Senators News & Rumours: Sanford, Greig, Merilainen & More

The Ottawa Senators 2021-22 preseason has begun. Last week, the team reported to the Canadian Tire Centre for physicals and on-ice practices, which gave us a glimpse into what the opening night roster will look like. With Brady Tkachuk still absent because of his contract situation, head coach D.J. Smith used the opportunity to try different line combinations with the hope that he returns soon. 

With six preseason games remaining against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, many players will be looking to impress management and claim the final spots. Egor Sokolov, Ridly Greig and Parker Kelly are among the young players trying to make the jump to the NHL, but with just over two weeks remaining before opening night, a lot can change. And as we saw this weekend, general manager Pierre Dorion is still working the phones.

Item One: Senators Trade Logan Brown to St. Louis Blues for Zach Sanford

The Logan Brown experiment reached its conclusion in Ottawa. The Senators acquired forward Zach Sanford from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Brown and a conditional fourth-round draft pick – if Brown plays more than 30 games this season, the draft pick will be removed from the deal.

Zach Sanford St. Louis Blues
Zach Sanford, formerly with St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Sens’ first-round pick (11th overall) in 2016 never found his groove in Ottawa and was often a topic of discussion since the organization showed little faith in him from the get-go. He bounced in and out of the lineup, and he spent most of his time with the organization’s farm team, the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL). In 94 AHL games, he scored 23 goals and 79 points.

Brown, who grew up in St. Louis, will get a fresh start. He signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Senators last week, so the Blues, who are cap-crunched, are happy to bring in a hometown player with a chip on his shoulder for cheap. Sanford, on the other hand, joins Ottawa on a one-year, $2 million deal signed in August as a restricted free agent (RFA).

In 183 games with the Blues, Sanford scored 36 goals and 35 assists. No, he isn’t the top-six forward Dorion said he would acquire this offseason, but Sanford can contribute a lot with his defence-first mentality. He brings experience in big moments, having won the Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019 and has good character. 

We expect Zach’s addition to prove beneficial for us in a number of ways. He’s a big man who skates well, a power forward who plays with energy and a former Stanley Cup winner. As someone who’s had a 16-goal season, he’s very capable of contributing offensively too.”

– Pierre Dorion

The 6-foot-4, 207-pound forward already knows Colin White. The two played together at Boston College, so pairing them together on the third line with Nick Paul seems ideal. Of course, nothing is set in stone, but as the preseason moves along and barring any more moves, that’s where we can assume Sanford will log his minutes. The addition of Sanford might also push out one of the young players fighting for a spot.

Item Two: Ridly Greig Suspended Two Games

Senators forward and 2020 first-round selection (28th overall), Ridly Greig has been suspended for two games after cross-checking Winnipeg Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois on Sunday. Greig will miss one preseason game and one regular-season game whenever he’s ready to make his NHL debut. 

In the league’s explanation video, they argued that Greig saw Dubois coming and made the decision to elevate his stick and extend it outward, making direct and forceful contact with Dubois’ head. Unfortunately, Greig is no stranger to suspensions; this is the third season in a row that he’s received a punishment of some kind. In the last two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he was suspended three times: twice in 2019-2020 for a total of five games and once in 2020-21 for three games.

That’s not to say that Greig is a malicious player, but his track record isn’t a great look. Dubois said after the game that he didn’t believe Greig was out to injure him, despite that he received 15 stitches: “I don’t think he did it on purpose. I think he just got scared, threw his stick up. He saw me coming and threw his stick up to defend himself, which is obviously against the rules for an obvious reason. It is what it is.” Even if it was a justifiable reaction, Greig will have to sit two games.

Before he left the game, Grieg scored the opening goal that will be on highlight reels for the foreseeable future.

That is what Senators fans want to see more of from Greig, rather than seeing him in the press box. It’s great that he plays with his heart on his sleeve, which fits the organization’s culture. However, if he can’t find a way to stay out of trouble, it will become an issue for management to deal with.

Item Three: Leevi Merilainen Sent Back to Kingston

The goaltending situation in Ottawa is a little clearer after the club announced that Leevi Merilainen will be sent down to the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the 2021-22 season. The team’s third-round (71st overall) selection in the 2020 NHL Draft signed his entry-level contract in June and committed to the Frontenacs shortly after.

The Senators have high hopes for Merilainen, but for now, goaltending is mostly solidified at every level of the organization. Matt Murray and one of Filip Gustavsson or Anton Forsberg will be in the NHL. They also have Kevin Mandolese and Mads Sogaard jockeying for the final spot in Belleville once a decision is made on the NHL backup. “Crowded” is one way to put the Sens’ goalie depth, which is a good problem to have. At 19, Merilainen is still very young, so this is a good time for him to keep developing in the OHL.

What’s Next for the Senators?

The Senators open the season against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 14, and we now know how many people will be allowed to attend. The Ontario Government decided on 50% capacity at the Canadian Tire Centre and Scotiabank Arena for now. Both teams are hoping to be at capacity at some point this season.

As for Tkachuk, talks are ongoing. According to Elliotte Friedman on the latest 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, both Tkachuk’s camp and the Senators aren’t close on a short-term deal, and a long-term deal is being held up because of the bonus structure, no-trade clause, etc. Hopefully, we’ll get an update soon.