With an off-ice spending spree and marquee player additions, the Ottawa Senators have had a sunnier summer than most Canadians.
So they will just have to live with the fact that a dark, persistent cloud lingers over them until the National Hockey League (NHL) completes its investigation into the Hockey Canada scandal pertaining to the 2018 Canadian World Junior team.
Eight players, including members of that team, have been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in London, Ontario (Ont.), following a Hockey Canada Gala in 2018. Two players from that team, Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson, are in the Senators organization. Batherson is one of 59 players invited to training camp and in fact, he is a top line winger.
Formenton, meanwhile, has no contract yet as a restricted free agent.
Senators general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion told reporters at a pre-camp briefing on Wednesday, Sept. 21 that he cannot speak on the situation until it gets resolved.
“I think we all want to have answers,” Dorion said, “but because of the NHL pending investigations, we cannot comment on it.”
Dorion says the organization has been speaking to its players about hockey culture for some time now, and that as a parent and GM “I want to make sure we do everything the right way.”
The GM added that the investigations have had no impact on any contract dealings with his players (the inference being, Formenton), and that different contract scenarios have been discussed with Formenton’s agents (Newport), the same agency that represented Brady Tkachuk in his lingering contract negotiations last summer.
Later in the Q and A session, Dorion referred to Formenton and Tkachuk as “two major pieces here.”
In the meantime, camp will get underway tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 22) with high expectations and no Formenton at the rink.
Defence is the focus
The funny thing about adding talent up front – namely Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat while getting young stars Josh Norris and Tim Stützle extended to long-term deals – the worry then becomes the blueline.
While head coach D.J. Smith, who joined Dorion at the media briefing, spoke about the pleasant problem of having too many scorers to fit on one power play unit (he is considering a two-unit system, like the St. Louis Blues), he admitted his camp focus involves the defence corps.
“Where do people fit on the back end,” Smith said rhetorically. “Who’s taken a step, better than they were last year. It’ll be exciting for me there.”
Dorion is still trying to improve his blueline, and it’s no secret he has been in the mix to try to acquire Jakob Chychrun from Arizona. He said he won’t wait to make improvements if they become available.
As it stands, Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub are the top defence pair. Rookie Jake Sanderson is penciled into the 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 cut above last year, Smith plans to reduce the ice time demands on some of his top players, including Chabot, who has been at or near the top of TOI charts the past few seasons. Part of growing into a competitive team is having different guys play extra minutes on a given night, depending on the circumstances. Chasing leads late in games meant Smith had to overplay Chabot many nights.
Advice from Sanderson’s father
By the time players reach their NHL, parents usually sit in the stands and keep quiet. But when a hockey dad is a former NHLer with 17 seasons of NHL experience, he might just catch the ear of an NHL coach. Such was the case when Jake Sanderson’s father, Geoff Sanderson, spoke to Smith about the approaching rookie season of son Jake with the Senators.
“One of his things, for a guy who played a lot of games in the National Hockey League, was concern that an older guy be around his son to help him through the league, and I understand that totally,” Smith said. “I think a guy like Hammer (Hamonic), a guy like Holden, sitting near him (Jake) in the room, playing some games with him and talking to him is going to help his development.”
While Smith is leaving the door open to different defence pairings, he likes the idea of the most experienced Ottawa defencemen being there to guide the 20-year-old Sanderson.