32 Thoughts: Senators preparing for a sale to new ownership

On this edition of 32 Thoughts, Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman discuss the Canucks' warning to players there could be roster changes, the Maple Leafs' reluctance to trade for Ethan Bear, and the potential bidders for the 2024 Memorial Cup.

Sportico confirmed Tuesday what a lot of us suspected, that the Ottawa Senators are preparing for a sale.

The NHL has tiptoed around this inevitability since owner Eugene Melnyk died last March — both out of sensitivity to his daughters and the practicality of the situation. Sportico valued the team at $655 million, but that’s a lowball. 

Valuation articles are fun to read, but remember a team is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. What makes more sense? Selling the Senators now, or selling them when the downtown arena is finalized and lawsuits involving the estate are settled? It’s Option B, and everyone knows it.

As recently as two weeks ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly proclaimed “business as usual” around the organization. That’s a polite way of saying, “move along, nothing to see here,” but, underneath the surface, there is furious paddling. The public acrimony of the previous negotiations surrounding the LeBreton Flats arena site made them doomed to fail. The silence this time indicates things are much more serious.

Conversations are also (quietly) underway to settle the lawsuits from those failed talks. It’s been suggested that there’s progress, but nothing is done until it’s done. Ottawa also extended (or began conversations to extend) some employees — such as assistant coaches and AHL coaches — for security heading into the unknown. 

There’s jockeying among potential owners. The NHL knows who’s out there, who’s expressed interest, who’s serious, who isn’t, who’s bluffing about their true intentions. But there’s a process and that’s why Ottawa hired Galatioto Sports Partners, to navigate the waters. 

Everyone knew this was coming, but now it’s real. 


1. Connor McDavid has 11 goals in 10 games, on pace for 90. Just imagine how incredible that kind of chase would be. Seriously, think about it.  

2. McDavid took 314 shots last season, his career-high by 40. He’s on that trajectory once again, and shooting a ridiculous 30 per cent. The NHL record is 32.8 per cent, by Charlie Simmer in 1980-81. He scored 56. 

3. St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong played human shield for his team on Tuesday, giving them a day off from annoying reporters after five straight losses. “It’s 10 per cent of the season, so I don’t want to overreact, but we certainly can’t underreact too,” he said. One of the first things he did was back coach Craig Berube. That’s relevant because Armstrong waited a little longer than many of his peers would before extending Berube last season.

“I told the players the coach is not going anywhere because he came from the American Hockey League, where he coached young players and made them better, and he coached veteran players and made them win here. So he can do both.”

Armstrong called the struggles “a competitive issue,” adding he believes in the group but the evidence indicates they simply aren’t playing well. “We’re in the bottom quartile of anything that matters in the NHL right now: Goals-for, goals-against average, we’re in the bottom. Goal differential, we’re in the bottom. Our special teams are not special, so we need to make sure this is ground-zero and start making our way up. We don’t lose with pride, meaning we expose our goaltenders. If you look at our goaltenders the last three or four games, there has to be at least two-thirds or three-quarters of the goals are backdoor tap-ins. That’s not on the goalie. The goalie has to face what he faces, so we’re not competing at our net, we’re not competing at their net.”

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4. It shows how fast things change in the NHL. Ten days ago, the Blues shut out the Oilers in Edmonton and looked great. They’ve got zero points since. What I see is a team in a bit of transition from one leadership group to another. Armstrong-Berube teams tend to be tough mentally and physically, a group that makes you fight for every inch. I like watching them play. The team that won the Stanley Cup was like that — long, rangy, wiry, nasty, hard to get through, with a lot of skill mixed-in. They got hot at the right time, too. A good chunk of players are gone from that group and the new core is trying to find that identity.

5. Good news: Ivan Miroshnichenko’s return is getting closer. Taken 20th overall in the 2022 Draft by Washington, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in March. He is in remission, thankfully. 

6. Among NHLers who’ve played at least five games, the lowest average ice-time belongs to Colorado’s Kurtis MacDermid and Edmonton’s Dylan Holloway, at 6:47. Four seconds higher is Shane Wright. This is faaaaaaaaaar from ideal, and everyone knows it.

Wright needs to play. A major reason he fell in the draft is he didn’t play games in 2020-21, while other top prospects found action in Europe or the United States. He was asked about this multiple times during team interviews, pushed to explain why he didn’t find a new home. His reply was that he was told there eventually would be competition in the OHL. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Seattle is a great place for him, run by someone who knows what it takes to successfully play centre in the NHL. This is a long-term play. Do not underestimate Wright’s talent, but it needs cultivation. “We’ve got a good plan,” head coach Dave Hakstol told Kraken reporter Alison Lukan, last weekend. “It’s all about making small progress. There are no big, huge leaps and bounds that we’re looking for.”

That’s sensible and cool on paper, but dicey in reality. Can you get him to 10-12 minutes a night? Can you get him on the second power play? Hakstol needs wins, and the Kraken are in the race. Unless the organization is going to force the coach to play Wright, Hakstol’s got one bias: which 18 skaters can best deliver victories? That’s who will wear the jersey on game nights.

You can see Wright with Team Canada colours at the World Juniors, but exhibition games are six weeks away. That’s too long to sit. Current rules prevent Wright from going to the AHL, or he’d be in Coachella Valley getting ready to watch Frank Ocean.

7. If Wright’s going anywhere, it will be the OHL. Jeff Marek is much more in tune with this stuff than I am, but Wright’s current team, the Kingston Frontenacs, are bidding for the 2024 Memorial Cup. Part of the strategy would be to trade him for pieces bolstering next season’s team in conjunction with that plan.

Don’t worry about foolish, loopy think-pieces that sending him back to junior is a failure or a step back. He’s not yet 19 and lost a year of hockey. Only three players from the 2022 Draft have seen NHL action: Wright, top pick Juraj Slafkovsky and No. 6 David Jiricek of Columbus. Could be a time soon when none are there. Other high selections are in the AHL (Simon Nemec), NCAA (Logan Cooley, Cutter Gauthier) or CHL (Kevin Korchinski). Jiricek, who looks very good, was in the AHL before Adam Boqvist’s injury.

The other thing I worry about with Wright is he’s notoriously hard on himself. The greats always are, but there needs to be release — success or incremental gain, making you believe you’re headed in the proper direction. Sitting out or barely playing doesn’t provide that. We get too caught up in the 10th game, which eliminates one year of an entry-level contract. The true number is 40. Being on the roster for that number of games (if you play or not) takes a player one year closer to arbitration rights and free agency. Seattle will be more concerned about that.

There is a path for the Kraken and the OHL to be proactive about this. Get Wright moved to a team that wants to win this season, somewhere he will play big minutes in big games. The Ontario league wins, too. Wright would be a big draw. Marek would drag his family around like the Clampetts in a massive station wagon. (One hitch: No player selected in the first round last season can be traded until Jan. 1. My suggestion would be, if the player agrees to it, make the deal.) Get Wright on the ice and reap the rewards. Now, and for many years to come in the Pacific Northwest.

8. Anaheim’s lineup graphic had Mason McTavish at centre for Tuesday night’s game against San Jose. Big move for a big prospect. He was playing wing. 

9. I don’t believe Toronto’s braintrust is in any rush to make a coaching change, and the preference is not to. Sheldon Keefe and Mike Babcock are making around $7 million this season, but it goes beyond the finances. There is recognition, however, that if things don’t get back on track, decisions could get made for them.

The team is 75 per cent owned by telecoms, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in eight years of working at one, it’s that they don’t like people to be comfortable when things aren’t going well. Wayne Simmonds going down to AHL Toronto to make room for Pontus Holmberg screams like some kind of paper move, because if Simmonds was going to the AHL for any length of time, it would be a much bigger story. We’ll see what comes out of it.

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10. GM Kyle Dubas understands that the defence constructed the way it is right now is not feasible. Vancouver added Ethan Bear, as the Canucks were willing to include a draft pick Toronto wasn’t going to do. But it shows he’s looking. Arizona has the right to take the Maple Leafs’ third-rounder this season, so dealing a fifth like Vancouver did could have left Toronto with just three selections in 2023. 

11. One stat that stuck out with Toronto heading into last weekend: the Maple Leafs led the league in offensive-zone time (per Sportlogiq) at five-on-five, but were 25th in shots from the slot. That could explain why the team’s shooting percentage is lower than normal.

12. There are obvious reasons the Canucks added Ethan Bear and Jack Studnicka — to try to get better (duh) and see if a new home energizes either — but it’s clear management wanted to create more competition on the roster. The players aren’t entirely responsible for what’s happened, but, judging from some conversations last week, Jim Rutherford felt they felt too secure on what was an 0-5-2 team until back-to-back wins over Seattle and Pittsburgh. He made it very clear jobs were on the line, and Vancouver was willing to find ways to change things. 

13. Winnipeg’s been asked about its excess of defence, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, it’s that he’s careful and won’t be pressured to act unless he gets what he wants. Logan Stanley’s foot injury alleviates some of the logjam for a little bit, but it’s one reason you need extras. No one escapes injury.

14. Nothing imminent or anything like that, but I’ve wondered if Columbus would look for some help at centre until their good young players are fully ready for this. Blue Jackets management had “if looks could kill” faces after the 7-1 loss to New Jersey on Sunday. 

15. New Jersey has one game with less than 36 shots and only one (opening night against Philadelphia) where they’ve given up 25. 

16. Funny how after a few analytically inclined thinkers said Buffalo’s success was inflated in terms of expected goals, the Sabres roared back with lopsided wins over Chicago and Detroit. 

17. Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust scored a goal on Oct. 13 that was labelled a “poke,” which seemed like something new. And it is. The NHL added four new shot types this season — poke, bat, cradle and between-the-legs. Anze Kopitar, Michael Rasmussen and Sam Steel also have poke goals, with Justin Danforth adding a “bat.” I haven’t seen the other two yet, but they exist. 

18. Hockey Canada’s hired international search firm Korn Ferry to help with its CEO hunt. 

19. One correction from our podcast interview with NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer, PK Subban’s new show in conjunction with the league — PK’s Places — debuts May 2023, not 2024. 

20. As the Dallas Stars’ initial Hall of Fame induction dinner came to a close, Colleen Gainey walked up to team owner Tom Gaglardi and thanked him for a memorable weekend. That’s the magic of this type of an event. Almost 30 years after their move to Texas, the Stars automatically enshrined those with retired numbers — Neal Broten (7), Mike Modano (9), Jere Lehtinen (26) and Sergei Zubov (56) — and the three owners: Norman Green, Tom Hicks and Gaglardi. One builder and one player will be added every year, with Bob Gainey and Derian Hatcher the first to be chosen.

All teams should do a ceremony like this. You could see how much the former players, executives and staff loved seeing each other; the pride of the current players, coaches and staff; the connection between the fans/community and the organization. There were some tremendous lines, with St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong, who introduced Gainey, saying, “The Stanley Cup will return to Dallas, but hopefully not real soon.”

The architect of the Stars championship team told some great stories. He remembered a night where Shane Churla got into a fight. Gainey saw an “older woman across the ice, throwing punches” in tandem with the legendarily tough winger. On the bench, he said, “You know what, I think we’re in the right place here.” He concluded his speech by reminiscing about seeing the fans at the 1999 Stanley Cup parade. “(When we arrived), we needed you and you were there for us. Six years later, we were able to give it back.”

21. Richard Matvichuk introduced his longtime defence partner Hatcher, joking the nominating committee “waived the sportsmanship aspect” of the criteria by inducting him. He told stories about the two of them in Minnesota, riding dirt bikes, using them to “jump over Mike Craig’s truck.” When they moved to Dallas, they “went from riding dirt bikes to riding Harleys.” (Hatcher later claimed he “had a four-wheeler, not a dirt bike.”)

“When Bob spoke, people listened. When Derian was on the ice, people knew he was there. We were proud to call him our captain for a long, long time.” Finally, Matvichuk concluded by laughing at Brett Hull saying the defence pair deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy “because they shut down the opponents’ top line, and our own.” Hatcher got up there and immediately said, “Some of these stories are embellished. … It is fitting to go in with (Gainey), because without him there is no ’99, no Cup here,” adding later that he “still bleeds green.” Hatcher, never much of a talker but always a perceptive guy, made a point of thanking the current players for attending. Just an excellent event. 

22. Matvichuk, who coached WHL Prince George from 2016-19, would like to coach again.

23. The players did an on-stage walk-through. Jake Oettinger participated. He was limping slightly — and is out at least a week — but I think if it was real serious, he wouldn’t have done it. 

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