Senators Weekly: Melnyk, Pageau, Norris & 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 took part in their last Western trip of the season, facing off against an all-Canadian lineup. They were coming off of a two-game winning streak when they shut out the St. Louis Blues and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs. But they fell to the Vancouver Canucks 7-4 and the Calgary Flames 5-1 before beating the Edmonton Oilers in overtime 4-3.

There was lots of action on and off the ice for the Senators this week, here are the notable headlines and stories.

Melnyk Talks State of Senators

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk made headlines again after speaking to the media in both Toronto and Ottawa. There were numerous topics discussed, from Mayor Jim Watson to TSN’s Ian Mendes, all of which were met with scrutiny from the Ottawa media and Senators fans.

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Melnyk referred to Ottawa’s Mayor’s “mouthing off” about the state of the LeBreton Flats project that recently fell apart. On that, Watson said, “There’s a lot of frustration dealing with Melnyk on a number of fronts. I don’t think he’s made this process easy.”

In the interview, Melnyk responded, “He is so lucky that I keep my mouth shut. I’d be very careful if I was him walking around mouthing off because it’s very counterproductive. I’m trying to do everything for this city, and with him opening up like that, the NHL offices look at it and say ‘Hey, do we really want to bring more events to this city?'”

In regards to Mendes, Melnyk didn’t name him specifically but referred to an incident where the TSN radio host asked general manager Pierre Dorion to listen to a recording of a taped message from a concerned fan. Melnyk referred to this as “bush-league”. Mendes is beloved by Senators fans, the citizens of Ottawa and other sports broadcasters, who rushed to the aid of Mendes who took the high road after hearing the Senators owner’s comments.

The carnage didn’t stop there, as Melnyk attacked his own fanbase as well. When asked about the Senators fans anger towards him, Melnyk said that he ignores “99 percent of the fan vitriol on social media,” saying that the Senators “tripped up one such fan, who turned out to be ‘some 12-year-old in Toronto.” He also said that the team needs to find it’s “real fans”.

“For our fans that are real fans, we’re doing the best we can. All we can do is keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve had a great record for the past 15, 16 years. We’ve gone to the Stanley Cup Finals, we’ve gone to Conference Finals, we’ve had All-Star Games, we’ve had drafts, we’ve had outdoor games, we’re doing everything — more than most franchises, as far as what we do for our fans.”

He also made a threat, or at least a warning, to his general manager, stating, “This next six months are going to be critical for Pierre and his team, and the whole operations [staff] to get their act together in a big way to be able to use these assets – all the 17 picks we have in the first three rounds for three years, plus all of the other prospects. This core group, that’s sitting in Belleville and playing up already are going to stay. And yes, they’re all going to need those big contracts and I’m prepared to step up for that.”

Pierre Dorion Ottawa Senators 2015
General manager Pierre Dorion seems to be on the hot seat after Melnyk’s comments. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

While speaking in Toronto, Melnyk also took the time to attack the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild, stating: “Look they’re stuck. OK, I better not say what I was going to say, but they’re going to have a very hard time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. Because they are hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in. They’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful . . . mistakes were made. Somebody forgot about defence.”

For a fanbase that is already pushing back against the organization, the Melnyk’s comments will further alienate them. If they have any hope of regaining the trust of their fans, Melnyk needs to be very careful with his comments. Although that seems unlikely given his track record.

Senators Looking to Hire President of Hockey Operations

It seems that whenever there are negative headlines about the Senators, they come out with more headlines very quickly. That was the case after the Melnyk interviews, as the team announced that they are searching for a new president of hockey operations to support Dorion. This position was last held by Bryan Murray in 2016 before he retired.

Bryan Murray was the last president of hockey operations for the Senators. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

According to a statement released by the organization, this position is “integral to the success of the hockey club, especially as we continue our rebuilding process. it should come as no surprise that, given the scale of our rebuild and the opportunity to be part of a turnaround fuelled by an enormous well of young talent… the Ottawa Senators have become an attractive destination for hockey executives.”

This is a big decision for the team as they continue their rebuild. It’s known that the Senators have a very small front office, and any position they can fill is a step in the right direction.

Pageau Suspended One Game

Senators veteran Jean-Gabriel Pageau was suspended for one game this week for boarding Vancouver Canucks defender Ashton Sautner. Pageau received a two-minute minor penalty on the play, but the NHL’s Department of Player Safety felt more was necessary.

Related – NHL News & Notes: Pageau, Meier & More

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This was Pageau’s first suspension in his NHL career, coming after 360 games. Prior to the suspension, the centreman had three goals and 10 points in 31 games. He missed a large part of the season due to an Achilles heel injury suffered in the preseason.

Senators Looking to Sign Norris

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported early in the week that the Senators are actively trying to sign Josh Norris to an entry-level contract. As he still has two years left in the NCAA with the University of Michigan, the team is looking for him to leave early to join the big club.

Related – Josh Norris: Senators’ Future Down the Middle

Norris was having a stellar season in Michigan before an injury at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships required surgery and knocked him out for the rest of the season. At that time, he was second on the team in points with 19 (10 goals, nine assists) in 17 games. He had also just been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.

Josh Norris, NHL Draft, San Jose Sharks
The Ottawa Senators are trying to sign Josh Norris to his entry-level contract. (courtesy United States Hockey League)

With Norris missing the end of the season, the move seems strange. The Senators are just finishing up their first year of a rebuild and will likely not be good next season either. Norris has now missed some crucial time that would have helped his development. He could use some more time in the NCAA to succeed and continue to grow before he hits the professional level.

The Senators Week Ahead

The Senators now return home, shifting to a four-game homestand, three of those coming this week. They’ll face off against the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and participate in the Battle of Ontario for the last time this season against the Maple Leafs.