Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Senators mailbag, part 1: Reasons for hope, and what has new ownership brought to Ottawa?

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If you want a clear picture of how wild this Ottawa Senators season has been, you merely need to look at the past couple of weeks.

Sure, the Senators are riding a three-game winning streak after beating the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday evening. But this hot streak was preceded by a three-game losing streak. 

And that three-game losing streak was preceded by a three-game winning streak. 

And that three-game winning streak came on the heels of a seven-game losing streak.

You get the picture. 

Win three. Lose three. Win three. Lose seven. Yada yada yada. 

Wake me up in September. 

Still, I have to admire the resiliency and dedication of Senators fans. You answered my call for mailbag questions with more than 110 submissions this week. I sincerely believe we should have a Bill Masterton-style award to recognize the fan base that showed the most perseverance and dedication to their team in a given season. 

I would gladly cast my vote for the fans in Ottawa, because you’re still engaged and passionate about your favourite team at the end of March with no playoffs in sight. 

Because we received so many questions, I’m going to break this up into two separate mailbag columns so I can answer as many as possible. If you didn’t get your question in, please drop it in here and I’ll try to get to it before the next column runs. 

Note: Questions have been edited for clarity and length.

Give me one reason for hope for next year. I latched onto the Sens after the demise of the Whalers and not much has changed in my life since then. Am I doomed? — Martin W.

First of all, Martin, here’s hoping the ringtone on your phone is “Brass Bonanza.” (If I was your coworker, I would be calling your phone every 15 minutes.)

And in my opinion, you’re not doomed. 

For starters, the Senators have been a lot more successful than the Whalers. Hartford never got past the second round of the playoffs and missed the playoffs in five straight seasons before relocating to Carolina. If that’s when you jumped on the Senators bandwagon, it’s been a decent ride. Three trips to the conference finals and a visit to the Stanley Cup Final. So hopefully your Sens fandom (if it started in the late 1990s) has been pretty fun in the big picture. 

The problem, of course, is that the recent picture has been bleak. The Senators are about to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season. That’s a longer drought than the Whalers ever endured and one of the longest in league history. 

And fans like you are clinging to any reason for hope or optimism. 

If I were to point to one reason for legitimate optimism, it’s that Ottawa’s new regime will finally put its stamp on this franchise. I truly believe Michael Andlauer and Steve Staios were hamstrung by the awkward timing of the sale. They haven’t had the opportunity to put their fingerprints on this organization. 

They inherited a messy situation and I think most fans are willing to give them a mulligan. But that patience is about to expire and I think this regime understands that clearly. They have to hire a new head coach. They have to address the goaltending situation. The blue line needs to be addressed and so does the bottom-six forward group. 

My point is, they simply won’t run it back with the same group. They’ll get (presumably) a top-10 draft pick as well. A massive change is coming this summer and I think by the time we get to September this organization will have a much different look. 

I understand the pessimism, frustration and anger here in March and April. You should be irate and disappointed. But I think you should also be very buoyant about the prospect of a seismic summer that sees plenty of improvements for this organization. 

Any insight into the dynamics of the revamped front office? How do Staios, Poulin, Bowness run their operation? How much leeway is being given to Sean Tierney in the analytics department? Have we ever heard who is leading amateur scouting since Trent Mann got let go? — Riley H. 

Back in January, Staios indicated longtime amateur scout Don Boyd was running that side of the department, so I anticipate he will be in charge of Ottawa’s draft table in June. If you’d like to get a little sense of Boyd as a chief amateur scout, read this piece about how he tried diligently to persuade Doug MacLean to select Anze Kopitar with the No. 6 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft (the Columbus Blue Jackets took Gilbert Brulé instead).

And given Staios’ and Andlauer’s deep connections in the OHL, I suspect they should have a pretty good read on the amateur side of things in North America. They can tap into a pretty good junior network to get some intel in addition to what their amateur scouts tell them. 

One thing I’ve learned about Staios is that he really operates in the shadows. I had no idea the team hired Dale McTavish (Mason’s father) as a pro scout until he was with the team around the trade deadline in southern California. 

GM Steve Staios and the Senators hockey operations keep a lot of their philosophy and approach to scouting hidden beneath the surface. (Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

Staios is an extremely engaging, bright and friendly guy, but the minute you start pressing him for hockey-related information, he does an excellent job of putting up a wall. It’s very similar to how Steve Yzerman handles his business in Detroit. Polite and professional are the two adjectives I would use to describe the hockey operations department under Staios. So they’ve done an excellent job keeping a lot of their philosophy and approach to scouting hidden beneath the surface. But I suspect it will organically reveal itself this summer, once we see the type of players they target in the amateur draft and when free agency opens in July. 

I know they value Sean Tierney’s opinion on the analytics side of things. He’s closely involved in the hockey department’s inner circle. Under Pierre Dorion, the analytics person was kept on a part-time basis and was rarely looped into important personnel or lineup decisions. 

And if you recall, I wrote a feature on Dave Poulin a few weeks ago and he responded directly to the notion that he didn’t embrace analytics. 

“It’s funny people say that because I worked on TSN with Mike Kelly all the time. And I did analytics pieces with him using data from SportLogiq,” said Poulin. “And if you look at the way Sean Tierney (Senators director of analytics) presents his information, you’d be really impressed. It’s a big part of understanding the game now.”

This might be a tough one to answer publicly, but I’m curious, how has covering the team changed between previous ownership and new? — Cameron F.

I’m happy to answer this one because I believe in transparency. 

I think the biggest difference I can detect with the new regime is they appear open to the idea of criticism — if it’s coming from a well-intentioned place. They seem to inherently understand the notion of fair criticism, whereas the old regime seemed to take honest pushback from the media as a personal attack on their credibility.

I suspect that comes from Andlauer’s connection to the Montreal Canadiens, where he’s seen his fair share of intense media scrutiny. Staios played in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and worked in the Toronto Maple Leafs front office shortly after retiring. They know what’s up in an intense Canadian market. 

Bottom line, as a journalist, I feel comfortable that I can write an accurate, balanced and fair column that won’t result in my access to the team being disrupted. I’m not going to get blacklisted for telling the truth. It’s only been seven months, but I believe there is a fair degree of accountability within this group. 

And I think they understand the role of the media. It’s our job to keep them accountable to the fans. 

Since Ottawa joined the NHL, five former Sens have gone on to captain other teams: Yashin, Chara, Foligno, Fisher and Stone. Has any other team in the same time frame developed so many captains for other franchises? — Howard M. 

This was a fun question to try and track down an answer for and I used Hockey References’s index of captains. I looked up every team’s captains since 1992-93 — when the Senators joined the league — and there is a clear winner in this category.

And it’s actually not Ottawa.

The Canadiens have a whopping total of 10 ex-players who ended up becoming captains for other NHL franchises in this window. 

10 former Canadiens who became captains



Games With MTL


Seasons As Captain Elsewhere


Rod Langway


Washington (1992-93)

Brian Skrudland


Florida (1993-94 – 1996-97)

Shayne Corson


St. Louis (1995-96)

Chris Chelios


Chicago (1995-96 – 1998-99)

Eric Desjardins


Philadelphia (1999-00 – 2001-02)

Lyle Odelein


Columbus (2000-01 – 2001-02)

Craig Conroy


Calgary (2001-02 – 2002-03)

Vincent Damphousse


San Jose (2003-04)

Craig Rivet


Buffalo (2008-09 – 2010-11)

Mark Streit


NY Islanders (2011-12 – 2012-13)

This list above doesn’t even account for Ryan McDonagh, a first-round pick of the Canadiens, who served as captain of the New York Rangers for four seasons. So technically speaking, the Canadiens have churned out 11 captains for other teams in the time that Ottawa has been in the NHL. 

Burning question for a few months that nobody (that I’ve seen) has really dug up an explanation for: Why did the Sens get rid of the Trumpeter’s Cry (aka Danger Flutes) while the team takes the ice? Any word from the organization on why they went with such a sudden and drastic change to the pregame ritual? As a lifelong Sens fan who grew up going to games, I was very sad to see it go. — Nick P.

I asked the organization for a comment on your question, Nick, and I was directed to an interview that team president Cyril Leeder did with TSN 1200 last month

In that conversation, Leeder was asked directly about changing the intro song and using AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” instead. 

“The decision-making there was to try something different just to see what the reaction was,” said Leeder. “We’re working on a few different concepts as we go forward here. I know the Trumpeter’s Cry has been a long-standing tradition, but opening to ‘Hells Bells,’ there is a lot of emotion in that. I know the players certainly noticed it right away.”

Leeder went on to say the club hasn’t settled on a permanent intro song going forward. 

“We haven’t made any long-term decisions yet,” he said.

Leeder also added he liked the fact that “Hells Bells” could incorporate the bells on Parliament Hill. And maybe that’s a subtle nod to the fact this team will eventually be playing in the shadow of Parliament Hill. (I will tackle the readers’ many arena-related questions in the second instalment of this mailbag.) 

I think the Senators have done an excellent job embracing and honouring their past this season. I can’t see a world where the “Trumpeter’s Cry (Danger Flutes)” is completely banished forever. It’s not quite as catchy as “Brass Bonanza,” but it’s pretty significant to a lot of Ottawa fans. I suspect they’ll find a way to keep it relevant in the future. 

Dylan DeMelo is a solid, experienced RHD who was a fan favourite with Sens fans and never wanted to leave Ottawa. As he will be a UFA this summer, should/will Ottawa target him? — Sean P. 

As I wrote above, the Senators have done a good job of cloaking their intentions, but DeMelo would fit the profile of the defenceman I think the Senators should target this summer. 

I think a defensive-oriented, right-shot defenceman is exactly what this team needs. On the UFA market, Brett Pesce would be the ideal target, given he’s a bit younger (29) than guys like DeMelo (31) and Chris Tanev (34). You could probably go longer term on Pesce, too. 

But I absolutely think DeMelo could work here. Maybe he could be paired again with Thomas Chabot. When Chabot had his best offensive season in the NHL with 14 goals and 55 points in 2018-19, DeMelo was his primary partner. In more than 700 five-on-five minutes, they had a positive goals-for percentage (51.11) and expected-goals-for percentage (51.15). 

DeMelo would probably be a touch cheaper than Pesce or Tanev, too. If Ottawa can land any one of those three guys, I think fans should be pretty happy heading into next season. 

Ex-Senators dinner party. You get four guests, Who would they be and why? — Gerald N. 

I’d like to create some chaos by inviting Brady Tkachuk, Chris Neil and Neil Brady. 

The introductions alone would be hilarious. 

“Brady this is Neil. And Neil, this is Brady. And I should get you both to say hello to Neiler.”

I think I could generate a pretty good ‘Who’s on first?’ gag with them. 

And the fourth guest I would invite is Zdeno Chara, just so I could re-enact that old Baton Rouge radio commercial where he was fawning over their ribs (if you know, you know).

(Top photo: Timothy T. Ludwig / USA Today)

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