Fans of the Ottawa Senators are used to suffering.
It is practically a binding contract.
The years since a surprise 2017 surge have brought losing seasons, a deep rebuild, recurring departures of star players and ugly civil lawsuits where a brand new LeBreton Flats arena ought to be under construction. To a certain extent, die-hard Sens fans have learned to roll with it all, if not outright embrace it, along with several precious new prospects from the rebuild.
Last season the ‘Sickos’ culture emerged on social media, a kind of gallows humour and bleak cartoonish theme that declared -- we love our team even though it may be fatally flawed: under-appreciated, under-funded, misunderstood. The Sickos were free to criticize perceived faults in the organization, but heaven help a Leafs or Habs fan who tried to pile on.
And so it is into this backdrop that Matthew Tkachuk tossed a verbal grenade while speaking to Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek for their 31 Thoughts podcast. The topic was how things are progressing on brother Brady Tkachuk’s contract negotiations with the Senators, if Matthew was up to speed.
“I’m in the mix. I’m always there,” Matthew said. “It’s a family business. Nobody wants to deal with the Tkachuks in this. But we do it by committee.
“Brady might be . . . he’s doing great,” Matthew continued. “He might be pulling a classic Tkachuk right now. Dad held out, Matthew held out, and Brady looks like he’s on his way right now. So hopefully it can get figured out here. But it’s just a lot of fake stuff out there regarding this. They’re not too close.
"So hopefully it gets figured out, but who knows? My dad and I are definitely involved. Brady needs us to help him out with that stuff. He wasn’t as cutthroat as we were during it, but he’s starting to become more of a Tkachuk the later this goes.”
In Ottawa, the Brady Tkachuk contract is considered the last piece of the puzzle prior to the season. In a perfect world, Tkachuk would agree to a long-term deal, he would be named the first Senators captain since Erik Karlsson and Senators fans could relax and enjoy a season in which their team could actually surprise some people.
Because Tkachuk, who turned 22 this week, is a restricted free agent, he has few options.
It is expected he will sign eventually, whether to a long deal or a bridge contract just to have it done before the chips fly. And yet, entering his fourth NHL season, Tkachuk has leverage that few RFAs do. He is not only valued by the org for the intangible leadership and combative qualities he brings to every game, he also happens to be the latest franchise-type player who has clashed with management over money -- from Alfredsson to Karlsson and Mark Stone (Brady’s mentor). All since departed and estranged from the organization.
Messing this one up could be the Last Straw.
And so, the fan base has been following these negotiations, with little real information on how they are progressing, with an intensity usually associated with a Stanley Cup run. It is THAT important to have Tkachuk under contract, to prove that this time things are different, that the Senators are going to build a real contender with the likes of Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot etc.
Despite conflicting reports on the actual progress of talks, fans held out hope that something was imminent. Wouldn’t his birthday on Sept. 16 be the perfect time to announce the deal? And hey, owner Eugene Melnyk is on his way to Ottawa! The stars seemed aligned. A news conference to present Brady with a No. 7 jersey embroidered with a ‘C’ on the chest.
But no. Instead of a birthday deal, fans get the Bro Bomb, from Matthew.
“He’s a great player, deserves to get everything he should,” Matthew said. “He’s the most important part of their team. The captain. Obviously all the stuff all of us know about him and he loves it there. Absolutely loves it there. So we’ll see what happens. But now being in Calgary I won’t be involved as much obviously.
“He’s a Tkachuk. That’s how we do it. I’m hoping it gets better soon, but I guess it can only get better by the sounds of it.”
Take this stink bomb in the cheap seats for what it’s worth.
Classic Matthew, right? The pot-stirrer of the Calgary Flames, on and off the ice.
He is going to war for his brother, and taking a free shot at the Senators, a team that happened to have a 6-3-0 record against the Flames last season, almost single-handedly killing Calgary’s playoff hopes and causing head coach Geoff Ward to be fired.
There is no love lost between the “brother” and the Sens, as much as some fans in Ottawa would sing a different tune if the pair could somehow play together in Ottawa.
For now, the Senators have their hands full getting one Tkachuk under contract.
It will get done. The start of training camp on Wednesday is one pressure point, but is not the end of the world. The regular season opener on Oct. 14 is the real deadline, with Tkachuk needing at least a few days in advance to prepare for it.
For Senators fans, Matthew’s “classic Tkachuk” holdout reference is just the latest indignity to endure.
Chances are, his shots fired will neither hurt nor help the process.
Patience is called for, yet again. Deep breaths.
As a colleague at LeDroit suggested recently as an option for a stressed Senators fan base: try some Chamomile tea. It is supposed to help with stress and sleep difficulty.
Who knows, it might even have some properties for this particular occasion -- a tea to cure Matthew T syndrome.