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 were on the winning side of things this week. After losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4, they bounced back to win their next two games. They defeated the Anaheim Ducks with a 4-0 shutout for Anders Nilsson, his first shutout with the team, and then Nilsson got the start again against the Winnipeg Jets, winning 5-2. Despite the two wins, the team is still last in the league with a 21-29-5 record and 47 points.
Here are the notable headlines and stories from the past week.
Latest News on Pending Free Agents: Duchene & Stone
It’s about two weeks to the 2019 Trade Deadline and Matt Duchene and Mark Stone are still without contracts. Duchene and his agents have been slowly having discussions with general manager Pierre Dorion since November, while Stone’s camp had to wait until Jan. 1 due to signing restricted free agent in August. While talks have looked positive at times, it now looks like both stars will be headed out of Ottawa before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie gave his thoughts on the situation on his latest Bobcast, “My needle on Stone/Duchene is that they’re not going to sign and they’re going to be traded. I think by the time Monday rolls around, and we’re 2 weeks out from the deadline, we’re gonna have some clarity (a signing or trade) on the guys in Ottawa.”
The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta also gave an update on the two pending free agents and what the return might look like if the Senators do pull the trigger on one or both of them. “If Duchene or Stone are moved, sounds like their price tags are similar (and similar to that of Panarin’s): a first-round pick, a top prospect/young NHLer and another top-tier asset.”
Related: Senators 2019 Trade Deadline Preview
During Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that, “Ottawa is letting teams know if any of their players are going to be available, including the three key ones: Duchene, Dzingel, and Stone, Teams will know about 10 days out before the deadline hits, so that looks like it’s the middle of next week, when Ottawa will begin to let other teams know, are any of those UFAs going to be on the market … or are they going to be staying Senators.”
It looks like Feb. 15 will be a very important day for the future of the Senators.
Duchene and Stone are having stellar seasons so far, resulting in them being first and second on the team in points, and they are tied for the team-lead in goals. Stone has 25 goals and 56 points in 55 games while Duchene has 25 goals and 53 points in 46 games. The two players have been linked to many teams so far, including the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators. They could still re-sign, but all signals are now pointing to an eventual trade out of Ottawa for the two star players.
Melnyk Planning for Success
In what was another strange way to address the public, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk made a proclamation in front of the team’s corporate sponsors and partners. He stated that while the rebuild will take another year or two, the team will have “unparalleled success” in the following years – 2021-2025. During this time, Melnyk says that the team will spend “close to the NHL’s salary cap every year” in order to “bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa.”
Here is the full statement from the Sens in which Eugene Melnyk has pledged to spend close to the cap when the team is back to being a contender — in the 2021-2025 window. pic.twitter.com/hEsEwpOcug
— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) February 7, 2019
The statement was immediately met with criticism from media and fans, which TSN’s Ian Mendes explained, was coming for many different reasons. The first is the location and timing of the announcement. Melnyk was at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto for the gathering, and the announcement was released during the middle of the Senators-Maple Leafs game.
“Some Ottawa fans are insulted the club chose to make such a significant announcement in the backyard of its most hated rival,” said Mendes, “Would any other sports organization in North America make a bold proclamation about its future plans in the downtown core of a rival city?”
Next is the way that Melnyk and the Senators released the statement and how they’ve released all of their information the past year. From secretive town halls to late-night videos with Mark Borowiecki, the Senators haven’t exactly been open and honest about their plans.
Mendes exaplains, “Every few months there is a new piece added to the Senators rebuilding puzzle – and yet Ottawa fans feel like they’re still not getting the full picture. If transparency and trust are two pillars on which organizations build credibility with their fan base, it still feels like the Senators are operating in the shadows.
Finally, how does this announcement impact the futures of Duchene and Stone? Will the star players be willing to wait through this rebuild, or will they feel it is time to move on. Duchene has said in the past, when he was with the Colorado Avalanche, that he wanted to play playoff hockey. A lot rides on the decisions of the two players.
Mendes goes on, “If Stone is willing to buy into this plan that the team will be a contender by 2021, a lot of Senators fans will follow suit. Stone has an inherent trust factor with this fan base; a belief that he has a built-in moral compass that will undoubtedly point him in the right direction. And if that’s to re-sign with Ottawa, a majority of fans will follow suit. But if Stone feels like something is amiss in Ottawa, it should be a red flag for everybody. Press releases and statements are all well and fine, but at the end of the day, words carry very little weight around here.”
There are many questions surrounding the announcement, adding to the existing ones. The Senators are currently in mediation regarding the team’s potential move downtown to LeBreton Flats. The attendance at the current location has been dropping drastically over the last few seasons, reaching the lowest average in over 20 years this season at 14,406. The mediation deadline was extended last month with an answer now set to come Feb. 28.
Brown’s Stock Rising in AHL
After being drafted 11th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Logan Brown’s development has been slower than most fans, and possibly the team, had hoped for. He was called up for four games last season, registering one assist in that time. This season, many expected him to make the NHL club but he was sent to the AHL’s Belleville Senators for further development.
A season-opening injury seemed to setback the 6-foot-6 centreman who then struggled once he returned. But he has turned it around in a big way. Overall this season, Brown is second on the AHL Senators with 11 goals and 29 points in 34 games. That includes four goals and seven assists in his last six games, as well as six goals and 11 assists in his last 12 games.
Mitch Brown of The Athletic looked at the rise of Brown in 2019, crediting it to a rise in assertiveness on the power play which allows the average skater to have more room to operate. Brown, who normally has a pass-first mentality, is then more likely to shoot as well on the power play, making him a double-threat as an excellent passer as well.
At even strength, the Raleigh, North Carolina native is currently fifth among under-21 AHL players, at 0.55 points-per-game. (From: “Analyzing the adjustments made by Logan Brown who is beginning to fulfill his draft promise” – The Athletic – 02/08/19).
His recent surge has seen both his offence and defence improve a great deal, looking like the top-six centreman the Senators hoped he would become. If Brown can keep up his recent play in Belleville, the young forward should be able to make the jump to the NHL next season. Prospects take time, and it seems to have paid off for Brown.
The Senators’ Week Ahead
This week, the Senators will face off against the Carolina Hurricanes, who the team has split games with so far this season 1-1, the Detroit Red Wings, against whom the Senators are winning the series 2-1 and the Jets once again after playing this past week when the Senators won 5-2.
Also this week, expect to get some more answers regarding Duchene and Stone. This should be the week where the Senators, and hopefully media and fans, find out what the star players’ decisions are moving forward. The trade deadline is fast approaching, and the moves should start happening very soon for Dorion and the Senators.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.