If it had been up to Brady Tkachuk, he would have jumped down from the stands and joined the game in the middle of the first period.
That’s how fired up Tkachuk was to be back in Sens Land, his new seven-year contract with the Ottawa Senators firmed up mere hours before their opening night game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
With upcoming games on Saturday, Sunday and next Thursday, Tkachuk said it will be a group decision on when he will return to action. He sounded ready already.
Head coach D.J. Smith said he will likely activate Tkachuk Sunday at home to Dallas or Thursday in Ottawa against San Jose.
Adrenaline alone might carry No. 7, despite having missed all of training camp and the pre-season.
Oh, what a red-letter day for a 22-year-old who could soon be wearing the letter “C.” A deal was done after months of negotiations, flights quickly arranged from Michigan, where Tkachuk had been skating, family contacted via group chat with Brady’s message: “All she wrote!” Brady’s sister, Taryn, was in class and couldn’t focus when she learned the news. His mom, Chantal, was in tears and Brady gave her a quick call before scrambling to make connections that would bring him to Ottawa via Montreal.
“It’s been a crazy day and words can’t express how happy and excited I am,” Tkachuk said.
“This is exactly what I wanted to transpire … the city has been great to me ever since I’ve gotten here, the fans have been so supportive and teammates as well.”
Just how palpably excited Senators players were to have Tkachuk back in the fold was illustrated by a behind-the-scenes video of their interaction — players leaping off their skates to embrace the returning hero. Tkachuk also did a long walkabout through the concourse to greet fans and pose for photos.
As he spoke to media during the first intermission of the Senators’ thrilling 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs in their home opener, Tkachuk said he was so happy to see the boys again he might stay up half the night shooting the (breeze) with them.
Tkachuk arrived at the rink too late to be introduced along with the team, but in a fitting sequence for an historic day for the franchise, Tkachuk was presented to fans on the scoreboard monitor, to the tune of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s entrance theme. Instinctively, he waved to the crowd and launched into his Frank the Tank celly routine.
“That was a blur,” Tkachuk said of his introduction and salute to the screaming CTC crowd. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do, I was just overwhelmed by the support. Unbelievable.”
Showing his usual good eye, Tkachuk said he was struck by the fact there were a lot more red colour schemes in the crowd than invading forces in blue.
That Tkachuk brings some of Stone Cold’s grit and pizzazz is just part of the reason this long-term deal restores faith with the fan base and brings a sense of hope for the future. Though his agents entertained ideas of a shorter deal, Tkachuk said he envisioned this kind of commitment from “Day One” as a Senator. Tkachuk will be 29 when it ends.
Asked about his big brother Matthew’s pointed comments as the talks dragged on, Tkachuk smiled and more or less admitted that was Matthew being Matthew.
“I can’t control anyone else’s opinions, but of course he has always had my back,” Tkachuk said of Matthew, a winger with the Calgary Flames.
Speaking pre-game, general manager Pierre Dorion confirmed the deal was essentially consummated on Tuesday in Belleville, Ont., once he received the greenlight from Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. The meeting, which lasted close to three hours, was arranged through a clever play on words — Dorion asking Tkachuk’s Toronto-based representatives (Craig Oster and Don Meehan) to “meet us halfway.”
On term? Dollars?
No. Halfway along Highway 401. He wanted to meet in Belleville, home of the B-Sens, Ottawa’s American Hockey League affiliate. Go figure. It all came together in “Bellevegas.”
Dorion vowed to remain professional during his availability but deep down was full to bursting with the news of Tkachuk signing long term. And he couldn’t hide it. It would have been a colossal disappointment if the GM didn’t go full-on PD over this one. Dorion was heard before he was seen, gregarious, boisterous, as he exchanged greetings with fans and staff outside the media room, and again on the way out.
“Inside, there is a huge smile,” Dorion said, “because this is such a great day for us.”
Dorion credited all parties in the process, including a final push from his boss upstairs.
“Sometimes you guys don’t know what our owner (does), and I don’t want to go into details … but in the car (via phone), the owner said, ‘Pierre, get this done.’ You know what, I felt as powerful as I’ve ever felt.”
And while the deal was the end result of months and months of back and forth negotiations, Dorion said he never lost hope in getting a long-term deal, never felt resigned to settling for a bridge deal.
“Deep down in my heart, I knew Brady really wanted to be here long term, and that says a lot about the player,” Dorion said. “Now, were there a few bumps in the road? Yeah, about a week ago I felt there was a little bump in the road and that’s why I picked up the phone and said, ‘Craig, do you want to meet, just you and me together? You want the group to meet Tuesday morning?’ (The group it was, including Senior VP Pierre McGuire and AGM Peter MacTavish). We did a lot of work Tuesday. Over the last 48 hours or so, both sides did a lot of work.”
Street cred rising
While Dorion and Melnyk have spoken endlessly about the “plan,” and a commitment to spend to the cap en route to legitimate contention, until Thursday there were doubts they could pull it off. Scratch the skin of the average fan on the street and they would bleed skepticism.
Today they all feel a little bit like the biblical Doubting Thomas after he was able to touch the scar of Jesus. They’re believers. And it’s not just fans.
Seven years for No. 7 completely alters the perception of this franchise throughout the hockey world. For it isn’t just Tkachuk who is locked in. Thomas Chabot, who anchors the D-corps, has seven years left on his deal paying $8M per. Winger Drake Batherson, 23, is signed on for the next six years with an AAV just under $5M.
Dorion stays up nights — happily, he says — calculating how to fit as many of Ottawa’s great young pieces into the cap structure down the road. He is already talking about how to accommodate centre Josh Norris and even Jake Sanderson, a defenceman still in college but who may be the best prospect playing outside of the NHL, in Dorion’s estimation.
No doubt, growing pains remain. But they weren’t top of mind on the occasion of Ottawa’s perfect 2021-22 Home Opener — a magical day that began with Tkachuk’s deal and concluded with an entertaining Battle of Ontario victory in front of a screaming home crowd embracing post-pandemic hockey.