Senators captain Tkachuk laments another lost season in Ottawa
Brady Tkachuk was convinced this season would be different.
The Ottawa Senators captain felt the same about 2022-23. And the campaign before that.
Former general manager Pierre Dorion confidently stated the team's rebuild was over in September 2021.
The Senators instead find themselves in pretty much the same spot as before Dorion's bold declaration.
A franchise that finally appeared ready for a playoff push after last making the NHL's spring dance in 2017, Ottawa sits 28th in the overall standings with just 42 points from 47 games.
The disastrous showing follows a 21st-place finish in 2022-23. The Senators were 26th the season before that.
"The whole group's disappointed," Tkachuk said during the NHL's all-star festivities in Toronto last week. "We are where we're at."
Where that is, however, can't be sitting well with ownership.
Michael Andlauer, who finalized a deal to buy the team as training camp opened, fired Dorion in November due to the fallout of a botched trade that resulted in the league docking the organization a first-round draft pick.
Another scuffling start to the season — fans in the nation's capital have experienced plenty of those in recent years — eventually led to the December dismissal of head coach D.J. Smith.
Behind the Senators' bench from 1996 through 2004, Jacques Martin took over on an interim basis, but is a pedestrian 9-10-2, although the club did secure back-to-back overtime victories before the all-star break and bye week.
"D.J. was a great coach for us," Tkachuk said of Smith, who had been on the job since 2019. "Jacques just brings a different perspective to the game, different thought process in different situations."
Barring an Edmonton Oilers-like run — their 16-game winning streak ended Tuesday — the Senators will miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season when the schedule wraps.
Ottawa's GM since April 2016, Dorion was never able to figure out the team's goaltending or depth during what turned into a glacial rebuild. That task now falls to president and GM Steve Staios, who will also have to make another coaching decision ahead of 2024-25.
Tkachuk — signed to a contract worth more than US$57.5 million a month after the rebuild was believed to be done some 29 months ago, and on the books through 2027-28 — described his level of frustration at what's transpired.
"We all had high hopes for this year," said the winger, who plays an old-school style in the modern era. "That we're not living up to it … it falls on the top guys, the leaders."
Tkachuk, 24, has been encouraged by the team's play in recent weeks — almost certainly too little, too late — but also feels the burden of what is almost assuredly another lost season.
"What hurts the most is I want to do this not only for ourselves and our team, but for the community," he said. "Faithful fans that have stuck with us. We want to provide those positive memories that they're waiting for. They deserve it. That's been the hardest part of this whole process for me. We've disappointed a lot of loyal fans.
"Don't like that feeling."
HUNGRY FOR 2026
Sidney Crosby led Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014.
He's keen for at least one more shot at glory with the NHL set to return to the 2026 Games.
"An unbelievable experience," said the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who will be 38 when the league sends its stars to Italy. "To see the best players go head-to-head representing their countries, from my experience in it, I don't know if you get better hockey than that."
The league, which skipped the 2018 Olympics and backed out in 2022 because of COVID-19 concerns, has also committed to the 2030 Games.
THOMAS NOT THINKING 2019
The St. Louis Blues fired Mike Yeo in November 2018 and replaced him with Craig Berube on an interim basis.
Just under seven months later, they were Stanley Cup champions.
After missing the playoffs last season and a rocky start to 2023-24, Berube was himself dismissed in December. Drew Bannister took the reins, again on an interim basis.
The former journeyman defenceman is 13-7-1 through 21 games and has the Blues back in the Western Conference playoff picture.
"We've got a long way to go for that to happen," St. Louis centre Robert Thomas said of 2019 comparisons. "I'm just happy with how our team's responded."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.
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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.