With a snowboard spending spree and the additions of top players, the Ottawa senators had a much brighter summer than most Canadians.
So they will just have to live with the fact that a dark, persistent cloud lingers over them until the NHL completes its investigation into the Hockey Canada scandal involving the 2018 Canadian World Junior team.
Eight players, including members of this team, were charged with sexually assaulting a woman in London, Ontario, after a Canada hockey party in 2018. Two players from this team, Alex Forminton and Drake Paterson, are in the Senators’ organization. Paterson is one of 59 players invited to training camp, who hit the ice on Thursday – in fact, he’s one of the top players in the game.
Meanwhile, Formenton does not yet have a contract as a restricted free agent.
Pierre Dorion, director general of the Senate, told reporters at a pre-camp news conference on Wednesday that he could not talk about the situation until it was resolved.
“I think we all want answers, but because of the pending investigations in the NHL, we can’t comment on them,” Dorion said.
Dorion says the organization has been talking to its players about hockey culture for some time, and as a parent and general manager, “I want to make sure we’re doing everything the right way.”
GM added that the investigations had no impact on any contractual dealings with his players (the conclusion is Formenton), and that various contract scenarios were discussed with the agents of Formenton (Newport), the same agency that represented Brady Tkachuk during his stay. Contract negotiations last summer.
Later in the Q and A session, Dorion referred to Formenton and Tkachuk as “key pieces here”.
In the meantime, camp will start tomorrow, with high expectations and no Formenton at the rink.
Defense is the focus
The funny thing about adding talent up front — namely Claude Giroud and Alex DeBrinkat while young superstars Josh Norris and Tim Stutzel have stretched into long-term deals — then becomes a nuisance.
While head coach DJ Smith, who joined Dorion at the media conference, talked about the fun problem of having too many scorers to fit into a single PU (he’s considering a two-unit system, like the St. Louis Blues), he admitted His focus in his camp includes the Defense Corps.
“Where people fit in is on the back end,” Smith said phlegmatically. “Whoever made a better move than they did last year. It will be exciting for me there.”
Dorion is still trying to improve his blues, and it’s no secret that he was in the mix to try and get Jakob Chychrun from Arizona. He said he wouldn’t wait for improvements if they became available.
As it stands, Thomas Chabot and Artem Zup are the best defense duo. Rookie Jake Sanderson joins the second pair with Travis Hammonic. This leaves Nick Holden, Nikita Zaitsev, and Eric Branstrom to assemble a group of seven.
If the team and personnel were cut short last year, Smith plans to reduce the ice time requirements on some of his top players, including Chabot, who has been at or near the top of the TOI charts for the past few seasons. Part of developing into a competitive team is having different players play extra minutes on a given night, depending on the circumstances. Chasing leads late in the games meant Smith had to overplay Chabot several nights.
Advice from Sanderson’s father
By the time players reach the NHL, parents are usually sitting in the stands and keeping quiet. But when hockey’s father is a former NHLer player with 17 seasons of NHL experience, he might catch the attention of an NHL coach. This was the case when Jake Sanderson’s father, Jeff Sanderson, spoke to Smith about the approaching junior season of Jake’s son with the Senators.
“One of the things for a guy who’s played a lot of games in the National Hockey League is the concern of having an older guy around his son to help him through the league, and I totally understand that,” Smith said. “I think a guy like Hammer (Hammonic), a guy like Holden, sitting close 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 to different defensive pairs, he likes the idea of having Ottawa’s most experienced backers to steer 20-year-old Sanderson.
1A and 1B in the goal
He often gets lost in additions forward, but Ottawa’s goalkeeping position should be a real source of strength for the club. Not only did the Sens move injury-prone Matt Murray’s contract to Toronto, they chose Cam Talbot of Minnesota, to form a tandem with Anton Forsberg. While Smith loves the idea of being the #1 goalkeeper, he feels he has two good goalkeepers at his disposal.
“It’s as comfortable as I’ve felt about goalkeepers since I’ve been here,” Smith said.
Without naming it “1A” or “1B,” Smith feels that’s how it’s shaped, with plenty of work for both.
“There are a few real big horses in the league who can play those big minutes in a lot of games,” Smith said. “But what happens when that man gets hurt? You need two men.”
A different atmosphere of trust
Smith thinks the Senators differ day and night from the younger group growing in the past few seasons. Now, he more or less knows who the novices are, and the focus is on winning, not player development.
“I feel a different air of trust in them,” Smith said.
Smith said the players believe they are ready to become one of the really good teams in the league and are out of the doormat stage. That’s one reason the players get to camp early and skate regularly – including skating early in the morning before the charity golf tournament on Tuesday.
“It is clear to me that they are tired of losing night after night, and they are sick of their occupation,” Smith said.
“Part of the rebuilding process is taking a beating, and we’ve had a lot of hard licks a lot of nights,” Smith added. “These kids are excited to fight for their city, and so are we as a coaching staff… On the golf course (Tuesday), people come (to me) and they’re as excited as I’ve seen in a season – and now it’s up to us to make them proud.”
To be one of the playoff teams, Smith says the group has to learn to have an equal mood after wins and losses. Younger players sometimes lose badly and get carried away after victories.
Smith says consistent play and approach will take care of wins, including starting the season, which has hurt Ottawa in the past two years.
Dorion added that he expects this group to play meaningful games through the end of the year.
The chef added: “Food is their fuel.”
The little things matter, and so when some players talked to management about improving the details of the daily experiences at the rink, the senators listened. Changes have been made in the players’ lounge, including better TVs and sofas. There is a better bath soap! (Provide this under Details you may not need to know.)
In addition, improvements were made to the group gym and a chef was assigned to the players after the match. The list of charter flights for the team is also modified.
“Food is their fuel,” Dorion said.
Norris wins a fitness test
According to Smith, Norris won his camp fitness test on Wednesday, followed by Mark Castelich and Sanderson.
On another camp note, striker Ridley Gregg, who suffered a shoulder injury during the last WJC in Edmonton, will be skating Thursday in an offline jersey. The team hopes to be ready for the action game ahead of the September 30 game in Belleville against the Maple Leafs.