The Ottawa Senators will likely take a wait and “C” approach with their captaincy.
Instead of naming a captain this season, the Senators aren’t going to rush the decision, and whenever they take the ice to start the 2020-21 campaign coach D.J. Smith expects they’ll do so with three alternates on a nightly basis.
Smith confirmed defenceman Thomas Chabot and winger Brady Tkachuk are both top candidates to take over the captaincy, but the organization doesn’t want to rush either player into that role. Instead, it will try to give them some time to grow into leadership roles and then give someone the captaincy.
“It’s not going to happen this season,” Smith told Postmedia Thursday afternoon after helping donate masks to the Smilezone at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “I can’t say not, but as of right now we’re not planning on it. We’re going to transition some of the younger guys into a leadership role.
“I think everyone knows Chabot and Tkachuk are the guys pushing from the bottom. I don’t see that happening this year. I see more of a group mentality where you’re going to have to have people with leadership up front and leadership on the back end. Part of being a young team is maybe the coach has to be a leader maybe for one more year.”
Smith said it would be a lot to ask of young player to take over the room right now.
“It’s real tall order for a young guy to be a captain in a rebuild situation,” Smith said. “You’re constantly being asked the questions and you may not have the answers, you haven’t been through it. It’s not fair for a 21-, 22-, 23-year-old kid to have to answer those questions. That’s why I think you see a lot of times these guys who are captains have been through it and have been through the experience.
“They’ve been through a rebuild, been through winning and losing, and they know what’s possibly coming next. It’s unfair to rush that on a guy and that’s where we’re at.”
Smith returned to Ottawa last week from Windsor with assistant coach Bob Jones. They’ve been in the office with general manager Pierre Dorion, Shean Donovan, Jesse Winchester, video coach Mike King and the rest of the hockey operations staff evaluating players for free agency and trades. Assistants Jack Capuano and Davis Payne are both in the United States and they’ll have to self-isolate for 14 days when they return to Canada in the near future.
“We have a great opportunity go through what all the best teams in the playoffs are doing system-wise and looking at some things that we may want to change,” said Smith. “And then ultimately I’m there if Pierre has any questions on possible free agents or whatever the case may be. It’s good to be back. Naturally, when you get to September, anybody who’s been in hockey knows you should be at the rink.”
He suspects the roster to be shaped a lot in the coming weeks. The club has to sign its restricted free agents, make decisions on trades and then determine where the young prospects are going to fit. The draft is coming up Oct. 6-7 and there’s plenty of anticipation with Ottawa having three picks in the first round along with 13 overall.
“It will be interesting to see who’s available with the (flat) salary cap and which free agents are going where,” Smith said. “It’s always exciting. It kind of reminds me of July 1. There’s so much action going on and it’s an exciting time for us. We certainly want to see where our young kids are going to play here and we’ve got some high-end players that we expect in this year’s draft.”
The likes of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton and Vitaly Abramov will have a chance to make the team while defencemen Erik Brannstrom and Christian Wolanin will have opportunities as well, but that doesn’t mean the Senators won’t add through free agency or deals.
“We want to score more goals and we have some kids coming in,” said Smith. “That’s an unknown. We believe they’re going to be really good players. Is that going to be now? Or is it going to be a year from now? We want to give them support through some older guys if they’re the right fit. We’ve changed the culture, everybody knows we work, and now we’ve got to put that skill with the work.
“Pierre will do a good job with his scouts in filling the roles we have to if we feel the young kids aren’t quiet ready yet. Every team is going to tinker and add some guys. Are they the right players to help the kids along the way? Some players are going to come available that you never thought would be available, but certainly the plan here has been that we’re going to build through the draft and these kids are going to be the reason when we turn the corner.”
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