SIGN TIMES OF THE

Sens in crunch to sign — or deal — Dzin­gel, Duch­ene and Stone, but sta­bil­ity, man­age­ment could tip scales PAGE 30

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - KEN WAR­REN kwar­[email protected]­media.com @Ci­ti­zenkwar­ren

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

Sens’ Matt Duch­ene could se­cure be­tween $60 mil­lion and $70 mil­lion on an eightyear term, re­gard­less of where he signs.

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