Among NHL teams facing adversity, the Senators’ situation isn’t that bad: Duhatschek notebook

Now that we’ve taken a moment to catch our breath, let’s examine the Ottawa Senators and their current situation, which has been quite tumultuous. But before we dive in, let’s acknowledge that in today’s fast-paced world, these events may soon fade into the background. Nevertheless, as an organization, the Senators must put the negative aspects behind them and focus on a brighter future.

My colleague Sean Gentile has already discussed the sanctions imposed on the Senators by the league, highlighting the NHL’s tendency to mishandle and misconstrue messages. But now, let’s delve deeper into the challenges that interim general manager Steve Staios has had to face.

Despite what some may think, the situation isn’t as dire as it seems for Sens Nation. For instance, Shane Pinto’s 41-game suspension for a gambling offense that no one wants to talk about will come to an end in January. After that, he can sign with the team and have ample time to get his NHL career back on track. It’s a temporary setback with a potential upside. Additionally, due to salary-cap constraints, the Senators couldn’t have extended Pinto’s contract anyway.

On the other hand, Josh Norris returned earlier than expected and immediately made a positive impact. Alongside Tim Stützle, they form a formidable center duo for the team. And when Pinto returns, their center position will only get stronger. Pinto will undoubtedly be motivated to bounce back from this incident and reestablish his career trajectory. So, while it’s a short-term issue, it has the potential to be rectified in due course with minimal long-term consequences.

As for the loss of a first-round draft pick due to a contractual transgression, owner Michael Andlauer acknowledges the severity of the situation. However, it’s worth considering that the penalty can be delayed for a significant period of time. According to the NHL ruling on the mishandled Evgenii Dadonov trade, the Senators will lose one of their next three first-round picks, which will most likely be moved to 2026. By then, if the team continues to improve and climb up the standings, the pick will likely be towards the end of the first round. History has shown that players drafted late in the first round often don’t have significant NHL careers. Therefore, the long-term impact of this penalty may not be as detrimental as it initially appears.

Now, let’s address the speculation surrounding the recent firing of Senators GM Pierre Dorion and its connection to the problematic Dadonov trade. It’s important to note that Dorion’s departure was inevitable, as Andlauer would naturally want to stamp his authority and establish his own vision for the organization after spending $950 million to acquire the team. There is an existing trust between Andlauer and Staios, which is essential for a harmonious working relationship. Many successful NHL organizations have owners who appoint a capable management team and then allow them to make decisions without interference. However, for this to be effective, the owner must have implicit faith in the team’s ability to run the organization professionally. Andlauer likely lost confidence in Dorion’s capability to do so, and the recent ruling simply accelerated what was already in motion.

Dorion’s tenure as GM had its ups and downs, but he left the team in a favorable position overall. The Senators have a promising young core of talent, most of whom have committed to the organization for the long term. This achievement cannot be understated. It’s one thing to draft and develop young players correctly, but it’s another to persuade them to commit to the team’s future. While Dorion couldn’t secure Alex DeBrincat’s long-term commitment, he succeeded in convincing players like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, Stützle, Norris, and Batherson to sign long-term deals. If the Senators ever go on to win the Stanley Cup with this group of players, it will be a testament to Dorion’s efforts.

It’s important to remember that the Senators aren’t starting from scratch. They have already made significant progress and appear to be on an upward trajectory. Over the next four seasons, the only challenging contract they’ll need to address is that of Jakob Chychrun, whose deal expires in 2025.

Lastly, let’s touch on NHL communication strategies. While the league often recognizes its three stars of the week, the real standout during this period was Michael Andlauer. He handled press briefings candidly and thoughtfully, which is rare among NHL owners and executives. Commissioner Gary Bettman’s apparent lack of communication with Andlauer may be due to a desire to let the issue fade into the background before addressing it. The NHL prefers to keep its dirty laundry out of the public eye, relying on a communication strategy reminiscent of the TV sitcom “Get Smart,” where secrecy is paramount but often compromised.

Now, moving on to brighter news, let’s talk about the remarkable performances of the Hughes brothers, Jack and Quinn, in New Jersey and Vancouver, respectively. Both players have had incredible starts to the season, with Jack leading the NHL in points. Meanwhile, Quinn is leading all defensemen in scoring. This achievement is historically significant, as it marks the first time that brothers have led the league in points and scoring by a defenseman at the 156-game mark. The closest example occurred back in 1933-34, when Charlie and Lionel Conacher achieved similar feats.

In conclusion, while the Senators have experienced some difficulties and organizational changes, they still have a promising future ahead. By focusing on their young talent and making astute decisions, they can continue their upward trajectory. Meanwhile, the Hughes brothers are making history in New Jersey and Vancouver, demonstrating the exceptional talent they possess.


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