There might be some light at the end of the tunnel for the NHL in relation to the start of next season. Reports indicate the NHL and the NHLPA are targeting a 56-game schedule that will begin a few days before or after Jan 15. With just under a month to prepare, teams will now start ramping up for training camp, which will only be 10 days, and have a chance to do some damage in a shortened season.
The Ottawa Senators will be in the All-Canadian division, of course. And while the Sens appear as the weakest team on paper and have a minimal chance to get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it will certainly be beneficial for the younger players and their development. All the Canadian teams are really competitive, and it will be a great level of competition all year. With that said, here’s the latest Senators news for the week.
Item One: Senators Preparing for Start of 2020-21 Season
As we get closer to the NHL officially announcing the start date of the 2020-21 season, teams and players are starting to ramp up their preparations for what is sure to be a grueling schedule. In Ottawa’s case and, frankly, what all the other Canadian teams will experience, is the amount of travel required in the All-Canadian division.
As previously mentioned, next season’s format isn’t a done deal, but it’s extremely likely that the All-Canadian division will happen. With that said, Senators’ players are starting to make their way back to the Nation’s Capital Region. With training camps projected to open on Jan. 3 and the season starting 10 days later, members of the organization have begun to head to Ottawa so they will be all clear for camp once they pass the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Newer faces to the team like goaltender Matt Murray and defenceman Erik Gudbranson have already settled in, and Murray has been working with Pierre Groulx, the Senators’ goalie coach, for the last month. Gudbranson, born and raised in Ottawa, also has been here since November.
Because of the quarantine rules for people coming into Canada from either the United States or Europe, many players have already begun their time in isolation. This includes several key American forwards in Ottawa’s lineup like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Josh Norris, and Austin Watson. On the European side, Nikita Zaitsev and Filip Chlapik are in self-isolation already and hope to get on the ice soon too. The rest of the Senators’ prospects in Europe likely won’t be recalled until the NHL makes more concrete decisions.
The Senators were also one of the few teams that did not participate in the Return to Play over the summer, so technically, they are supposed to receive an extra week of training camp. If this comes to fruition, that means Ottawa would have their camp begin right after Christmas.
Item Two: Senators Make Hires in the Front Office
In off-ice related news, the Sens made three new hires in their front office while also announcing that Anthony LeBlanc, president of business operations, had been signed to a long-term contract extension and also named alternate governor. But they were not done making moves there, as the organization promoted Marcello Pecora to the position of vice president of finance and John Miszuk to the club’s board of directors. Miszuk has deep ties as an executive and consultant with owner Eugene Melnyk.
The club’s new hires go as follows: Former Arizona Coyotes’ executive Tom Hoof, vice president, marketing. Jeff Morander, executive vice president, ticket sales and service. Gregg Olson, chief financial officer. Hoof was a part of LeBlanc’s front office in Arizona while he was president and co-owner. Moreover, Olson and Morander had also spent time in Arizona.
“I am excited to be adding three very experienced sports executives to our front-office team along with having Anthony in place to lead our business operations for the long-term,” Melnyk said in a statement. “We had a very productive off-season building our club on the ice. At the same time, we strengthened our management team to ensure our plans for success off the ice and in our community are realized.” (from ‘The Ottawa Senators add new faces to the front office and sign Anthony LeBlanc to extension’ Ottawa Sun 12/9/20)
Since the overall outlook of the 2020-21 season is still up in the air, LeBlanc continues to grind day in and day out since joining the organization back in mid-March before the pause. He was a key factor in the re-launch of the Senators’ Foundation and had the same hand in bringing back a former defenceman in Chris Phillips to lead the charge. At the same time, Melnyk has continued to remain cautiously optimistic there will be a 2020-21 season.
Item Three: Belleville Senators Extend Lease With City
The American Hockey League affiliate for Ottawa, the Belleville Senators, announced the other day that the team will remain in the City of Belleville through at least the 2026-27 AHL season. On a Wednesday Zoom call, Belleville mayor Mitch Panciuk announced the signing of a letter of intent deferring Belleville’s payments and interest calculations until the end of the 2020-21 AHL season.
Additionally, the current free rent period on CAA Arena has been extended by the city of Belleville for 16 months. This was all part of the plan to help Belleville get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the call, Panciuk had said that Belleville, and the city council, are fully committed to having the Senators remain in Belleville for a long time. The city council has agreed to assist with their cash flow while not changing the principles of the agreement that was originally signed back in September of 2016.
The two sides also came to terms on an extension of the original eight-year lease by two more seasons to June 30, 2027, with an option to extend it even longer. One thing that was made apparent is that the city wanted to ensure it helped the organization through this difficult period with no revenues coming in.
“In a nutshell, we’ve deferred all payments and all interest calculations and have extended the free rent period a full 16 months to the presumed end of the 2020-21 season,” Panciuk said. “This will effectively push back the dates of when rent and principle payments will begin — helping support the Belleville Senators during a time when the pandemic has negatively affected the revenues.”
“This represents a monetized (savings of) just under $640,000 to the Belleville Senators and is a clear indication from the city of Belleville to help the (team) survive the current health crisis and then go onto thrive once league operations resume.” (from ‘GARRIOCH: The Senators get a hand from the city of Belleville to help deal with pandemic’ Ottawa Sun 12/10/20)
Much like the NHL, the AHL is also a gate-driven league. The AHL had stated a while back that they were looking to return in or around Feb 5. Of course, this also means that fans in the building will remain unlikely for a good chunk, if not all of the season. This deal will help out the team by saving on some of their expenses to develop prospects if there’s nobody in the seats.
Item Four: Shane Pinto Is NCHC Player of the Week
The opening week of the 2020-21 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) season in the bubble, or as they like to call it “Pod,” was a success. The Pod at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska, announced its Bauer Players of the Week for the week of games from Dec. 1-6, 2020. One of the players who claimed the inaugural weekly honour was Senators’ prospect Shane Pinto.
Pinto started his second year at North Dakota with a bang. He recorded two multi-point games that helped the Fighting Hawks, the top ranked team in the country, get off to a 3-0-0 start to the season. Pinto, who was the 2019-20 NCHC Rookie of the Year, recorded a NCHC-tying-best five points with a pair of goals and three assists in the first week of the NCHC Pod.
He recorded an assist on the game-winning goal in the 2-0 season-opening win last Wednesday against Miami and then followed that up with a perfect performance (18-0) in the face-off circle in an overtime win against Denver on Friday. He finished off his first week with a three-point game in the 8-2 beatdown of Western Michigan Sunday, where he got a pair of goals, one of them being the game-winner, for his third career multi-goal game. The Senators prospect finished the week with a face-off percentage of .734 (47-17), was +3 and put 12 shots on target.
What’s Next for the Senators?
As the NHL season approaches, we will hopefully still get to watch the World Juniors in a couple of weeks. However, COVID-19 is creeping in the background and is threatening the tournament from even happening. Ridly Grieg, Ottawa’s 28th overall pick from this year’s draft, was let go from Team Canada earlier this week after he was deemed unfit to continue, based on the return-to-play protocols.
Hockey Canada maintains that this was a health decision and not a hockey decision. Furthermore, Greig has stated that he is still physically recovering from COVID-19, even though he tested negative while in Red Deer. Sens fans can continue to keep their eyes on Jake Sanderson and Roby Järventie as they continue to try and make the official rosters for their respective countries.