Ranking the Ottawa Senators Offseason Moves by Catholic Saints and Their Grisly Deaths

Albrecht Durer,"Saint Bartholomew", ca 1523, Engraving, 12 x 7.5 cmIt’s been another season of tumult, mystery and murdered libido inside the Ottawa Senators organization. The team is now officially entering Year Two of the rebuild, a period during which it’s difficult for even world-class organizations to maintain the interest of even the most ardent hockey fan. Thankfully, the Senators are not a world-class organization, so I’m sure they will be successful in ushering in five years of unprecedented success as promised by the team owner who has no money.

Embattled general manager Pierre Dorion has carried out the equivalent of violating the Prime Directive by gutting his team to save money first and collect assets later. Acknowledging that the Senators have done little to weaponize their cap space, have hired and quickly lost all senior management staff, and have all but destroyed the faith of fans in their ability to build and keep a contender, I’ve devised a ranking system that reflects that nothing the team can do will make them good and/or fun.

  • Sens hire D.J Smith as new head coach and Jack Capuano as assistant coach

Former Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant Coach D.J. Smith has the unenviable task of taking a team that finished in last place by a full seven points when it had Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel and showing some improvement without those players. According to some projections, it would not be out of this world to see the Senators finishing in last this year by a full 20 points or more, which would make them the worst team since the 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche finished 21 points shy of Vancouver. He is almost certain to fail at this particular task, which means that his real task is to keep things fun and loose in the process of losing and losing badly so as to preserve the naive spirit and will to live of our young players.

Can he do this? I’m not sure any coach has been able to balance the contradictory expectations of being simultaneously fun and disciplinarian, defensively responsible and emphasizing uptempo puck possession. The bigger indicator of a coach’s success, it seems to me, is where the coach is in their tenure versus team expectations. It’s Smith’s first year and everyone knows the Senators are going to be terrible, so it’s safe to say that he could play Anderson on the point during a power play and keep his job. If anything, Smith would fuck it up by having the team punch above its weight, endangering the team’s ability to add a franchise forward in next year’s draft to complement the vast depth of prospects but a surfeit of blue-chippers.

I truly don’t care who the head coach of the Senators will be this season, and the addition of NHL veteran coach Capuano seems to acknowledge the same thing. Smith doesn’t matter; he’s a nice guy who’ll keep everyone happy during monumentally shitty times. If Smith screws up the only thing resembling an expectation – make sure the players don’t demand a trade – they have another coach in almost the exact same model – player-favorite (baby shoes), never won (never worn) – who can step in and clutch Brannstrom to his chest and smooth his hair. Expecting anything more from either of them would be like getting mad at the Canadian Tire Center for being far.

Ranking: St. Sebastian, tied to a tree and shot with arrows then clubbed to death, which is roughly equivalent to finishing last and then losing the draft lottery.

  • Sens receive Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Michael Carcone for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, 2020 3rd round pick

This was the big boy of the offseason and about a month after it happened, I still don’t know what to think about it. The Senators traded Cody Ceci, demonstrably one of the worst defensemen in the entire league, and somehow managed to get back a player who is almost as bad…but with term. Taken at that, one could conclude that walking away from Ceci after arbitration and replacing him with literally anyone from Belleville would be preferable. 

The only saving grace is that after the Leafs paid Zaitsev’s signing bonus the Sens will only have to give him about $1.5 M in real cash to play in a top-four role. You might not be able to get away with that even if you’re calling up your AHLers and it’s a smart move for anyone, broke or flush. The Sens also received Connor Brown, a promising forward, if by ‘promising’ you mean can play a top-six role on a bad team and is relatively young. Somehow, of course, despite the fact that this trade is almost a wash and the added punch in the balls that we’re helping our biggest rival by wiping Zaitsev’s term from their books, the Senators also threw in a third-round pick. That’s right: the rebuilding term threw a pick to a team whose window to contend is open in the course of helping them get the cap space they’d need to sign Mitch Marner, a franchise player. Because of course they did.

There are so many ways in which this trade is infuriating, but all of them land squarely in the world of opportunity cost. Why wasn’t Ceci traded sooner, when he could have garnered a real return? Why does it have to be the Leafs? Is Brown, at 25 and probably going UFA before the rebuild is done, the sort of sweetener you want in your cap-crunch-alleviating deal and if you’re in year two of a rebuild? If the Sens had been the ones receiving a third-round pick back, but only a third-round pick, for the rights to Ceci, would it have been as bad as this? We have the five remaining years on Zaitsev’s contract to think about it.

Ceci, of course, will play about five games for the Leafs just to see if something weird happens and he becomes Suddenly Good, but let’s not act like he won’t be shipped elsewhere for a pick at some point during the season. This trade will look even worse when the Leafs get what the Sens should have gotten.

Ranking: St. Lawrence, grilled alive on a red-hot gridiron, sort of like the slow death of Senators fans watching Zaitsev for the duration of a rebuild JUST as we were on the cusp of getting rid of Ceci and getting on with our lives.

  • Sens receive Artem Anisimov for Zack Smith

In a rare move lauded by Sens fans as Not Actually Terrible, the Sens shipped out the remainder of Smith’s contract for a comparable player making less money. We can quibble about how all this money-motivated stuff is maddening and a symptom of greater moral decay inside Melnyk’s brain (as well as the actual brain decay) and the short-sightedness of the league’s business model, and we’d be right to do so, but even on a contending team spending to the cap, this kind of move is pretty smart. Add to that that Smith was on waivers last year and Chicago could have had him for nothing, and it’s even more impressive that Dorion managed to get anything for the player whose value seems to be entirely wrapped up in character and grit at this point.

Of course, players aren’t just static assets with fluctuating value – they’re people, and Smith was beloved in the room and by a great number of fans. Even Matt Duchene, who was relatively new to the team at the time, said it was a kick in the balls when Smith was put on waivers. He played for the Senators for 11 seasons, put up 25 goals once, and was even nominated for the Selke in that season. As James and Luke noted on our latest podcast, he was a part of the glorious line-brawl beatdown of the loathsome Habs in what might have been the most satisfying Senators game in franchise history. 

There is something uniquely soul-crushing when you see a product of the franchise, drafted and developed over the years and integral to the fabric of the team, traded away for the sake of $1.5M. This was a smart move from an accounting perspective, and also a sobering reminder that this game is a shitty business carried out by shitheads who run a shitty world shittily.

Ranking: St. Margaret Clitherow, pressed, on her back, over a sharp stone, with a door on top of her that was topped with an 800-pound weight, which may or may not have been a metaphor for capitalism.

  • Sens sign free agents Tyler Ennis and Ron Hainsey

Two aging veterans accept low-paying one-year deals that don’t involve them having to move their families or buy American health insurance and in exchange will probably be turned inside out every time they play a shift. Sun rise, sun set. Sun rise, sun set.

Haisey and Ennis have nothing left in the tank and would struggle to get ice time on anything but the worst teams in the league. Luckily for them, Ottawa is one of the worst teams in the league, which means they might get more exposure than they would elsewhere and be traded at the deadline to a contender. That’s really the only upside I can think of: that Tyler Ennis, receiving 20 minutes a night playing alongside Anthony Duclair and Brady Tkachuk, breaks double digits in goals despite a minus 48 +/- and the Sens manage to recoup that third-rounder they gave up in the Zaitsev deal. Hainsey, meanwhile, seems like the kind of guy who would help you move a couch. 

Hopefully, they can draw on their extensive NHL experience to recede somewhere inside themselves and go zen long enough to not crack entirely before they’re traded to next year’s equivalent of the Blue Jackets for a glorious kamikaze run at a first-round flameout. Personally, I don’t want vets who played for good teams with nice facilities anywhere near my good young players, who might get ideas about getting the hell out of dodge.

Ranking: St. Cassian, Hacked to Death by Children

  • Sens receive Ryan Callahan and a 2020 5th round pick for Mike Condon and a 2020 6th round pick

The Senators have a weirdly deep goaltending pool, having re-signed Handsomest Man Alive Anders Nilsson while running out the clock on franchise great Craig Anderson’s contract. (Remember when the Sens had to choose between Anderson, Lehner and Bishop? No? Me neither.) In the pipe they have Gustavsson, also re-signed Hogberg, who had a hell of a season last year but needs to put it together now or never, and Joey Daccord. This put Mike Condon, currently exiled to MacArthur Island, on the outs, and the Senators managed to turn his deal into the also-permanently-injured Callahan and a slight upgrade on inconsequential picks. 

All that to say that if you were looking for a deal to help you understand the ins and outs of long-term injured reserve and contract insurance, this might be the one to do it. The Senators end up saving money and in the process, they give up a goaltender who might still be able to play (but it’s unlikely). Callahan also has a gigantic cap hit, which they can allow to count against the cap to get them above the floor. It’s the kind of move that might have once garnered all kinds of coverage and today feels like an analysis of equity tranches and collateralized debt obligations. Let’s hope that the trade of Condon’s contract was viewed with sober hindsight as a reminder NOT TO SIGN GOALTENDERS ON A HOT STREAK TO TERM FOR CHRISSAKE.

Ranking: St. Bartholomew, Flayed

  • Sens let Magnus Paajarvi, Jim O’Brien, Oscar Lindberg and Brian Gibbons walk and re-sign Anthony Duclair, Marcus Hogberg

I’d read somewhere that the Senators were considering re-signing PDO king Brian Gibbons, an undersized overager, and this is what victory looks like in The Broke Ass Melnyk Age of Senators fandom: they didn’t. They also allowed Cheap and Serviceable Depth Players Magnus Paajarvi and Oscar Lindberg to walk, and both of whom promptly went unsigned by any of the other 30 NHL teams. Lindberg, who came over in the fiasco of a Mark Stone trade, seemed to accord himself well on the terrible Senators, and I thought they’d re-sign him if only to keep Stone-for-Brannstrom from being one-for-one-and-a-pick. Well, folks, the Senators have now officially traded one of the very best two-way forwards in the entire league for a good prospect and a 2nd. Mark my words, shit will go down in infamy.

Let’s take a second to lament the second departure of Jim O’Brien, Bryan Murray’s first draft pick as Senators GM and legitimately On the Ice for some nice goals, including Turris’ OT winner against the Rangers.

Bringing back The Duke for another year seems like a smart move, either in the sense that he’s young enough to fit in with a young team or the Sens can pump his stats with lots of powerplay time and then trade him to his 45th team in three years at the deadline. I am genuinely surprised that the Senators re-signed him at $1.6M when they probably could have signed both Paajarvi and Gibbons for that same amount of money because they are, objectively, worse than Duclair. I take my victories where I can find them.

Ranking: St. Dymphna, Beheaded by Her Father After Refusing to Marry Him

Conclusion: There is no god and every sacrifice you make is in vain.

I subscribe to the belief that in a league of extreme parity, almost nothing you do around the edges of an NHL team will make any sort of difference. You’ve got hot and cold goaltenders, hot and cold shooters, random events, and Very Good Franchise Players who actually move the needle on a team’s ability to generate goals and wins. You only get those guys really high in the draft or when an idiot gives you Mark Stone for a prospect and a second-round pick. Your only other option is to go full Hurricanes and build out an entire system of puck possession with no finishers and bank your entire existence on enough wacky shit happening along the way to win you games. It’s terrible hockey, hence the extracurricular fun stuff the Canes resorted to keep people interested, but it can win you some games. Anyway, the Senators are being run out of a garage by Dorion’s son, so I don’t think a Tulsky-like renaissance is about to occur.

All that to say that none of this really matters. The Senators don’t have those needle-movers yet. Tkachuk, Chabot and Brannstrom might be those someday, but they aren’t now. The Senators might draft Lafreniere, but on the other hand, they might drop to 4th overall. Even if the Sens had run away with the opening of free agency and the draft, they’d be at the mercy of hockey’s capricious forces and are destined to finish dead last this season. It’s their destiny.

Play ball!

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WTYKY Podcast: Episode 17

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In this episode: Luke and James enjoy a few cold ones and discuss how Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf, Nikita Zaitsev is our new favourite shit-talking Russian, the Senators are the Maple Leafs, DJ Smith’s number one job is keeping Brady Tkachuk happy, Zack Smith is Artem Anisimov is Zack Smith, we love our large goalies, and this podcast remains a Melnyk Free Zone.

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WTYKY Podcast: Episode 15


It’s the first night of the NHL playoffs, and the day after the draft lottery. It’s time for us to check in with our feelings and decide, once and for all, if Brady Tkachuk is our Supervisor. (He is.) We also talk about the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Brian Gibbons and Alex Ovechkin, who are roughly as good as one another, Logan Brown’s dad, and tailgating at a Lions game.

The Case for Us Not Being Totally Boned

I’m going to try something on for size, here: optimism. I won’t go over all of the ways in which this is not an intuitive or realistic stance to take. You know them. But as I shift from Actually Watching Games to the hockey equivalent of playing Settlers of Catan, I can’t help but feel like there’s some hope that we can successfully bargain for some wheat. Not enough hope to buy a hockey ticket, of course. But reason to keep talking about the Ottawa Senators online.

Here’s what I’ve got. Do with it what you will:

The Moment Karlsson Was Gone, a Rebuild Was the Right Call

Ottawa was uniquely dependent on Erik Karlsson to drive their entire system. He played in all situations, he played half the game, he made every player on the team better, and outside of Mark Stone was the only player on the team who could hold his own against the best competition in the league. Ottawa without Erik Karlsson simply wasn’t Ottawa. They were barely an NHL team.

Ottawa wasn’t very good in Karlsson’s last season with the team, finishing second last. One could reasonably argue that the moment he was gone – ignoring how much of a cluster-fuck it is to let a player like that go under any circumstances – the team had to rebuild. A team so dependent on Erik Karlsson, even with Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, and Mike Hoffman, wasn’t going anywhere without him.

Yes, having Mark Stone to build around is also a good option. I’m just saying that if you squint and look sideways, in a way Dorion is giving the We Should Have Gone Full Rebuild in 2011 crowd what they’ve always wanted.

Ottawa Started Their Rebuild With a Respectable Base of Prospects

Before the great sell-off began with Karlsson, Ottawa had an intriguing mix of players: long-shots with high ceilings, tools-y players that projected as depth, and a ton of wild cards. But for a team that hadn’t drafted anywhere near the top five since taking Mika Zibanejad sixth overall in 2011, Ottawa could do much worse than Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Filip Chlapik, Christian Wolanin and Filip Gustavsson, to say nothing of stealth players on the farm like Maxime Lajoie.

In what’s become a bit of a habit, Ottawa made the most out of late round picks and their trade of Brassard to form a decent baseline of prospects. They added Brady Tkachuk to that baseline last year. That’s not one of the better prospect pipelines in the league – there’s a conspicuous lack of blue-chippers outside of Chabot and Tkachuk – but being in the middle-third of prospect systems without very high picks is not so bad given the circumstances.

They added to that baseline with the trades to come. While the only blue-chip prospect Ottawa got back in the trades of Karlsson, Stone, Duchene, Dzingel, and Hoffman was Erik Brannstrom, they also added to their intriguing mix: Rudolph Balcers, Josh Norris, Vitaly Abramov, and Johan Davidsson.

Three blue-chippers and a whole lot of upside isn’t a bad place to start one’s build.

The Only Thing Ottawa is Good at is Drafting, and They Have a Ton of Picks

I mostly agree with the notion that the only way to get true needle-movers, meaning players that significantly improve your chances of competing for a Cup, is to capitalize on other team’s mistakes or dire circumstances (as Vegas just did with us and Mark Stone) or to draft them. In the absence of very high draft picks, teams, especially teams whose strength is drafting, should get as many chances at drafting super-secret future needle-movers as possible.

As Dellow wrote about over on The Athletic, Ottawa has a near-historic number of picks over the next three years:

Ottawa’s currently sitting on 15 picks in the first three rounds over the next three years, with a possibility of getting up to 17 as things stand. The final draft of the Original 21 era took place in 1990. There have been 757 potential three-year windows for teams since then. Only one team – the 2000-02 Devils – went to the podium more than 17 times in the first three rounds in a three year period since the demise of the Original 21.

There’s potential for the Senators to add to their haul, too, by trading Cody Ceci and Mikkel Boedker at the draft. And then there are reliable depth players like Chris Tierney and J-G Pageau. None of these players will produce a high pick, but they might give Ottawa more shots at the carnival game.

While many of the teams with that number or near that number of picks were only able to produce a few NHLers, many of those years took place pre-salary cap, when there wasn’t as much emphasis on drafting and development as a key to success, and when analytics weren’t nearly as accessible to scouts and GMs. The teams that did have that many draft picks more recently produced a larger cohort of NHL players.

Some of those picks might turn out to be pretty good, too. Obviously, Ottawa’s own picks will be pretty high, so there’s potential to add another blue-chipper or two to Ottawa’s emerging core. If Columbus re-signs Duchene and Panarin and Bobrovsky walk in the off-season, they could be on the outside looking in playing in the Metropolitan. If the Sharks re-sign Karlsson, Ottawa receives their 2021 2nd rounder, and if they make the Cup Final this year that turns into a 1st. A lot would have to go right and then suddenly wrong for the Sharks, but they have one of the older lineups in the league and play in the ultra-competitive Pacific, with much younger teams. In addition to Ottawa’s 1sts, there’s a scenario where the Jackets’ and Sharks’ 1st end up being pretty high value.

I mean, let that sink in:

Blue chippers

  • Chabot
  • Tkachuk
  • Brannstrom
  • Ottawa’s 2020 1st?
  • Ottawa’s 2021 1st?


  • White
  • Batherson
  • Brown
  • Formenton
  • Chlapik
  • Wolanin
  • Gustavsson
  • Balcers
  • Abramov

Who knows?

  • Norris
  • Davidsson
  • Paul
  • Lajoie
  • Everyone else on the Belleville Senators
  • At least 13 other picks, some of them 1st rounders and a whole lotta 2nds

We’re Probably Still Boned

I know the obvious response to all of this is: “So what if we have potentially good players? If Melnyk owns this team and we don’t have a new arena, there’s no money to re-sign them.”

That’s true!

I don’t have a rebuttal to that.

Have a good day.

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 14 – The Cursed Amulet

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In Episode 14 of Fifth Liners: The Podcast Whose Name or Hosts are Never the Same, Luke and James do a lot of swears, talk about various trades, compare Matt Duchene to an unlucky talisman, get acquainted with a few of the newest Senators prospects, bid a fond medium farewell to Guy Boucher, and try their hand at numerology by breaking down the Belleville Senators jersey numbers.

Breaking the Cycle: Public Ownership of Pro Sports Franchises

I learned something on Twitter the other day. Once the shock of having engaged in a meaningful interaction on that social media platform wore off, the substance of what I’d learned began to sink in: the Green Bay Packers are a publicly-owned nonprofit corporation.

This was of immediate interest to me. Anybody unfortunate enough to have followed me on this site and on Twitter (@thisthreetime: come join the pointlessness) will know that my particular bugaboo is the NHL’s reliance on whacky billionaires to own and manage their franchises. While it’s true that most of these billionaires are just fine, and that the NHL is hardly unique in this reliance, the business model does have a tendency to occasionally blow up in the league’s face. Tying a team’s fortunes to an individual’s wealth is how you get Charles Wang meddling in hockey operations, Oren Koules running the Lightning into the ground after the real estate market collapsed, and Eugene Melnyk challenging old-school whack-a-doos like Harold Ballard and Bill Wirtz to rule their Mr. Monopoly fiefdom with the most iron-y of fists.

My uneducated speculation in this area has led me to valorize the idea of the consortia of local business interests, like those that exist in Winnipeg and Nashville. In these arrangements, the risk is spread out among more investors so if, say, your pharmaceutical magnate runs into liquidity trouble as a result of a worldwide contraction in the pharmaceutical market, it doesn’t affect your nice little hockey club.

But then a nice person on Twitter told me about the Green Bay Packers. Here, from the esteemed Wikipedia.org:

The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise in the NFL.[1] Rather than being the property of an individual, partnership, or corporate entity, they are held as of 2016 by 360,760 stockholders. No one is allowed to hold more than 200,000 shares,[2] which represents approximately four percent of the 5,011,558 shares currently outstanding.[3] It is this broad-based community support and non-profit structure[4] which has kept the team in Green Bay for nearly a century in spite of being the smallest market in all of North American professional sports.

Green Bay is the only team with this public form of ownership structure in the NFL, grandfathered when the NFL’s current ownership policy stipulating a maximum of 32 owners per team, with one holding a minimum 30% stake, was established in the 1980s.[5] As a publicly-held nonprofit, the Packers are also the only American major-league sports franchise to release its financial balance sheet every year.

What obviously interests me about this structure is that it takes the idea of making risk more diffuse among a few local interests and turns it up to eleven. The risk would be spread out between everyone and anyone who owns shares, with the consolidation of shares limited by the shareholder agreement. Locals would be incentivized to support the team by buying tickets because they, or people they know, would feel a literal degree of ownership of the team. If the team runs into liquidity problems, it could also issue more shares and spread the risk out even further.

What would this look like, in practice? Would we have hundreds of thousands of people debating the merits of trading for Gary Roberts? Not really.

Again, from Wikipedia:

Shareholder rights

Even though it is referred to as “common stock” in corporate offering documents, a share of Packers stock does not share the same rights traditionally associated with common or preferred stock. It does not include an equity interest, does not pay dividends, cannot be traded, and has no protection under securities law. It also confers no season-ticket purchasing privileges. Shareholders receive nothing more than voting rights, an invitation to the corporation’s annual meeting, and an opportunity to purchase exclusive shareholder-only merchandise.[4]

Shares cannot be resold, except back to the team for a fraction of the original price. While new shares can be given as gifts, transfers are technically allowed only between immediate family members once ownership has been established.[3]

In other words, being a shareholder first and foremost empowers one to contribute to the sustainability of one’s team and mitigates risk. It essentially takes the concept of season ticket holders and makes it more affordable and guarantees some voice. There’s nothing requiring Melnyk to hold season ticket town hall meetings. Shareholders are entitled to certain rights, however.

This goes to the immediate benefit of such an arrangement: it immediately makes possible a level of transparency and accountability that currently does not exist among the more dictatorial ownership groups. The fact that the team most not only release a balance sheet every year but that shareholders can attend an annual general meeting at which general governance is voted upon reduces the likelihood of, say, the general manager announcing one day that he’ll make a decision on the coach at the end of the season and then firing the coach the next day. It’s not that he’ll need to bring that sort of decision to a vote, but if he acts in that manner he must answer to the shareholders during the AGM as opposed to only answering to his whacky billionaire boss (who may or may not have ordered the firing in the first place). Shareholders would not be involved in the day-to-day of the draft, trades, or getting a hockey team on the road, but could ask for justification of strategy and, should there be enough votes, vote to approve broad changes in management.

Secondly, this structure would act to reinvest the profits into the community. While shareholders would not receive dividends (which could incentivize shareholders to reduce costs as much as possible to maximize returns), as a nonprofit the corporation must carry a limited surplus. Any excess profits could be reinvested in the teams’ infrastructure or in the community via the corporation’s foundation after, say, adhering to an agreement to spend within a certain percentage of the cap or privileging re-signing one’s drafted players.

Finally, the idea of a publicly-held entity may incentivize government to help with the construction of an arena. As opposed to the ephemeral notion of economic growth as the spillover result of arena construction (something that’s been pretty thoroughly debunked at this point), the city, province or feds may be more amenable to contributing revenue knowing that the economic benefits of team ownership will not be conferred first to a whacky billionaire who winters (and probably does his taxes in) the Bahamas but instead to constituents. I don’t know if the math works out, and it’s probably always a safer bet to invest in public transportation, schools, and housing, but at least the ephemeral promise of growth is guaranteed to confer more directly than it would if it traveled first through the bank account of a pharmaceutical magnate.

How likely would any of this be? Oh lord, not at all:

Any new purchase of an NHL team must be approved by the league’s Board of Governors, which is comprised of some of the more established owners in the league. The board not only establishes the rules of membership in the NHL ownership fraternity, but decides what, if any, help the league may offer franchisees in negotiating arena leases or other related legal matters. Balsillie’s bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy in 2007 was essentially sunk when members of the board, such as Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, painted Balsillie as deceitful and uncooperative.

The NHL’s current ownership rules exist to make possible the long-term economic benefit of an elite group of whacky billionaires. It seems unlikely that the same group would vote to allow an innovative ownership structure that cuts them out of the equation rather than, say, simply identifying another whacky billionaire to invite to their club. The only reason Green Bay’s arrangement exists is that it was grandfathered in from a time when unions and collective ownership were considered essential components of our economy as opposed to the tools of despicable socialists.

But in Melnyk, we’re seeing the tragic trade-offs of the league’s current reliance on cartoon villains with formerly deep pockets. We may romanticize whoever comes along and saves Ottawa from this endless cycle of misery – as we once did with Melnyk – but by then the damage will have been done to the brand, to the community, and to the sustainability of hockey in Ottawa. I can’t imagine anybody at NHL head office is arguing that what’s happening at the moment is ideal.

What Are We Even Doing Here?


Something I have been pondering over the last few days is the idea of identity. Is identity something you are, or something you do? Is identity wrapped up in inherent signifiers and commonalities, or is it based around an quality that can be attained or lost? If I call myself a writer, does that mean I have to sit in coffee shops, wear a jacket, and go on retreats to the mountains with a typewriter, or is it enough to simply write something, anything? Is it more important to be in a state of being or a state of doing?

I ask myself these questions, because if identity is a state of doing, derived from action, I’m not sure the Ottawa Senators are a hockey team any more.

The external signifiers are still there, little things they share with other professional hockey teams. There is a coach, and there are players, and they play games sanctioned by a league, and they have scouts prospects, and they play in a rink. Sometimes fans are there.

But insofar as being a hockey team requires active participation, insofar as being a professional hockey team means attracting or retaining top talent in an effort to win games both now and in the future, that is not something the Ottawa Senators can do at this point. We are all aware of this change. Comrade Varada pointed it out earlier this week: this is different.

Sens brass has been selling the last hellish 7 months as a rebuild, and there are certainly some rebuild-like elements of the past few days. When Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel were traded for draft picks, we (or at least I) accepted these events with relative equanimity. Duchene’s days in a Senators uniform were always numbered after the team drove itself off a cliff last December. Ryan Dzingel, while a fine goal scorer and a surprise talent from the 7th round of the draft, is the sort of player who you want to be your 6th best forward and was somewhat useless on the current iteration of the Senators as he put up 20 goal seasons that were mostly empty calories. (Dzingel is also notable for being a rare case of the Senators selling high on an asset.) The returns on both players were good picks and prospects. These types of trades have been done a hundred times before, and will be done a hundred times again until some Harvard Business School graduate invents a way to deviate from the traditional boom and bust cycle every sports team eventually goes through in a hard salary cap league. Mark Stone should have been treated differently because Mark Stone is a different type of player.

Back in December, I outlined my belief that Mark Stone was a player whose abilities to tilt the ice were unprecedented in team history. My feelings on this have only become stronger with time. Mark Stone is in a class of truly elite players with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby in terms of his two-way ability. In terms of wingers, he probably stands alone in this regard. There is no stat available that does not bear this out. This season alone, Stone has put up 62 points in 59 games on the back of 19.4% shooting, which is only slightly up from his career average of 16.2%. He has scored 17 of his points on the powerplay, and is a remarkable +13 on a Senators team that has a goal differential of -41. He draws a remarkable number of penalties, while rarely taking them, and trails only Connor McDavid in number of takeaways over the past 3 seasons. There is no phase of the game in which Mark Stone does not excel. Additionally, at the age of 26, he is in the prime of his career and is likely to maintain this elite level for at least the next four seasons, if not longer. Furthermore, Stone assumed the mantle of leadership from Erik Karlsson with aplomb, even going so far as to have rookie Brady Tkachuk move in with him this season leading Brady’s father Keith to describe him as “instrumental to Brady’s development“. Stone has never found himself on the outs with the coaching staff for any reason. He has, by all accounts, an unimpeachable drive and work ethic, and if culture was hypothetically a thing that was suddenly very important to you for some reason, Mark Stone would be an invaluable contributor to a positive one.

In summary (and I’m going to put this next part in all-caps just to get the point across):


Even if you’re doing a rebuild, you don’t trade Mark Stone because the chances you ever find another player as good as Mark Stone are incredibly remote1. I think deep down inside, Pierre Dorion and the rest of the Sens brass know this. It’s why they desperately tried to convince Stone to stay. However, the (alleged) precarious state of Eugene Melnyk’s finances reared its hideous head once more and the owner’s refusal or inability to burnish Stone’s next contract with the signing bonuses that have become de rigueur among superstar contracts proved insurmountable.

Maybe I’m being overdramatic, and there are other teams that would also refuse to cut a Top 15 player in the league a multi-million dollar cheque each July 1st for the next 8 years. I doubt it. Certainly the Vegas Golden Knights are having no problem with it. Indeed, they seemed rather eager to merely be given the opportunity to do so. Distributing a large portion of a player’s salary at the beginning of July is now the cost of doing business in the NHL; it’s something NHL teams do, and if you can’t or won’t do it, can you really call yourself an NHL team? I think at that point you’re just a conglomeration of personnel attached to a brand which is slowly accruing value on some vaguely defined notion of a market, rather than a team, which would be an organization that’s making a good faith effort to win a championship in a well-defined timeline. This is reality for the Senators now. Until the organization signs multiple homegrown superstars to market contracts, it will always be an open question as to whether they are capable of doing so, and therefore an open question as to whether they are worthy of being thought of as anything other than some assets on a balance sheet.

Now we enter a liminal state of fandom. There will be little worth watching at the NHL level for the foreseeable future. The Belleville Senators, to their credit, have come on strong in the second half of the season and are now fighting for a playoff spot. Their ranks will be bolstered by some of the trade acquisitions from the past few days. Maybe they will put a little playoff run together. Hell, maybe I’ll go crazy and start getting attached to Drake Batherson and Vitaly Abramov. Maybe I’ll put my hope in the unknown future. I have no idea. But if I do, there will always be that niggling question in the back of my mind: What if they eventually want a signing bonus?

1. For what it’s worth, neutral third parties have reached out to me to say they think the return on the Stone trade was perfectly acceptable, given the circumstances, and that the centrepiece, Erik Brannstrom, looks like a potential superstar. I may come to love Brannstrom with time, in much the same way one may eventually develop feelings for someone they met through Ashley Madison, but for now I maintain that I would rather have actual superstar Mark Stone due to the famous Bird-Hand-Bush Theorem proved by Euler in the 1700s.

This Time It’s Different


I’ve noticed a tendency to think of this round of Ottawa Senators trades as the latest chapter in a coherent, linear narrative: Ottawa trades or allows to walk some of their best players because the owner doesn’t have the money to pay them. I have to disagree, somewhat, that this is only the latest in a constant theme. I offer, instead, that what’s happening right now is much worse. What’s happening right now is the final emptying out of the idea of the Ottawa Senators as a shared experience, a local narrative, and a hub around which Ottawans build community.

During the 2010-2011 season, which resulted in the Ottawa Senators finishing fourth last in the league, the feeling was that the time was right for a rebuild. The team had older veterans who might garner picks and prospects – Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Alex Kovalev, Chris Neil, Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Kelly, and Zack Smith. In the end, only Fisher, Kovalev and Kelly would be traded for futures. Goaltender Brian Elliott would be traded for an older goaltender, Craig Anderson, who was extended. The team elected to keep several key veterans in the fold, either because no deals came along to their liking or out of fear of losing long-time Ottawa players.

In other words, the team was loyal to a fault and maintained a higher payroll thinking they might soon return to contention.

When Daniel Alfredsson walked to the Detroit Red Wings before the 2013-2014 season, it was viewed as an inability or unwillingness to pay a franchise player who’d taken team-friendly deals (and been screwed by salary rollbacks during CBA negotiations, to boot). But on the same day, GM Bryan Murray traded for Bobby Ryan, a younger, scoring winger (theoretically; this was before his hands turned to dust) who would soon require a big-money contract. The fans felt anxiety, at the time, that Ottawa would not pay up. Instead, the team signed Ryan to a massive seven-year, $50.75 million deal.

When Jason Spezza was dealt in 2014 it came in response to a request for a trade and with the veteran on an expiring deal. He was extended by Dallas, an extension that has not looked great for the Stars who now pay him north of $7 million to play select minutes.

Ottawa made decisions that would not turn out particularly well in some cases and would alienate long-time fans with affection for their homegrown talent, but at least these decision existed in the world of logic: if your team is not contending with your current roster, you sell off your older players for futures in the hope that a future iteration will contend. Ottawa might have turned off a few because of bad decisions, but they maintained the narrative on which hockey relies: the team, and as an extension, its community, are always building toward the future.

What is happening to the Ottawa Senators right now is different, for the simple reason that teams that are lucky enough to draft good players, and lucky enough to develop them into good players, and lucky enough to still have them on their roster in their prime do not typically trade those players unless it’s for other players with the same or higher potential. For Ottawa to trade Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel – all players who are still young and could contribute to a rebuild – is a perversion of the natural cycle of team development. It is mortgaging the future on which sports mythology rests.

You amass futures and develop them so that you can compete when your window opens. You don’t amass futures and develop them so that you can sell them off for more futures prematurely. If you do the latter, it alienates your fans even worse than losing a player we feel nostalgic about because it dilutes the very premise of the sport, the underlying narrative that informs our long-term loyalty to the game. If the team is not building to anything in particular, then why should we spend any time on it? If the heroes of a particular narrative are not in pursuit of some commonly-understood objective, then why should we see that narrative through to the end?

The current state of the Ottawa Senators is not unpredictable; we’ve seen this throughout the world of sports. This is a natural byproduct of any business model that relies on sole ownership by people whose wealth is concentrated in markets that can, occasionally, bottom out. If and when Melnyk sells the Ottawa Senators, if it’s to another sole owner or small group and if their wealth is derived from a single source – real estate, pharmaceuticals, a traveling circus, whatever – we are at risk of returning to this endless cycle of building to nowhere.

The fault for this lies in part with the NHL. As I’ve written before on this site and on Twitter, until the league starts focusing on building up consortia of local business interests that make risk more diffuse among partners, we’ll always be at risk of a billionaire owner becoming less than a billionaire or, at the very least, going senile and interfering with management decisions.

I, more than some, have been able to ‘gotta-hear-both-sides’ many of the decisions made by the Ottawa Senators management over the years. While I might disagree with a particular trade or signing, I have, in most cases, been able to understand the assumptions that were made that led to it. This time, it’s different: the financial status of the owner has interfered with the natural cycle of sports narrative to disrupt our shared sense of purpose.

As a result, this is the lowest moment in the history of the Ottawa Senators, including those early expansion years. This is the moment those leading the team acknowledged that the Ottawa Senators as an idea, as a hero in their own story, as a community, are meaningless.

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 13


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This episode features special guest Poppy Fitzgerald of the amazing and indispensable This Amelnykan Life podcast. In addition to a discussion about their work (seriously, just fuggin subscribe) we talk about Gritty and Spartacat both being Libras, Melnyk’s bizarre statements about spending to the cap, the impending doom of Stone and Duchene at the trade deadline, and something about an Australian reality TV show that I refuse to Google to learn more about.