September has arrived which means the Ottawa Senators‘ regular season is right around the corner. With few updates on Brady Tkachuk‘s contract status just 16 days before training camp, the fanbase is starting to get restless. While it’s likely a deal gets done, it would be nice to see him sign on the dotted line well before the third week of September. That being said, here are the latest headlines out of the nation’s capital.
Item One: Senators Sign Drake Batherson to Six-Year Contract
The Senators have finalized a contract with Drake Batherson worth $29.85 million over the next six years. His average annual value (AAV) will come in at $4.975 million, and the breakdown of the contract is as follows: $2.5 million in 2021-22, $3.5 million in 2022-23, $5.4 million in 2023-24, $5.4 million in 2024-25, $6.5 million in 2025-26 and $6.55 million in 2026-27. It’s a backloaded deal, and some have raised concern about it. Either way, it’s reassuring to see management show long-term faith in their players, which they’ve been reluctant to do in the past for the most part.
“Drake represents an integral component of our future at forward. Dating to his first pro season, he has steadily progressed to the point where he is now widely recognized as a bonafide top-line NHL winger. He possesses a strong ability to play at both ends of the ice, is a key power play contributor and is someone we expect to be a prominent player for us for several years to come.”– Senators general manager Pierre Dorion from NHL.com
Batherson was at the annual end-of-summer BioSteel Camp in Montreal which featured NHL superstars, Connor McDavid, Jamie Benn and Taylor Hall, among others. Thomas Chabot was the only other Senator in attendance. Speaking with TSN’s Mark Masters during the camp, Batherson said he wasn’t worried about not yet having a deal in place.
“I had a long summer, I’ve been working on a lot of aspects and I started training with Andy O’Brien off the ice, so I’m feeling great and just looking forward to getting the season going. I’m looking forward to camp and all the guys back home in Ottawa are excited to get it going, too.”– Drake Batherson
He went on to say that he benefited from playing a “full-season” in the NHL and that he learned a ton from the older players on the team. In 56 games, the 23-year-old totalled 34 points (17 goals and 17 assists) and was tied for second in goals on the team. Batherson will be playing in his 100th career NHL game when the season opens on Oct. 14 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he is looking to continue his career with great pace.
In his first 99 games, he has 23 goals and 30 assists. Before making the leap to the pros, he recorded 116 points (38 goals, 78 assists) in 105 American Hockey League (AHL) games. This team-friendly deal should help the Sens build a competitive team moving forward, especially if he and the other young players can keep growing at their current rate.
Item Two: Senators Sign Gustavsson to a Two-Year Deal
The Senators have also announced that goaltender Filip Gustavsson has signed a two-year contract. The first year of the two-way deal is worth $750,000 in the NHL and $125,000 in the AHL. The second year, which is one-way, carries a value of $825,000. Gustavsson has a real opportunity if starter Matt Murray fails to live to expectations. Anton Forsberg is the only other netminder who stands in Gustavsson’s way.
Gustavsson spent the 2020-21 campaign split between three different leagues, and the 23-year-old Swede made his NHL debut with Ottawa and finished with a 5-1-2 record. He posted a team-best 2.16 goals-against average (GAA), and a .933 save percentage (SV%). He also played in 13 games with the Belleville Senators and 19 with Södertälje SK of HockeyAllsvenskan. Hopefully, he will play the full 2021-22 season in Ottawa.
“We were very pleased with Filip’s performance last season. After spending the early part of the year playing in Sweden, it was evident to us that he is committed to continually improve his overall game. He’s someone we regard as a high-end talent and we’re looking forward to seeing his progress in 2021-22.”– Dorion
Gustavsson was one of Dorion’s key signings this offseason as the only goaltender in the system who needed a new deal and he got it done. The Senators exposed Joey Daccord to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft partly because of their depth at the position. With Gustavsson now signed for the next two years, the team is in a great spot in net.
Item Three: Building Capacity
When the Senators start their season on Oct. 14 against the Maple Leafs at the Canadian Tire Centre, fans will be in the building. At least, we hope, and how many will be allowed? The Ontario Government still has some time to make a decision on capacity before the start of the season but what about exhibition games? The Senators are slated to take on the Maple Leafs on Sept. 29 and people close to the organization have yet to receive confirmation.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said last week proof of vaccination will be required to attend sporting events starting Sept. 22. However, the Senators and Maple Leafs are still waiting to find out from provincial health officials what percentage of capacity they’ll be able to have in their buildings. Throughout the pandemic, rules and restrictions have changed quickly. Last month, the Ontario teams were under the impression that full capacity was a possibility, but with the Delta variant making its rounds, officials have started to backtrack.
The pandemic is still unpredictable, but as the league and owners continue to lose money, you can’t help but understand why they want to sell as many tickets as possible this season. The Sens have taken extra measures to ensure safety by installing a $10 million ventilation system at the Canadian Tire Centre to help improve airflow, as well as hand-sanitizer stations in every section of the building. Many obstacles need to be overcome in the next few weeks, but time is running out, and patience is wearing thin.
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What’s Next for the Senators?
Tkachuk’s contract keeps getting kicked down the road. Along with Logan Brown, they’re the only Senators who need new deals. With Batherson now signed, Tkachuk can’t be far away. By the time camp gets underway on Sept. 22, everyone expects Tkachuk to be there. Both the team and his representatives have done a great job of keeping the talks out of the public eye, but sources have indicated that they’re both trying to get a deal in place before camp, and talks have gone smoothly. Apparently, he is looking for a deal in the neighbourhood of $8 million, comparable to Carolina Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov, who signed just lower than that. Either way, Tkachuk will be back in Ottawa soon.
Giovanni Siciliano is a freelance contributor for The Hockey Writers that focuses on the Ottawa Senators. He is a lifelong hockey fan who aims to give his readers more knowledge and better insight pertaining to the game. When Giovanni isn’t covering the latest news & rumours in Ottawa, he is usually crying about being a Detroit Lions fan, playing video games or rewatching The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Office or Seinfeld for the 1000th time. After completing an internship at The Hockey News, and having his stories published like this one, Giovanni knew he wanted to make this a career and share his passion for the game with others. He hosted the FaceOff Hockey Podcast before joining the team at THW, and currently co-hosts and produces the Improversation podcast. To interact with Giovanni about the Sens, NHL, NFL, T.V shows or games, you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here. You can also read more of his articles here.