condon in Ottawa and then his injury. It resulted Belleville’s starting goalie Mike McKenna being called up to the NHL and Gustavsson getting thrown into the starting role.

The play of Hogberg has been spectacular for Belleville this season. He’s earned the starting job, going 14-6-3 with a 2.38 GAA. The loan for Gustavsson is a good thing for his development and probably should have happened sooner in the season. He’s just 20 years old and should have been eased into the role rather than how he was thrust into it. Regaining some of his confidence with the Beast could be just what he needs as he looks to come back strong for Belleville next season.

Senators Head Coach Search is Ongoing

The Canadian Press’ Joshua Clipperton tweeted out earlier this week from the general manager meetings that Senators GM Pierre Dorion wants to have a new head coach in place before the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Since firing Guy Boucher, Crawford, Boucher’s assistant coach, has been named interim head coach.

Crawford is very much a candidate for the full-time job, but there are numerous other names that have popped up, as well. TSN’s Insider Trading took a look at the top candidates for the position. Of course, former Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and former New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault will be on the top of everyone’s list this offseason, but there are many other options available.

Joel Quenneville will be at the top of everyone’s list when looking for a new head coach (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Darren Dreger mentioned Ralph Krueger. Kruger has just one season of NHL head coaching experience, with the Edmonton Oilers in the 2013 lockout-shortened season where he went 19-22-7. He recently told Bob McKenzie that he’s open to a position if it’s “the right fit.” McKenzie mentioned the list of coaches who were interviewed when Boucher was hired, looking towards a veteran coach.

“[The search] won’t begin in earnest until after the NHL regular season is over. Between now and then GM Pierre Dorion is going to be very busy with his hockey staff putting together a very long list of possibilities. They could have upwards of 30 to 40 names on that list but by the time the regular season is over they’d like to have it whittled down. The last time the Senators went through this process, when they hired Guy Boucher, they interviewed nine people, and I wouldn’t think the list would be any longer in terms of the people they’re going to interview.”

Related: Senators Weekly: Stone, Boucher, Melnyk & More

He also mentions that last time around Mike Yeo, Bruce Boudreau, Randy Carlyle, Bob Hartley and Brad Shaw were among those considered. There have also been rumblings that the organization could look at Belleville’s Troy Mann, the Toronto Marlies’ Sheldon Keefe and the San Diego Gulls’ Dallas Eakins. TSN’s Pierre Lebrun also suggests that Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme may be on the Senators’ lists of targets, as well.

The Senators Week Ahead

This week, the Senators face off three times, playing the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs. For those Senators fans who are looking for something to cheer for, there are still lots of options to turn your attention to.