As the NHL season gets ready to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 13, the Ottawa Senators will start their campaign on Friday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs for back-to-back meetings. We will see many new faces this season in comparison to the last few, and the future is looking very bright.
They will give opportunities to many prospects in their system, especially Tim Stuetzle who dazzled Senators fans with his performance at the World Juniors. They also brought back the old 2D logo, redesigned the jerseys and handed out alternate captaincies to Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Erik Gudbranson for the season. A new era is underway and it’s safe to say the Senators are ready to begin their 2020-21 season. Here is the latest news from the past week in Ottawa.
Item One: John Muckler Passes Away
Former NHL coach and Stanley Cup winner John Muckler has passed away at the age of 86. The death was confirmed by the Edmonton Oilers last Monday and no cause of death was given. Muckler was part of the staff that helped build the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
He joined the Oilers in 1982 as an assistant coach under Glen Sather where he went on to win five Stanley Cups in Edmonton from 1984-1990. He won the final Cup as head coach. When Muckler left the Oilers organization, he served as director of operations and head coach with the Buffalo Sabres from 1991-95. He then went on to become head coach of the New York Rangers from 1997-00. Muckler’s journey in Ottawa began not long after his stint in New York in 2001.
He became the Senators general manager later that year and helped build a team that reached the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, where they ultimately fell short to the Anaheim Ducks. Muckler’s final NHL position was a senior advisor role with the Phoenix Coyotes in September 2008, working alongside then-coach Wayne Gretzky, who grew a relationship with Muckler in Edmonton.
Item Two: Three Prospects Medal at the World Junior Championships
Stuetzle left the Edmonton bubble with the best forward honours and cracked the all-star lineup alongside Canada’s Dylan Cozens and USA’s Trevor Zegras. Even though Ottawa’s top prospect didn’t medal at the tournament, three others did. Defensive prospects Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven brought home gold with Team USA and Finland’s Roby Jarventie won the bronze.
A winning scenario is always good for a player’s confidence and development, so I am sure the Senators organization is thrilled with how some of their prospects fared at the tournament. Immediately following Germany’s departure from the tournament, Stuetzle headed on a plane towards Ottawa. He took the ice for the first time on Jan. 10 with the Sens. Sanderson and Kleven had been playing college hockey before the tournament, so they will not be able to participate in this year’s training camp.
Item Three: Season Begins This Week, Camp Comes to an End
As training camp slowly wraps up, we can now look forward to meaningful games. Training camp has been great for the new guys — even if they arrived late — to become comfortable in their new setting while getting to know the other players.
Positionally, the Senators have been focused on their depth down the middle this season starting with Logan Brown, Josh Norris, and Filip Chlapik battling for a full-time position. The offseason acquisitions in Derek Stepan and Cedric Paquette and then finally Colin White, Chris Tierney, and Artem Anisimov from last season. Internal competition is what management is after as they have previously mentioned that everyone has to earn their spot, with no guarantees.
Since there will be no preseason games, a couple of scrimmages were arranged to get the team game-day ready. This was an opportunity to get a look at possible line combinations, special teams, and create some chemistry. D.J. Smith said there are about three roster spots available and hinted that these scrimmages will be important for some.
The Senators are poised to have the most rookies out of all the North Division teams. Collectively, they aren’t expected to do much, but optimism is the sense you get around the team. There are talented players as well as complementary depth pieces to help Smith put together a solid lineup that could make a name for itself. The final scrimmage of camp between Team Smith and Team Jones gave us a glimpse of how the opening day roster would look for Ottawa (Team Smith). Here was the lineup.
After the scrimmage, Smith said his team looked good and it was best to get some of the bad habits out of the way during these scrimmages before the real games take place on Friday. He didn’t definitively say this was the final roster, as he alluded to other players on Team Jones fighting for spots, but we can have a pretty good understanding from Team Smith’s combinations how they will look when they face the Maple Leafs on Friday night.
Item Four: Seven Players Placed on Waivers
The Senators officially waived seven players on Monday after previously waiving Max Lajoie the day before. A bit of an eyebrow-raiser was the addition of Rudolfs Balcers and Chlapik to the waiver list. During the course of the offseason, general manager Pierre Dorion acquired many different pieces including a handful of veterans. This is presumably the reason Balcers and Chlapik were sent down — it was going to be tough to battle against a veteran for a final roster spot.
In any case, it’s still the COVID-19 era, so they’re most likely among the top candidates for the taxi squad. The taxi squad, which carries four to six players at a time, and allows them to participate in practice with the team, is still a good opportunity for them to stay involved in team activities and get the call-up whenever need be. As the final roster gets penciled in, it’s important to remember that the roster construction will be different than years past.
Each team will carry a 23-man roster to start the season, with the aforementioned taxi squad offering more versatility in case of injuries and/or positive COVID-19 results. The rosters must be set by 5 P.M. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Players who aren’t waiver eligible will most likely be sent down tomorrow before the deadline hits. This will include players such as Lassi Thomson, Jonathan Aspirot, and Parker Kelly, just to name a few. These players would be sent down to Belleville in the AHL and await the start of the season on Feb. 5.
Item Five: Bell and Canadian Tire Helmet Ads
The Senators organization didn’t have to go very far to find sponsors for their helmets this season. As first reported by Postmedia on Wednesday, the Senators will wear the Bell logo during home games and the Canadian Tire logo on the road. It’s a one-year trial with fans not allowed in most areas and a financial shortfall coming with the shortened 56-game regular season. Anthony LeBlanc, president of business operations for the Senators, had said recently the club had a lot of interest in the space.
The NHL is leaving the jersey alone, for now, mainly because it was a quick and easy sell on helmets more than anything else. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in back 2017 after the NBA approved jersey advertisements, that it would take an “unusual circumstance” to do the same in the NHL.
Both Bell and Canadian Tire are major sponsors of the team. The home rink, as we know, is called the Canadian Tire Centre, while Bell owns the naming rights to the scoreboard. The club is also partners with TSN television (a division of Bell Media) for the regional rights and radio broadcasts of all 56 games.
What’s Next for the Senators?
As I’ve reiterated many times in the post, the Sens will begin their 2020-21 campaign on Friday against the Maple Leafs. It will be a battle all season long as they prepare to take on the league’s best teams and players. When the Sens begin play on Friday, they immediately get into their first set of back-to-backs as they take on the Leafs again Saturday night. They will then have a couple of days off before they host the Winnipeg Jets for two games in three days, and then jump on a plane for their first road trip of the season. The full schedule can be found here.
It’s been a long offseason for the Senators since they didn’t participate in the NHL’s Return to Play, but the new season is finally here. The season will be filled with excitement and anticipation as a new era of Senator’s hockey will begin.