With only eight days remaining until their season-opener at the Canadian Tire Centre, there are more questions than answers surrounding the Ottawa Senators forward core; first and foremost is the status or lack thereof of restricted free agent forward Brady Tkachuk.
There’ve been reports of the club offering the 22-year old anywhere from eight years with an average annual value of $8 million to as high as $8.4M.
There were additional reports Tuesday of the Tkachuk camp posturing, wanting to sign a three-year bridge deal versus a viable long-term contract, of which the Senators are locked into offering.
From an immediate team perspective, not having the St. Louis resident in camp is forcing head coach D.J. Smith to mix and match, tweak his lines until he finds some chemistry he likes.
Smith said post-practice, “I’ve got to start preparing like he’s not going to be here.”
This is something Senators’ fans don’t want to hear with regular season games soon around the corner, but it’s a harsh reality at this juncture.
Tkachuk is the straw that stirs the Senators’ drink. He’s their penultimate team leader. Though it’s only preseason, there’s a certain aura around the club that’s missing.
This being said, Alex Formenton performed well slotting in the first-line left wing spot usually reserved for Tkachuk last Friday. Formenton netted two goals while adding an assist in the team’s 7-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Judging from recent practice lines, Tim Stützle will also get a test run alongside Josh Norris and Drake Batherson when the club visits the Bell Centre Thursday.
Tuesday practice lines:
Injuries-Bishop, White, Kelly, Crookshank.
Paul Pinto CBrown
Formenton Tierney Ennis
Sanford Agozzino Watson
Stützle Norris Batherson
Shaw XXXX Sabourin
Del Zotto Zaitsev
— TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) October 5, 2021
Compounding the issue even more is the potentially devastating shoulder injury to centre Colin White. White and Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Kampf collided just inside the Senators’ blue line less than five minutes into their game Monday.
A hunched over White, left the game in considerable pain, clutching his right arm. During postgame, Smith indicated the 24-year old would definitely miss “some time.” The Senators’ bench boss re-iterated this Tuesday, adding the club will receive results of White’s MRI in the next day or two, but he’ll miss “a significant amount of time.”
It’s unfortunate for White as he entered training camp in arguably the best condition he’s been in since being drafted 21st overall in 2015 – a cliché often used, but entirely true in his case.
Wrestling: WWE Draft 2021: Grading the Raw Roster
During the offseason, White worked on his pliability with renowned sports scientist Ian Mack who lists Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews as his clients. The Boston area native also trained under skating instructor Adam Nicholas of Stride Envy and Brian McDonough, a hockey skills guru.
So what does this do to the Senators’ lineup? One bonus is the versatility of Nick Paul. Paul has proven he can play multiple forward positions on any line, in any situation. Veteran Chris Tierney is still around. And former Anaheim Duck Andrew Agozzino signed to a two-way contract during the free agency period, will get an extended look over the final two preseason tilts.
Smith told Full Press Hockey, “He’s (Agozzino) is in a situation now with “Whitey” hurt to drop in. That’s why you keep pushing to do everything you can to get a chance. Obviously, he’ll get an opportunity to play Thursday. And he’ll get a chance to prove that he belongs.”
Unfortunately another centre, Clark Bishop is also out for an undetermined period with an ankle sprain.
As for the Tkachuk situation at hand, the two sides appear to be holding firm on their stances, at least within terms of the contract. The Senators worry is a three-year deal may lead to arbitration. Whereby a one-year arbitration settlement ultimately gets Tkachuk to free agency. The club has no appetite for this – nor should they.
The bottom line is: the clock is ticking on Tkachuk getting signed prior to opening puck drop of the Senators’ 2021-22 campaign on October 14.