With an off-ice spree and additions to major players, the Ottawa Senators have had a sunnier summer than most Canadians.
So they will have to live with the fact that a dark, lingering cloud hangs over them until the NHL completes its investigation into the 2018 Canadian World Junior team Hockey Canada scandal.
Eight players, including members of that team, have been charged with sexually assaulting a woman in London, Ontario, after a 2018 Hockey Canada Gala. Two players from that team, Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson, are part of the Senators organization . Batherson is one of 59 players invited to a training camp who hit the ice on Thursday. In fact, he is a top winger.
Formenton, meanwhile, does not yet have a contract as a restricted free agent.
The senators’ general manager, Pierre Dorion, told reporters at a pre-camp briefing Wednesday that he cannot speak about the situation until it is resolved.
“I think we all want answers,” Dorion said, “but because of the NHL’s ongoing investigations, we can’t comment on them.”
Dorion says the organization has been talking to its players about hockey culture for quite some time, and that as a parent and GM I “want to make sure we’re doing everything the right way.”
The GM added that the investigations have not affected any contract transactions with its players (the inference is Formenton), and that various contract scenarios have been discussed with the agents of Formenton (Newport), the same agency that represented Brady Tkachuk in his protracted contract negotiations ended. summer.
Later in the question-and-answer session, Dorion referred to Formenton and Tkachuk as “two big pieces here.”
Meanwhile, camp kicks off tomorrow, with high expectations and no Formenton at the rink.
Defense is central
The funny thing about adding talent up front – namely Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat while young stars Josh Norris and Tim Stützle are expanded into long-term deals – the worry then becomes the blue line.
While head coach DJ Smith, who accompanied Dorion to the media briefing, talked about the pleasant problem of having too many scorers to fit on one power play unit (he’s considering a two-unit system like the St. Louis Blues), admits that his focus on the camp involves the defense corps.
“Where do people fit in the back,” Smith said rhetorically. “Who has taken a step better than last year. It’s going to be exciting for me there.”
Dorion is still trying to improve his blueline, and it’s no secret that he’s been in the mix trying to take over Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun. He said he won’t wait to make improvements as they become available.
As it stands, Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub are the best defense pair. Rookie Jake Sanderson is in second pair with Travis Hamonic. That leaves Nick Holden, Nikita Zaitsev and Erik Brannstrom to round out a group of seven.
If the team and individuals are a lot better than last year, Smith plans to reduce the ice age of some of his top players, including Chabot, who has been at or near the top of TOI charts for the past few seasons. . Part of growing into a competitive team is having different guys play extra minutes on any given night depending on the circumstances. Chasing leads late in games meant Smith had to replay Chabot many nights.
Advice from Sanderson’s father
By the time players reach their NHL, parents are usually in the stands and silent. But when a hockey dad is a former NHLer with 17 seasons of NHL experience, he might hear an NHL coach. Such was the case when Jake Sanderson’s father, Geoff Sanderson, spoke to Smith about son Jake’s approaching rookie season with the Senators.
“One of his things, for a man who played a lot of games in the National Hockey League, was the concern that an older man was around his son to help him through the league, and I totally understand that,” Smith said. . “I think a guy like Hammer (Hamonic), a guy like Holden, sitting next to him (Jake) in the room, playing some games with him and talking to him will help his development.”
While Smith leaves the door open for various defensive combinations, he likes the idea that the most experienced Ottawa defenders are there to guide 20-year-old Sanderson.
1A and 1B in goal
It is often lost in forward additions, but Ottawa’s goalkeeping situation should be a real source of strength for the club. Not only did the Sens move the injury-prone Matt Murray’s contract to Toronto, they picked up Minnesota’s Cam Talbot to form a tandem with Anton Forsberg. While Smith likes the idea of one goalkeeper being number 1, he feels like he has two really good goalkeepers at his disposal.
“This is as comfortable as I’ve felt about our goalkeepers since I’ve been here,” said Smith.
Without mentioning his “1A” or “1B”, Smith feels like that’s how it comes about, with a lot of work for both.
“There are some really big horses in the league that can play those big minutes in a lot of competitions,” Smith said. “But what happens if that man gets hurt? You need two guys.”
Different atmosphere of trust
Smith believes the Senators are night and day different from the developing young group of past seasons. Now he more or less knows who the starters are and the focus is on winning, not on player development.
“I feel a different air of confidence in them,” Smith said.
The players, Smith said, believe they are poised to become one of the really good teams in the league, and out of the doormat. That’s one of the reasons players arrived at camp early and skated regularly — including an early morning skate ahead of Tuesday’s charity golf tournament.
“It’s clear to me that they are tired of losing night after night and tired of being at the bottom (of the standings),” said Smith.
“Some of the rebuild is getting beat up and we’ve had to lick hard many nights,” Smith added. “These kids are excited to fight back for their city, and so are we as coaching staff. . . on the golf course (Tuesday) people come up (to me) and are just as excited as I’ve watched a season start – now it’s up to us to make them proud.”
To be one of those playoff teams, Smith says the group must learn to have an even temperament, after wins and losses. Younger players sometimes take too many losses and get carried away after wins.
Consistent play and approach will ensure the wins, Smith says, also to kick off the season that has hurt Ottawa in recent years.
Dorion added that this group is expected to play meaningful games until the end of the year.
Chef added: ‘Food is their fuel’
Small things matter, and so it is that when some players spoke to management about improving the details of everyday experiences on the rink, the senators listened. Changes have been made to the player lounge, including better TVs and sofas. There is even better shower soap! (fill this in under details you may not need to know).
Improvements have also been made to the team gymnastics and a chef has been hired to cook for players after the game. The menu on team charter flights will also be adjusted.
“Food is their fuel,” Dorion said.
Norris wins fitness test
According to Smith, Norris won the fitness test at camp on Wednesday, followed by Mark Kastelic and Sanderson.
In another camp note, striker Ridley Greig, who sustained a shoulder injury during the recent WJC in Edmonton, will skate on Thursday in a non-contact jersey. The team hopes he can be ready to take part in game action against the September 30th game in Belleville against the Maple Leafs.