Senators Weekly: Stone, Boucher, Melnyk & 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.

This has possibly been the worst week in Senators history for the fans. The team traded their top three scorers (over the last week and a half), fired their coach and lost out on their potential downtown location. On top of that, they came into the week on a four-game losing streak and it didn’t get any better for the club.

The streak was extended to seven games after losses to the Washington Capitals (7-2), Edmonton Oilers (4-2) and Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1). Finally, they got a win Sunday against the Florida Panthers (3-2), marking new head coach Marc Crawford’s first win behind the bench. But we’ll get to that.

Here are the notable headlines and stories from the past week.

Stone Traded to Golden Knights

It came right down to the wire, but Senators star Mark Stone was traded away from the only team he’s ever known. With less than an hour left to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, Stone was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round pick.

The lack of a first-round pick in the trade raises questions on whether or not the Senators got robbed, but the acquisition of Brannstrom helps ease the concerns. He’s a top prospect in the NHL and has top-two blue line potential. The second-round pick doesn’t hurt, either. Lindberg is likely just a placeholder for now until a younger player can take the spot in the lineup.

Ottawa Senators Mark Stone
Mark Stone was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

The other big issue with the Senators trading their best player is that they were trying hard to re-sign him. General manager Pierre Dorion and the Senators seemed to hold some hope right up to the trade deadline that they might be able to get Stone under contract so they wouldn’t need to move him. They reportedly offered him a “creative” contract, rumoured to be around $10.5 million per year over five or six years. The bonus structure was rumoured to be an issue, with the changing structure to contracts over the past few seasons.

Speaking to the media after the trade deadline, Dorion was happy with how the trade went,  “Me, as a hockey guy, I’m elated about it. I know when I brush my teeth tonight when I go to bed, and I look at myself in the mirror, I’ll say, ‘that was a long day, but we did something good for the Ottawa Senators today. I’m as convinced about that as I’m convinced about anything else.”

Related: Senators’ 2019 Trade Deadline Review

With Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the days leading up to the deadline, the Senators managed to send away their top three goal scorers for the sake of rebuilding. This was after all three players turned down contract extensions.

Boucher Fired, Crawford Named Interim Head Coach

Just the day after Dorion said that a coaching decision wouldn’t be made until the offseason, the Senators relieved head coach Guy Boucher of his duties. Crawford has been named the interim head coach for the remainder of the season and the Senators will re-evaluate in the offseason.

“I want to thank Guy for his three years of service,” Dorion said after the firing. “He is a good person and has been an excellent representative of the Senators. At this point, however, we need a different set of coaching and leadership skills to guide our team through this rebuild. In the interim, Marc will bring a different perspective along with a wealth of head coaching experience.”

Ottawa Senators former head coach Guy Boucher
Guy Boucher has been relieved of duties as head coach of the Senators (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Boucher had been the head coach for three seasons, going 94-108-26. The timing of the move is strange after Dorion had twice said that the plan was to keep Boucher until the offseason, when his contract was up. It’s likely that something happened after the Senators’ 4-2 loss to the Oilers, whether Boucher brought negativity into the dressing room or Dorion wasn’t happy with the level of effort he was seeing from the team. Either way, the move itself shouldn’t come as a shock as the club rebuilds and resets expectations.

Crawford, in the meantime, brings a wealth of experience, have coached the Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars and the 1996 Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. He won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1995 and was the head coach of Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics. He should remain a candidate to take over the position full-time.

He won’t be the only coach on the list, though, with former Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, former New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, the Belleville Senators’ Troy Mann and the Toronto Marlies’ Sheldon Keefe, both in the AHL, all likely to be looked at for the position. (From: “The list of possible coaching candidates for the Senators” – Ottawa Sun – 3/1/19).

Melnyk & Senators Lose Out on LeBreton

If losing Duchene, Dzingel, Stone and firing Boucher wasn’t enough for Senators fans to deal with this week, the National Capital Commission (NCC) announced that they will be cancelling the contract with the RendezVous LeBreton group. Team owner Eugene Melnyk and business partner John Ruddy sued each other in December, resulting in mediation between the two groups that was extended in January. The two sides could not resolve their differences and the Senators will not be moving to the LeBreton Flats location.

Melnyk and the Senators released a statement after the NCC’s announcement, stating “We are devastated that the dream has been shattered. More than ever, we are determined and committed to explore alternative approaches in central locations that could accommodate a world-class hub. We are here for the long term and want a world-class venue where Ottawans will live, work, play and enjoy the best the city has to offer.” (From: “LeBreton Flats redevelopment talks have failed; Melnyk says ‘alternative’ arena locations could be explored” – Ottawa Citizen – 2/27/19).

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson was asked about the mediation and what he thought went wrong in negotiations, “I don’t think (Eugene Melnyk) has made this process easy and his musing about not going downtown, going downtown, hurt his credibility and hurt the team’s credibility.”

Related: Senators’ Future Rests on Melnyk & LeBreton

The Senators, for now, are going to remain in Kanata but will apparently look at alternative locations. The LeBreton Flats location was the best possible spot for the NHL team to go, based on size, the proximity to the upcoming light-rail transit and central positioning in the city. The Senators likely won’t find a location as good as LeBreton Flats, so the process falling apart is a big blow to the team that had hopes of moving downtown.

The Senators’ Week Ahead

It looks like it’s going to be a long final 16 games for the Senators. Sitting last in the NHL without your own first-round pick is not a great position to be in. The team can only hope to play the remaining games out and hope for a better 2019-20 season. For this week, the club will face-off in a home-and-home with the surprising New York Islanders before facing off against the Boston Bruins on Saturday.