The season may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the Ottawa Senators are sitting back and relaxing. They have a few things to tackle this offseason, including contract extensions and the expansion draft, and none are more important than signing Brady Tkachuk to a long-term deal. Tkachuk established himself as the uncontested face of the franchise this season, playing with energy and skill, making his teammates better, and helping to create a sense of community on the young team. However, news of the negotiations has been quiet, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; when Thomas Chabot signed his eight-year deal, very few details were leaked before the announcement.
However, signing Takchuk is not all management needs to do. The 2021 Draft Lottery will take place on June 2, when the Senators find out when they will selecting. They currently have the 10th spot with a 4.5% chance to claim the first-overall pick, and a 9.3% chance to end up in the top-two. The NHL announced rule changes to the lottery system earlier this season and have reduced the number of draws from three to two, meaning teams can only fall a maximum of two spots. While this doesn’t affect the Senators that much, it’s nice to know that they won’t pick lower than 12th.
Item One: Zub and Bishop Ink Extensions
While Tkachuk hasn’t been signed yet, two other restricted free agents inked deals last week. Artem Zub signed a two-year, $5 million contract, and Clark Bishop signed a one-year, $800 000 two-way extension. Zub was a breakout star this season, solidifying the blue line alongside Mike Reilly and Erik Brannstrom, and ended his first season in North America with three goals and 14 points. He also finished third on the team in blocked shots, fifth in hits, and led the Senators in defensive point shares.
Bishop, a mid-season acquisition from the Carolina Hurricanes, didn’t dress for as many games as Zub but still became an important part of the bottom six. In 13 games, he had three assists but ranked second in defensive zone starts among Senators who appeared in five or more games and fourth in faceoff win percentage. At 24 years old, the Newfoundlander will have the opportunity to anchor the third line next season, but he will have some competition from Parker Kelly, Mark Kastelic, Matthew Peca, and Logan Shaw, who are all itching to earn more playing time.
With these two players now signed, the Senators have five restricted free agents to re-sign after goalie Marcus Hogberg was told he would not be receiving a tending offer. Tkachuk is at the top of the list, but Drake Batherson, Michael Amadio, Victor Mete, and Filip Gustavsson are also high priorities. In the minors, Logan Brown, Jonathan Davidsson, Zach Magwood, Jack Kopacka, Vitaly Abramov, J.C. Beaudin, Olle Alsing, and Brandon Fortunato are also slated to become RFAs this summer, but likely won’t cost the team heavily.
Item Two: Two More Senators Are Going to the World Championships
It was surprising to learn that the World Championship rosters had very few Senators. However, many players opted to stay home rather than extend their season in Latvia, likely due to ‘bubble fatigue’. Still, the Senators had two players join their national teams, Canadians Connor Brown and Nick Paul. They’ll now be joined by rookie defender Jacob Bernard-Docker, who will replace the injured Kevin Bahl. Zub will also head overseas to join the Russian team as a late addition to their defense.
The World Championship is often an afterthought in North America because the Stanley Cup Playoffs happen at the same time. But for European fans, it is a highly anticipated and competitive tournament. Latvia has already earned their first-ever victory over Team Canada, beating them 2-0 on May 21, and both the Canadians and Americans are ranked in the bottom half of the standings after three games, despite featuring some of the world’s best players.
The tournament is also a great opportunity for depth NHL players like Paul and Brown and talented youngsters like Bernard-Docker and Zub to show they can handle a bigger role. The Senators will be watching the four very closely; while Brown is a lock to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft, the same cannot be said for Paul. Zub has a brand-new contract that will ensure he’s at least on the second pair next season, but will that be alongside Bernard-Docker? A strong tournament might convince Ottawa in his favour, while a weak one will confirm that he needs more time in the minors.
Item Three: Chabot Nominated for the King Clancy
Thomas Chabot is this year’s Senators nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given ‘to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.’ The 24-year-old defenseman, who leads by example, has become a mentor for Ottawa’s young players. He is one of many leaders on the team, and while much has been said about Tkachuk’s future as the team’s captain, Chabot deserved this nomination.
If Chabot wins, he will be just the second Senator to do so after Daniel Alfredsson, who claimed the esteemed award in 2012. That season, the franchise’s longest-serving captain put up 27 goals and 59 points at 40 years old and helped Ottawa return to the playoffs after missing them in 2010-11. Alfredsson served as captain for one more season before leaving on difficult terms. But, his name is marked in franchise history after wearing the ‘C’ for 13 seasons.
Is this nomination a hint at Chabot’s future with the club? Management has mentioned that they want the next captain to be someone with a long-term contract, and many assumed that meant a Tkachuk extension was in the works. However, it could also mean that the defenseman, who is locked up until 2028, is the team’s first choice. Naming a captain is lower on the list of priorities for this offseason and likely won’t be announced until next season.
Item Four: Melnyk Again Faces Controversy
Eugene Melnyk is incapable of avoiding controversy when he speaks to the media, and last week was no different when he guested on the Bob McCown Podcast to talk about the Senators’ plans. The Sens’ owner covered a lot of ground, and while most of what he said was fairly run-of-the-mill for him, there were a few points that have fans questioning his direction for the franchise.
First, Melnyk mentioned what he believes the team needs to be a playoff contender: a top veteran center and a defensive defenseman. While this is fairly tame, it’s in stark contrast to what the rest of the management group has been saying; general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith have not given any hints as to what they believe the team needs. But Melnyk continued, claiming that they may already have their defenseman in Jake Sanderson, who is likely a couple of seasons away from joining the team full-time.
But the more controversial opinion was over the arena. The previous plan to build a new stadium in the LeBreton Flats area was all but scrapped after several roadblocks, and Melnyk then turned his sights to property he owned in Kanata. Now that plan also seems to be out, as he has recently proposed building an arena across the Ottawa River in Gatineau to move the team closer to downtown while expressing his frustration with the City of Ottawa and their taxes.
Fans, of course, were not thrilled to hear the team might relocate, but there isn’t much sense in worrying about a possible move yet. It’s not the first time Melnyk has hinted at moving the franchise over financial concerns, nor is it the first time an NHL owner has tried to strong-arm a city. In 2017, Calgary was undaunted when owner Ken King threatened to move the team if a new arena was not constructed. Plans were eventually finalized to create a new arena, but King’s tactics were revealed to be all bark and no bite. That’s also been said of Melnyk – he may talk a lot, but very little of it comes to fruition.
What’s Next for the Senators?
This won’t be the busiest offseason for the Senators, but it will be important. Along with several high-profile contracts to extend, the team will also take a long look at their farm system and prospects to evaluate who will slot into the lineup next season and who hasn’t progressed enough. Ridly Greig reportedly nearly got into an NHL game this season, but the move was vetoed, a promising sign that he will make an impact next season. Egor Sokolov and Angus Crookshank have also looked very strong in the minors and could be regular call-ups in 2021-22.
If Melnyk is right and the Senators are looking for a top veteran center, it will be interesting to see who they target. The Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel is the hot name right now, but he’s likely out of the team’s price range. Teammate Sam Reinhart, however, is another potential target, as he’s expressed his desire to leave the Sabres. Dorion does not have a great track record with trades, so hopefully, he doesn’t shake up the core roster too much.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.