Ottawa Senators training camp opened Wednesday with players performing fitness testing and receiving medicals. General manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith met assembled media face-to-face for the first time at the Canadian Tire Centre since March 2020.
There are reasons for optimism this season, especially if the club piggyback off their 10-2-1 finish to the 2021 campaign when the regular season opens October 14 versus the Maple Leafs.
Competition will be fierce for top-six forward duty. Second-line spots are up for grabs. The team also legitimately has nine defenseman fighting for seven-eight jobs, depending how many the Senators choose to keep on their roster.
But the main focus of the presser was on who wasn’t at camp – Brady Tkachuk remains unsigned and won’t attend camp until he put his signature to paper. Tkachuk is currently skating in Plymouth, Michigan at the US National Development site along with another pair of restricted free agents, Canucks Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
Dorion and Smith were each confident Tkachuk would join the team sooner than later.
TSN Insider Darren Dreger reported the two sides continued to work on the “structure” and “protection” of the contract. One has to wonder if the 22-year inks a similar bridge deal to that of Sabres Rasmus Dahlin. The 2018 first overall Draft selection inked a three-year contract containing an average annual value of $6 million Wednesday morning.
Dorion used his tag line, “We don’t negotiate through the media” several times during his availability, but also added, “I’ve been through a lot of these negotiations, they’re moving forward – discussed every day. We know Brady will be signed. I don’t think it’s for us to say anything other than what we’re saying right now.”
The Senators GM when prompted, re-iterated ongoing talks are “positive and productive,” and that he only speaks to Tkachuk’s agent Craig Oster and Newport head honcho Don Meehan.
“Nick Paul is going to start there tomorrow (Thursday),” said the team’s bench boss. “I have full confidence Brady is going to be here at some point. Nick Paul can play anywhere from first line left wing to fourth line left wing to right wing to first-line centre. It’s not going to affect his game. Wherever I put Nick, it’s never going to affect him. He can always go back to wherever he’s playing.”
GM Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith. pic.twitter.com/C4KerZ0ZLv
— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) September 22, 2021
Another player who won’t be at camp or on the ice for the next four to six months is prospect Angus Crookshank. Slated to be a key forward for Belleville, Crookshank is believed to have suffered an ACL and MCL injury after falling to the ice awkwardly from a hit by Montreal Canadiens Arber Xhekaj in the club’s rookie tilt Monday in Brossard. Crookshank will get a more exact prognosis Friday when it’s hoped the swelling in his left knee goes down.
D-man Josh Brown missed the first day of camp due to illness.
Dorion announced Senators coaches, players and staff were 100 percent fully vaccinated including those with their AHL affiliate.
Brown tested negative for Covid and will likely test one more time prior to joining his teammates.
When players hit the ice Thursday morning the focus will be on internal competition.
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Chris Tierney will get the first look on the second line at centre. Tierney who was injured prior to the start of last season, never really got it going. Heading the final year of his contract, the 27-year old certainly has something to prove.
“Chris Tierney right now will start training camp in that spot,” Smith announced. “The best players are going to play. The player that can help us win the most is going to play there. If you call Nick Paul essentially a left winger, and that’s what he really is – any given night he could be the best player and they can be the best line. Ultimately, it’s whomever gives us the best chance of winning. Chris has the most experience, obviously of the group. He’s had an injury-free summer. He was injured in the summer before, so he was able to train. He’s come in, in much better shape. We’ll see how he looks. We know “Whitey” (Colin White) finished really well in the second half last year and he’ll get looks. We don’t want to put too much on Shane Pinto‘s plate. He played 12 games at the end of the year. Coming back in your second year, training camp and exhibition games will dictate if hw belongs at the National Hockey League level. We’ve got other players, Logan Brown who you know, now has an opportunity to prove he’s a NHL player. It’s fair to say the position is wide open. The best player will get that job.”
One player who needs to bounce back for the team to have any modicum of success is goalie Matt Murray. The netminder displayed promising signs during the latter part of the campaign where he finished with an 8-5-0 mark down the stretch – posting a 1.37 goals-against average, .954 save percentage in his final five appearances under new Senators goalie coach Zac Bierk.
Dorion explained, “Matt put the work in this summer. I think he put on about 10 pounds of good strength, really worked hard on his conditioning, his technique. We have a lot of faith in Matt Murray this year.”
Smith also chimed in, the second-year Senator is in a really good “headspace” and has had regular meetings with Zac Bierk.
So as the Senators enter their 29th season on the ice, yes there are plenty of reasons for optimism. However, first and foremost the team must get Brady Tkachuk under contract.