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No more rebuilding talk: finally, the future is now for the Senators

The Senators playing the role of the hunter, not the hunted.
2020-09-18 Ottawa Senators logo
Photo/ Ottawa Senators

They may take some getting used to, the new and brash Ottawa Senators.

The Senators playing the role of the hunter, not the hunted. The team “going for it,” not selling off assets to pile up draft picks and prospects. Instead of building for tomorrow, on an endless loop, the Senators are telling their fans and their young core they are all about today.

If you’re like me and either live in Ottawa or are associated with the Senators in some way, you were getting texts through the two days of the National Hocley League (NHL) Draft. Most along the lines of, “what is up with the Sens? DeBrincat? He’s legit.”

In case you missed it, the Senators swapped their first-round pick, seventh overall, plus a second round pick and a third-round selection in 2024 for the 24-year-old Chicago Blackhawks sniper, a two-time 41-goal scorer. The transaction meant that for the first time since 2014, the Sens did not make a first-round pick at the draft.

This team that had been building a core out of high draft picks like Brady Tkachuk, fourth overall in 2018, Tim Stützle, third overall in 2020, and Jake Sanderson, fifth overall, 2020, plus judicious later picks like Drake Batherson and Shane Pinto, has transitioned in a pretty significant way.

It isn’t lost on anyone that both general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith are under pressure to compete for a playoff spot for the first time in five years (six by the time the next playoffs roll around). So, there are some survival instincts at play.

Yet, I have scarcely heard a discouraging word about this aggressive approach from Senators fans who had grown weary of always being that rebuilding franchise in the bottom of the Atlantic (Division, not the ocean). Even the amateur scouts who had to forego their precious first-round selection are buying in, according to the former chief amateur scout Trent Mann, recently promoted to co-assistant general manager (with Ryan Bowness).

They may take some getting used to, the new and brash Ottawa Senators.

The Senators playing the role of the hunter, not the hunted. The team “going for it,” not selling off assets to pile up draft picks and prospects. Instead of building for tomorrow, on an endless loop, the Senators are telling their fans and their young core they are all about today.

If you’re like me and either live in Ottawa or are associated with the Senators in some way, you were getting texts through the two days of the NHL Draft. Most along the lines of, “what is up with the Sens? DeBrincat? He’s legit.”

In case you missed it, the Senators swapped their first-round pick, seventh overall, plus a second round pick and a third-round selection in 2024 for the 24-year-old Chicago Blackhawks sniper, a two-time 41-goal scorer. The transaction meant that for the first time since 2014, the Sens did not make a first-round pick at the draft.

This team that had been building a core out of high draft picks like Brady Tkachuk, fourth overall in 2018, Tim Stützle, third overall in 2020, and Jake Sanderson, fifth overall, 2020, plus judicious later picks like Drake Batherson and Shane Pinto, has transitioned in a pretty significant way.

It isn’t lost on anyone that both general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith are under pressure to compete for a playoff spot for the first time in five years (six by the time the next playoffs roll around). So, there are some survival instincts at play.

Yet, I have scarcely heard a discouraging word about this aggressive approach from Senators fans who had grown weary of always being that rebuilding franchise in the bottom of the Atlantic (Division, not the ocean). Even the amateur scouts who had to forego their precious first-round selection are buying in, according to the former chief amateur scout Trent Mann, recently promoted to co-assistant general manager (with Ryan Bowness).

Dorion on the process of trading draft picks to Blackhawks for DeBrincat

“The scouts were on board with what we did (in round one), Mann said after day two of the draft, where the Sens made nine selections.

“How often do you get a 40-goal scorer? Our scouts, like everyone else in the organization, like everyone in the city of Ottawa – we want to win. And it’s time to start winning.”

If you are scoring at home, DeBrincat is simply the tip of the iceberg. Even before that trade cracked the surface, forward Colin White was bought out, signaling an end to roster malaise in favour of aggressive management, even with short-term financial cost. Good guy, White. But way overpaid.

Suddenly, everything seems possible. Despite the acquisition of DeBrincat, the Senators are still believed to be active in free agency this week, including a pursuit of hometown hero Claude Giroux. The Sens are aggressively pushing goaltender Matt Murray and Nikita Zaitsev out the door, one way or another. The Toronto Maple Leafs have shown serious interest in Murray (the Kyle Dubas OHL Soo connection) and now the name of winger Connor Brown has come into play. It’s like a bomb has hit hockey operations in Ottawa.

What’s next, a top-four defenceman, a female staff member in hockey ops and a former player to serve as a defensive consultant? Every day there is a new move. On Monday, former D-man Wade Redden was hired as a development coach, and was scheduled to skate with prospects in the afternoon. Stay tuned for more news.

When it comes to the new-look Sens, the classic line from Butch Cassidy comes to mind, when he and the Sundance Kid were being relentlessly pursued by a posse: “Who are those guys?

Who indeed. Cue the song and video from The Heavy -- How You Like Me Now? A song that might best be revisited this week, after the free-agency period launches.

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