- Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch suggests that the winner of the sale process for the Senators is now likely to be revealed next week since it wasn’t determined prior to the start of the Memorial Day long weekend. At the moment, none of the four groups have been told that they’re out although the Neko Sparks-led group is still trying to secure financing, a sign that their bid is on the lower end. When the bids were submitted earlier this month, Steve Apostolopoulos is believed to have offered the most money at $1BB.
Ottawa Senators Sign Nikolas Matinpalo To ELC
The Ottawa Senators have made a free-agent addition to their defensive lineup, announcing the signing of Finnish defenseman Nikolas Matinpalo to a one-year, entry-level contract. Per PuckPedia, Matinpalo’s deal carries a $855,000 cap hit which includes $800,000 base salary and an $85,000 signing bonus. He’ll earn a salary of $80,000 while in the minors.
During the 2022-23 season, Matinpalo recorded 16 points, including seven goals and nine assists, in 51 regular-season games with Ässät of the Finnish Liiga. Those were all career-highs for Matinpalo, 24, as he’s emerged as a highly-valued shutdown defender in Finnish circles.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion expressed his enthusiasm for the acquisition in a statement:
Nikolas’ signing represents a good depth addition for us on defense. He took a big step this past season in improving his overall game in a short period of time. He has size, reach, and an active stick. He’s also a very good puck mover who competes and plays with urgency, which has helped him become a reliable defender.
Born in Espoo, Finland, Matinpalo entered the international stage this year, representing his country for the first time at the 2023 IIHF Men’s World Championship. In seven games played thus far, he has recorded three points, including one goal and two assists, helping Finland advance to the quarterfinals.
Matinpalo is the second undrafted free agent signing out of Europe for the Senators this offseason. The team signed 26-year-old Czech forward Jiří Smejkal earlier this month.
A right-shot defender, Matinpalo will be competing with younger names like Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson to crack Ottawa’s roster next year. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound defender certainly has a size advantage over both of them, but it remains to be seen whether Matinpalo can be proficient enough offensively to avoid becoming a liability at the NHL level.
Neko Sparks Group Recruiting Additional Investors
- Bruce Garrioch of Postmedia is reporting that there has been a lot of moving parts in the Neko Sparks bid for ownership of the Ottawa Senators. Garrioch speculates that the group could be facing an imminent deadline as they have recently brought in more investors and have apparently been pushing hard the past 48 hours to find more investors to get involved. The group has brought on Canadians Arlene Dickerson and Robert Herjavec who are both wealthy investors as well as television personalities on the hit Canadian television series Dragon’s Den.
Ryan Reynolds Pulls Out Of Sale Process
Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch is reporting this morning that actor Ryan Reynolds has officially pulled himself out of the running to own a stake in the Ottawa Senators, per sources. Reynolds, who had aligned himself with Canadian developer Chris Bratty and the Remington Group, intended not to join other bids at the beginning of the sale process and has held true to his initial position, despite offers from groups still in the running to join their bids.
List Of NHL Prospects Attending 2023 Memorial Cup
After the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and the QMJHL’s Québec Remparts took home their respective league championships yesterday, the field for the 2023 Memorial Cup is set. They’ll be joined by two WHL teams – the league champion Seattle Thunderbirds and the host team Kamloops Blazers – on their quest to capture the pinnacle of North American junior hockey.
Pitting best against best at the U21 level from across the continent, the tournament also gives NHL-drafted prospects an early taste of high-pressure hockey on a larger stage than regular junior play. If you’re looking to see your favorite team’s prospects have big performances at this tournament, which runs from May 26 to June 4, we’re providing a comprehensive list of NHL-affiliated prospects attending the tournament.
There will be a new champion this year after last year’s winner, the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, lost to the Gatineau Olympiques in five games in their first-round series in the QMJHL playoffs. Chicago and Dallas lead the way with three representatives at the tournament, while nine teams (Boston, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Tampa Bay) don’t have any prospects playing this year.
C Nathan Gaucher (Québec, 2022 22nd overall)
LD Olen Zellweger (Kamloops, 2021 34th overall)
RW Dylan Guenther (Seattle, 2021 9th overall)
LD Jérémy Langlois (Québec, 2022 94th overall)
RD Vsevolod Komarov (Québec, 2022 134th overall)
LW Lucas Ciona (Seattle, 2021 173rd overall)
C Justin Robidas (Québec, 2021 147th overall)
LD Kevin Korchinski (Seattle, 2022 7th overall)
LD Nolan Allan (Seattle, 2021 32nd overall)
C Colton Dach (Seattle, 2021 62nd overall)
Columbus Blue Jackets
LW James Malatesta (Québec, 2021 133rd overall)
C Logan Stankoven (Kamloops, 2021 47th overall)
RD Gavin White (Peterborough, 2022 115th overall)
RW Matthew Seminoff (Kamloops, 2022 179th overall)
Detroit Red Wings
LD Evan Nause (Québec, 2021 56th overall)
Los Angeles Kings
C Caedan Bankier (Kamloops, 2021 86th overall)
RD Kyle Masters (Kamloops, 2021 118th overall)
C Owen Beck (Peterborough, 2022 33rd overall)
C Jared Davidson (Seattle, 2022 130th overall)
LW Reid Schaefer (Seattle, 2022 32nd overall)
RD Luke Prokop (Seattle, 2020 73rd overall)
New Jersey Devils
RW Chase Stillman (Peterborough, 2021 29th overall)
New York Islanders
LW Daylan Kuefler (Kamloops, 2022 174th overall)
New York Rangers
LW Brennan Othmann (Peterborough, 2021 16th overall)
LD Brian Zanetti (Peterborough, 2021 110th overall)
C Jon-Randall Avon (Peterborough, undrafted)
San Jose Sharks
C Tucker Robertson (Peterborough, 2022 123rd overall)
St. Louis Blues
C Zachary Bolduc (Québec, 2021 17th overall)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
C Fraser Minten (Kamloops, 2022 38th overall)
C Connor Lockhart (Peterborough, 2021 178th overall)
Vegas Golden Knights
C Jordan Gustafson (Seattle, 2022 79th overall)
RW Jakub Demek (Kamloops, 2021 128th overall)
C Ryan Hofer (Kamloops, 2022 181st overall)
C Brad Lambert (Seattle, 2022 30th overall)
More Details About Sparks-Led Bid Emerge
- A pair of former NHLers have gotten in on the bidding for the Senators. In an interview with Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch, former Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey indicated that he along with Anson Carter and Grant Fuhr are all part of the bid led by Neko Sparks. A total of four groups put forth a bid for the franchise with Garrioch suggesting that bids led by Canadiens minority owner Michael Andlauer and the Kimels, who once were partners in the Penguins, might be the ones that the NHL has at the top of their preferred list.
Offseason Checklist: Ottawa Senators
The offseason has arrived for all but the four teams that still have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. It’s time to examine what those eliminated squads will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at Ottawa.
Expectations were high for the Senators this season. After acquiring Alex DeBrincat at the draft and signing Claude Giroux in free agency, a developing forward group got a lot more dangerous. They added a capable veteran goalie in Cam Talbot as well. The hope was those moves would help propel them into the playoffs. Instead, the team struggled considerably early on while dealing with some untimely injuries to key players. Even after making another big acquisition at the trade deadline in Jakob Chychrun, they ultimately came up short once again, extending their drought to six straight seasons. While they’re heading in the right direction, Ottawa still has some work to do this summer.
Resolve Ownership Situation
First and foremost, this team needs to get its new owner in place. Binding bids including a deposit were due to be submitted on Monday, bringing the process one step closer to a resolution. From there, the winning bidder, likely following another round of negotiations, has to be approved by the Board of Governors and lock in their financing before the purchase can be finalized.
Why does this matter from an on-ice perspective? It remains to be seen if the new ownership group will want to continue with Pierre Dorion as GM or bring someone else in. That uncertainty then carries over to D.J. Smith and the rest of the coaching staff; would a new owner and possibly new GM want to clean house? The sooner the new owner is in place, the better from an organizational certainty standpoint.
Deal With DeBrincat
When the Senators picked up DeBrincat a year ago, they thought they would be getting a quality top-line scorer. While he didn’t have a poor season, he didn’t exactly live up to expectations either. After picking up 41 goals in his final season with Chicago, that output dipped to 27 in 2022-23 although he set a career-high in assists with 39 to help him finish fourth on the team in scoring. That’s not terrible output by any stretch but it would be fair to suggest that they were expecting more from him.
DeBrincat is set to become a restricted free agent this summer for the final time as he’s one year away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency. He’ll also have salary arbitration eligibility. On top of that, he’s subject to the old qualifying offer rule which is the base salary of the final year of his contract. While his cap hit the last three years was $6.4MM, his salary this season was $9MM. That means the Senators must tender him a $9MM qualifying offer, something that Dorion has already they will do if it comes to that point.
So, will it get to that point? That’s the big question. Does DeBrincat want to do a long-term deal with Ottawa? Those are discussions that Dorion will need to have with his representation now to be ready to pivot, if necessary. If the 25-year-old appears to be leaning toward a one-year deal to hit the open market, it’s quite possible that the Senators will turn around and look to move him. That’s a move that’s a lot easier to make before the draft in late June while allowing the acquiring team to have time to negotiate a long-term agreement before the qualifying offer comes into play.
If DeBrincat opts to re-sign, there’s a good chance that a one-year deal would simply be him accepting the qualifying offer. While Ottawa could opt to take him to arbitration, a move that could allow their offer to come in at 85% of the qualifier ($7.65MM), such a move would be antagonistic toward longer-term discussions so they might not want to go that route. Similarly, if DeBrincat is qualified, there isn’t much of a chance for him to land considerably more than $9MM in an arbitration hearing, lessening the chances of him opting to go that way either.
Meanwhile, a long-term agreement is also likely to come in close to the $9MM mark. Ottawa’s highest-paid player next season is Tim Stutzle who has an AAV of $8.35MM. The Sens would certainly like to get DeBrincat in below that mark but it will probably take more than that to get him to agree. Regardless of which route both sides wind up going, getting this resolved sooner than later needs to be a priority.
Sign A Goalie
When Dorion moved then-unproven prospect Filip Gustavsson to Minnesota for Talbot last offseason, they were hoping that he and Anton Forsberg would form a steady tandem between the pipes. Instead, Talbot battled injuries throughout the year while Forsberg took a significant step back from his 2021-22 performance. While Forsberg is still under contract for two more seasons at a $2.75MM AAV, Talbot is a pending unrestricted free agent and has already been told that he won’t be back. That means there’s a spot to fill in the crease.
Internally, Mads Sogaard is still viewed as Ottawa’s goaltender of the future. However, the 21-year-old has just 64 career appearances at the AHL level and still has two years of waiver exemption remaining. While some young goalies can step in full-time in the NHL at that age, teams generally like to slow-play their netminders, allowing them to get frequent starts in the minors. It would make sense for the Senators to take that approach with Sogaard so penciling him in as Forsberg’s tandem mate shouldn’t be the top plan.
Instead, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dorion look to find another Talbot-like netminder, one that he can sign for a year or two at a price point similar to Forsberg’s. That would up the floor in terms of production while allowing Sogaard the development time that he could still benefit from. It’s not a great UFA market for goaltenders but there are several second-stringers that should be available to choose from as things stand. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them kick the tires on the trade market as well but as long as they feel that Sogaard is their guy in the next couple of years, it’s hard to imagine they’d pay a high price to trade for someone to cover between now and then.
Rebuild The Bottom Six
With Ottawa missing the playoffs despite their upgrades up front, one might think that they had a lack of production from their top players. But they did have six forwards notch 20 goals while their top five forwards all had at least 62 points. Not many other teams can say that. However, they were in the bottom half of the league for goals scored.
The reason for that? They simply didn’t get much scoring from their bottom six with the exception of Shane Pinto (who was often pressed into top-six duty) or Derick Brassard, who’s a pending UFA. Mathieu Joseph didn’t score a single goal at even strength all season long, not the type of production they wanted from someone making nearly $3MM. Parker Kelly was an effective penalty killer but scored one goal in 55 games. Austin Watson and Dylan Gambrell had just 11 points apiece. This is one area that can reasonably be improved.
The good news for Dorion is that there are some open roster spots to work with. Joseph, Kastelic, and Kelly are signed while Pinto will be a restricted free agent. From there, however, there are openings to fill with Watson, Gambrell, and deadline acquisition Patrick Brown all set to hit the open market while Julien Gauthier, another late-season add, is a restricted free agent but whose arbitration eligibility makes him a non-tender candidate.
Prospect Ridly Greig could fill one of those spots which would certainly give them a boost offensively although he could benefit from more time with AHL Belleville as well. Recent signing Jiri Smejkal could be in the mix as well but might be it for internal options at this point. That will leave at least a couple of spots for players currently outside the organization to try to make their mark. There are often value contracts available for bottom-six forwards closer to training camp so this might be something that the Sens opt to slow-play.
Dorion is going to be busy with his defense as well. Jake Sanderson will be eligible for a contract extension in July and given that Ottawa has typically moved to sign their core pieces a year early where possible (Brady Tkachuk being the exception), it’s reasonable to think that they’ll do so here. However, it could be difficult since he has just one NHL year under his belt. It also remains to be seen if they’ll be able to afford another big-ticket deal on the books. At a minimum, expect the team to initiate discussions on that front even if those talks don’t lead to the 20-year-old putting pen to paper on a deal.
Meanwhile, decisions need to be made regarding three other young rearguards. Erik Brannstrom is once again a restricted free agent and this time, he’ll have arbitration eligibility. When Vegas drafted him, the 23-year-old was regarded as a future offensive threat. That could still happen but Brannstrom has just four goals in 190 career NHL appearances so far. Is he still part of their future?
The answer to that question might be dependent on the answer to this next one. Are Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson ready for full-time roster spots next season? Both players were at least somewhat highly-touted prospects themselves but have yet to establish themselves at the NHL level. However, they’re both eligible for waivers next season. Are the Sens ready to pencil each of them onto the roster? It’s unlikely they’ll make it back to Belleville so if they’re not comfortable with them being up full-time, one or both of those prospects could become trade candidates.
There’s a further domino effect as well that pertains to Travis Hamonic. The pending unrestricted free agent has expressed a desire to return but what happens with the three youngsters will dictate whether that’s doable, assuming the two sides can also agree on what type of a dip in pay he’ll likely be heading for after making $3MM the last two seasons. With free agency roughly six weeks away, they’ll need to make calls on these players fairly soon.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Four Groups Submit Bids To Purchase Ottawa Senators
Bruce Garrioch of Postmedia is reporting that there were four binding bids submitted today to purchase the Ottawa Senators. The groups to submit the bids were Michael Andlauer, Jeffrey and Michael Kimel, Steve Apostolopoulos, and Neko Sparks. Garrioch also tweeted that one bid was at the $1B mark. While there is still much to consider and a lot of work to be done, todays bids bring the sale of the franchise one step closer to being completed. The groups that bid are an interesting mix with varying degrees of experience in sports franchise ownership.
Michael Andlauer is a Toronto billionaire who is currently a minority owner of the Montreal Canadiens. Andlauer emerged in late 2022 as an early favorite to land the team as he had the assets and the familiarity with the NHL having already been a minority owner. Andlauer is the founder of the Andlauer Healthcare Group Inc. and was previously the owner of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, a struggling franchise he purchased in 2002 and turned into a champion. He still currently owns the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Should Andlauer be successful in his bid to buy the Senators he would have to sell his share in the Canadiens, something he has already reportedly explored.
Jeffrey and Michael Kimel run the Harlo Financial Group and made waves a week ago when music sensation The Weeknd reportedly joined their bid for the Senators. The Kimel’s had previously been minority owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins until the team was sold in 2021. The pair are heavily invested in the entertainment industry and are based in Toronto, making them a good fit to run the Senators should their bid be successful.
Steve Apostolopoulos made an unsuccessful bid recently to purchase the NFL’s Washington Commanders, a bid that lost out to a group that was led by New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris. Like the Kimel’s and Michael Andlauer, Apostolopoulos is Canadian, he is from Toronto and founded Six Ventures Inc., a private equity venture fund. Apostolopoulos has been linked to bids for multiple sports franchises but has yet to purchase one. He visited the Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa about a month ago, bringing with him former NHLer and hockey analyst Nick Kypreos.
Neko Sparks is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur and film producer whose group also made a lot of noise recently when it was announced that Snoop Dogg would be a part of the bid. More recently they also made headlines for reportedly partnering with First Nations in an arrangement that includes an equity stake in the franchise worth a reported 10%.
The process is sure to get interesting over the next few months as the bids are scrutinized and vetted. Gary Bettman has previously stated that he is hopeful that the Senators will have a new ownership group in place by mid-summer.
Another piece to keep an eye on will be how the Senators approach the draft and free agency. Players might be apprehensive to sign long term in Ottawa until they know who will sign their checks for the foreseeable future. Of note is Alex DeBrincat, who is just 14 months away from unrestricted free agency and has been cautious and coded when talking about his long-term future.
Patrick Brown Added To Team USA
- Team USA has added Ottawa Senators forward Patrick Brown to their 2023 IIHF Men’s World Championship roster. This will be Brown’s first appearance ever at an IIHF world championship as the 30-year-old has never represented the U.S. at any level in these tournaments. Brown was dealt mid-season by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Ottawa Senators and finished the year with four goals and eight assists in 61 NHL games split between the two clubs. The Americans have won their first three games of the tournament and will face Austria on Wednesday in their fourth of seven preliminary round games.
Melnyk Family To Retain Up To 10% Of Senators After Sale
- With final bids being due Monday for the Senators, Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch reports that the Melnyk family has informed the remaining potential suitors that they would like to retain up to 10% of the franchise in the sale agreement. It’s believed that there are six groups remaining in play although Garrioch notes it’s unlikely that all of them will wind up making a binding offer. At the moment, he suggests three bids are likely and three other groups are more uncertain.