We are just about through the dog days of summer, and with that comes news and rumours heading into the start of the 2021-22 season. For the Ottawa Senators, not much has happened, especially when it comes to the most important items on their summer to-do list. Hopefully, with September around the corner things will get finalized. Here are some of the latest news and rumour items coming out of the nation’s capital.
Item One: Brady Tkachuk Still Needs a Contract
It feels like this saga will never end, but we all know it’s going to eventually. The lingering question is, when? Brady Tkachuk isn’t the only free-agent Senator that needs a new contract, but he is the most important. He has been at the forefront of the new era Senators and is the clubhouse leader in becoming the next team captain, along with Thomas Chabot. What’s funny about that is, it didn’t take long for Chabot to sign his next deal coming out of entry-level. So what’s the hold up with Tkachuk?
The 21-year-old has played in 198 games and recorded 125 points – surpassing the 20-goal mark twice in a regular 82-game season. Since he was selected fourth overall by the Sens in 2018, as he has been a fan favourite and his style of play is revered around the league. A player of his calibre should be looking at a full eight-year extension around the $8-9 million range.
According to Ottawa Sun Senators reporter Bruce Garrioch, Tkachuk’s agent, Craig Oster of Newport Sports, has had talks with general manager Pierre Dorion about term and money, but of course, these talks are being kept private, and nothing has leaked to the general public. Garrioch also points to his brother, Matthew, who signed a three-year, $21 million bridge deal back in 2019 and that Brady could also be thinking the same.
What’s even more shocking is that team owner, Eugene Melnyk, has even commented on the subject. He usually isn’t as positive when it comes to giving his star players big contracts or talking about team financials in general. However, Melnyk is on record saying that the organization would like to get Tkachuk signed to a long-term extension, whether that be six, seven or eight years, and make him the next captain. I’m just not sure how many future team captains sign bridge deals. The cause for concern remains very low on Tkachuk not signing, but if a deal isn’t done by the time training camp starts, then that can quickly change.
Item Two: Senators Bring Back Scott Sabourin on a One Year Deal
The Senators have signed forward Scott Sabourin to a one-year, two-way contract for the upcoming season. The contract will pay him $700,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the American Hockey League. The 29-year-old had played one game with the Toronto Maple Leafs and just six with the Toronto Marlies last season. He returns to Ottawa, having previously played with the Sens back in 2019-20, where he appeared in 35 games and recorded six points.
Sabourin has played in 314 AHL games with the Manchester Monarchs, Iowa Wild, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, Stockton Heat and Toronto Marlies for a total of 39 goals, 40 assists and 668 penalty minutes.
“Scott is a player and person with whom the organization has familiarity,” said Dorion. “He plays hard, has a physical presence, is respected on the ice and maintains strong leadership qualities. We’ll look to him to help guide our younger players and prospects.”
His first tenure with the Sens in 2019 came to fruition through a professional tryout before he ultimately became a part of the lineup. As for the 2021-22 season, Sabourin will be nothing more than a depth piece and physical presence when need be. If the team runs into injury trouble as the season goes on, his ability to play the right-wing is an area of need for the Sens as they’re currently constructed.
Item Three: Erik Brännström Trade Rumours
With the free-agent signings of Michael Del Zotto and Nick Holden on defence this summer, spots for playing time on the blue line might be tougher to come by, especially for Erik Brännström. The 21-year-old, who turns 22 on Sept. 2, has been trying to crack the full-time roster ever since he was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the deal for Mark Stone. Originally drafted 15th overall by the Golden Knights in 2017, the young Swede still has tons of potential in becoming a top-four pairing defenceman. However, his time in Ottawa could be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
As Bruce Garrioch has reported, the Senators are still active in the trade market, and Brännström could be a piece that they are willing to part ways with. It remains to be seen what exactly the Senators are targeting via trade, but the rumours have indicated it will be one of a top-six winger or centreman. Garrioch also noted that the Sens have been inquiring about Buffalo Sabres superstar Jack Eichel, but even with Brännström as part of the package, the Sabres’ asking price is still too high.
The Sens have also been linked to New York Rangers forward Ryan Strome, and they had even shown the Chicago Blackhawks interest in his younger brother, Dylan Strome. The sense around the league is that no other big trades have gone through this summer because organizations are waiting for the shoe to drop on Eichel. Many believe a deal involving Eichel will kick start a domino effect as most teams will be looking to finalize spots for training camp.
For Brännström, training camp might be the last chance he has to make an impression if he’s not dealt by then already. It’s been just over two years since he made his NHL debut, and most still believe he’s never been given a real opportunity. He’s played in 63 NHL games with 17 points to show for. The lack of ice time, however, lies in the hands of head coach D.J. Smith who usually has a particular type of defenceman in mind. He comes in at 5-foot-9, 181 pounds – not nearly enough size and weight for the aforementioned player type.
The Sens would be remiss to not give Brännström a real, consistent shot at the NHL level because of the type of player he is. It’s not often that a defenceman with his skill and tenacity comes around, and while he may be smaller in stature, the NHL is and has been moving more towards the direction of speed and skill. However, guys like Smith still believe in what they’re familiar and comfortable with.
Item Four: Senators Reach Affiliation Agreement With ECHL
The Ottawa Senators and Belleville Senators have reached an affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators for the upcoming season. The organization was originally known as the Mobile Mysticks, which were based out of Mobile, Alabama, in 1995.
“We’re pleased to partner with the Gladiators and to have Atlanta serve as our ECHL affiliate next season,” said Dorion. “Our prospects who spend time in the ECHL in 2021-22 will be well served under a coaching staff led by Jeff Pyle who we know will positively impact our players’ development.”
The Gladiators were previously affiliated with the Boston Bruins from 2015-2020 before the club elected to enact the voluntary suspension policy due to COVID-19 and opt-out of the 2020-21 season. Since the relocation from Alabama to Georgia in 2003, they have won three South Division titles and reached the Kelly Cup Finals in 2006.
What’s Next For The Senators?
As we inch closer to training camp, we can expect news not only on Tkachuk but Drake Batherson too. The 23-year-old winger that spent a majority of last season on the top line with Tkachuk and Josh Norris is expected to sign a bridge deal. He is coming off of his first full season in the NHL, and there’s been speculation about a short-term deal because he might need more time to show his full potential. In 56 games last year, Batherson had 17 goals and 34 points, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does going into his sophomore year and what kind of deal he signs.
Belleville has also signed three more players (Mitchell Hoelscher, Xavier Bernard, and Tyler Parks) to standard two-way AHL & ECHL contracts ahead of the 2021-22 AHL season. Hoelscher returns to Belleville after making his AHL debut last season via an amateur tryout, Bernard, who was originally drafted 110th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2018 has spent the last four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Parks is coming back to North America after appearing in 24 games with HC Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia where he had a 1.41 goals-against average (GAA) and a .940 save percentage (SV%), with five shutouts. You can read more about these signings here.