The Ottawa Senators have been a train wreck for the past 18 months. Everything that possibly could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and now facing the decision to trade away the team’s best two (or perhaps three) forwards, things still aren’t looking up. That is, for many of the fans at least. Ownership, meaning Eugene Melnyk in particular, now see this season as a strong building block to a future window of success. Melnyk’s comments last night to a group of corporate sponsors and partners explain exactly how he sees the future for the Senators (via Ian Mendes of TSN):
The Senators will be all-in again for a five-year run of unparalleled success–where the team will plan to spend close to the NHL’s salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025. He reiterated that the Senators’ current rebuild is a blueprint on how to bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa.
According to CapFriendly the Senators are currently spending 91.2% of the NHL’s salary cap, putting them 24th in the league. More notably though is the lack of funding for the management, development and scouting departments, all which are some of the smallest in the league. Those expenses are not publicly available, but have been reported on thoroughly over the years. Melnyk himself has admitted to running the Senators on a tight budget, even suggesting before the team’s outdoor game in 2017 that the player salaries were the last place they could take any money from.
Pointing to a timeline several years out has obvious problems. For one, the development of young players like Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Alex Formenton while impressive so far, could easily stall or even reverse. Second, at this point there seems to be no clear decision on whether Matt Duchene and Mark Stone will be signing long-term. Third, and probably the one that fans will latch onto the most, is that the Senators still owe their first round pick this season to the Colorado Avalanche despite it being very high and potentially the first-overall selection. No team can guarantee success in two years, and saying that the team will spend close to the salary cap certainly does not mean they will experience it.
In fact, when looking at Pierre Dorion’s history as a general manager it seems unlikely for the Senators to even be spending very heavily at all. In the some 33 months that Dorion has been in charge, the Senators have handed out just three contracts that even totaled more than $10MM and one of those is a bonus-laden entry-level deal for Tkachuk. Mike Hoffman’s four-year, $20.75MM contract paces the list, but thanks to its back-loaded nature the Florida Panthers will be paying for more than half of it in the two years he plays there.
A Duchene or Stone extension could change all that, and signal that the ownership and front office is willing to invest in this team. But even after their strong performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night (albeit in an eventual loss) the club has still lost five straight games and remains in last place in the entire league. Starting a rebuild is fine, guaranteeing “unparalleled success” may be a little premature.