SIGN TIMES OF THE
Sens in crunch to sign — or deal — Dzingel, Duchene and Stone, but stability, management could tip scales PAGE 30
Ottawa Senators star centre Matt Duchene played coy earlier this week when asked about his long-term future with the organization.
“I’ve said before, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Duchene, who, like fellow veteran Senators Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel, is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season. “I haven’t heard anything — or much of anything — so far, but it’s obviously a great situation if it works out. I’ve said that all the way along. The message is the same.”
It’s believed that Pat Brisson, Duchene’s agent, has held talks with Senators general manager Pierre Dorion in recent weeks, geared towards the possibility of a long-term extension. Duchene, who suffered an undisclosed injury during Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, was one of the NHL’s highest scoring players during November and currently ranks 10th in league scoring, with 12 goals and 22 assists. Whether he remains in Ottawa or not, he would likely secure in the neighbourhood of $60 million to $70 million on an eight-year extension, the maximum term allowed.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement between teams and players, the Senators can’t officially negotiate with Stone and Dzingel until Jan. 1. However, Newport Sports Management, which represents Stone and Dzingel, did meet with the players informally in Ottawa earlier this week.
Like Duchene, Stone and Dzingel have had strong starts to the season, serving as leaders on the young squad. Stone, one of most complete players in the league, has 14 goals and 18 assists. Dzingel has 11 goals and nine assists.
While the emergence of many of the young prospects through the first two months of the season has been impressive, the assorted growing pains of youth have led to a series of highs and lows along the way.
After losing twice to the Canadiens this week, the Senators have slipped to last spot in the tight Atlantic Division race with a record of 12-14-3, 14th among 16 teams in the Eastern Conference. The Senators also face a tough weekend, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins playing at Canadian Tire on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The Senators’ ability and/ or willingness to support the youngsters with standout veterans has been an NHL talking point since the trade of former captain Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks during training camp.
Central to all of the above is the uncertainty of Eugene Melnyk’s ownership of the franchise. The black cloud hanging over the future of the Lebreton Flats arena project — including Melnyk’s $700-million lawsuit against RendezVous Lebreton partner John Ruddy — means that players throughout the league are uncertain about what comes next.
If given a choice, it’s only human nature to choose the known over the unknown.
“The central issues players look towards in making free agency decisions focuses on the stability of ownership and management,” said a player agent, requesting anonymity. “In the case of Ottawa, based on the unbalanced and volatile nature of ownership, the club would need to dramatically outbid other teams in free agency to have a chance at attracting elite players on the market.”
At the NHL board of governors meetings this week, commissioner Gary Bettman said he was “disappointed” with the latest twist on the LeBreton Flats project.
“For a whole host of reasons, it would be nice (to have a downtown arena),” Bettman said. “But Mr. Melnyk has said if he has to make Canadian Tire Centre work, he can do that.”
The potential for winning, of course, also weighs into the equation on whether players want to wear a Senators uniform.
A team with a limited payroll — the Senators currently rank 24th of 31 NHL teams with a salary cap hit of $71.89 million, including the contracts of the inactive Clarke MacArthur and Marian Gaborik — faces longer odds of competing with the NHL’s biggest spenders.
In Toronto, for instance, the biggest off-ice question is about how, and not if, the Maple Leafs can secure pending restricted free-agent stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to lucrative extensions under what is expected to be an $83-million salary cap for the 2019-20 season.
But here in Ottawa, there remains doubt about what’s next for the biggest forward stars.
Is a Duchene extension linked to the potential of Stone and Dzingel re-signing with the Senators?
If any one of them doesn’t sign before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, the Senators will seriously consider the trade option, in order to receive prospects and/or draft picks, rather than seeing the player(s) skate away into free agency in the summer.
Any of the three could provide an intriguing boost for teams hoping for an extended run towards the Stanley Cup, but at some point the Senators need to win back lost fans by keeping their elite veterans.
Sens’ Matt Duchene could secure between $60 million and $70 million on an eightyear term, regardless of where he signs.