Senators fans can dream big after Brady Tkachuk signs long-term deal

Elliotte Friedman joined Hockey Central to discuss why it took so long for Brady Tkachuk to sign a contract extension with the Ottawa Senators.

Well, that changes everything.

As fans of the Ottawa Senators prepared to head to the rink for their first home regular-season game in 588 days, a little slump-shouldered from a rash of negative vibes in recent days, they were struck by a bolt of lightning, figuratively speaking.

A life-altering ray of hope and stability for a small-market NHL franchise and its fan base.

IF ONLY the Sens could sign their heart-and-soul left winger to a long term deal — this was the mantra through late spring, early summer and deep into training camp and the pre-season schedule. So deep that the Senators would have to play their season-opening game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday without Brady Tkachuk in the lineup.

But No. 7 will be in the Ottawa lineup soon and for years to come.

Suddenly everything seems possible again, including building a true contender around a core of young players that includes Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Jake Sanderson and more. Maybe this franchise really can deliver on its promise that this time things would be different where their stars were concerned.

In recent days, there was no joy in Mudville, to paraphrase the great Ernest Lawrence Thayer poem, for it seemed the mighty Senators had struck out in their attempt at signing Tkachuk to a long-term deal. On top of that, two starting forwards — Colin White and Austin Watson — were out with injuries and No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray was ill and unavailable to face the Leafs.

But for a true letdown, fans had only to think of what was happening on the Brady T contract front. From reports, not much to hang a hat on. A bridge deal seemed inevitable, a short-term fix that would bring with it the refrain of here we go again — Tkachuk would soon be out the door as a UFA in his prime, like Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson and others before him.

All that changed when the team announced just past noon, shortly after their morning skate, that Tkachuk had signed a seven-year, $57.5-million contract with the Senators. The AAV is $8.214 million.

Sometimes the biggest deals feel impossible to do . . . until they’re not. Such was the case here.

It breaks down this way: $4M in 2021-22, then $6.5M, $10.5M, $10.5M, $10.5M, $8.5M and finally $7M in the seventh and final year of the deal, in 2027-28.

And so it dovetails with the Chabot deal, an 8x$8M contract, signed two years ago by the franchise defenceman. That contract also runs out in 2027-28.

“This is an exciting day for the Ottawa Senators,” said general manager Pierre Dorion in a statement. Dorion will do interviews Thursday evening prior to the game.

“Brady possesses a very dynamic skill set and is a prototypical power forward in today’s NHL. He scores goals, he plays physical and exemplifies what it means to be a pro for all players in our organization.”

In the same statement, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said he was thrilled to finally get Tkachuk signed to a long-term deal.

“He’s a valuable member of our leadership group, is universally respected by his teammates and a player we’re certain will have a significant impact on our success in the seasons ahead.”

Players will be relieved, and not just because they no longer have to answer questions about soldiering on without their imposing 22-year-old left winger.

Head coach D.J. Smith might be the happiest of the bunch inside the walls of the Canadian Tire Centre.

Speaking on Wednesday about Tkachuk, Smith said: “It’s tough on the guys in the room. They want him here with them. We want to win every single game and when he’s with us we have a better chance to win. They want him here but they understand that business is business and there’s nothing we can do to change it because that’s not our job. All we can do is try to win with the group in front of us.”

Suddenly, striving to win without Tkachuk becomes a temporary task.

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Expected to skate with the team as early as Friday, Tkachuk will need a few days to get ready to take part in a game, but in a short time, he will be ready to play. According to Smith, Tkachuk’s primary role is dragging his teammates into battle, even on nights when they don’t look equipped to do so.

Though not primarily a scorer, Tkachuk led the Senators last season with 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points in 56 games. He played more than 18 minutes per game and delivered 248 body checks (third in the NHL) while getting under the skin of 85 per cent of his opponents (a random guess).

That ‘Chucky’ will be back, storming the blue paint, smiling the devilish grin, dancing the Frank the Tank celly, with a long-term commitment to the team and community — is almost more than Senators fans could realistically imagine.

For now, at least, the fire tire days are over.

There is hope in the Nation’s Capital.

Everything seems possible now that the impossible has been accomplished.

Tkachuk is in it for the long haul and if the story plays out the way a script would have it, he will drag his team into battle all the way to a Stanley Cup — Ottawa’s first since 1927.

Dare to dream.

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