Ottawa Senators GM Steve Staios

‘Summer of Steve’ well underway

Like the result or not, Step 1 in the Ottawa Senator ‘rebuild’ was accomplished lickety-split.

The hiring of Travis Green just last week, while certainly not universally lauded, quickly took care of some much-needed business during what promises to be a busy off-season. Quite simply, there’s lots-to-do in Ottawa as summer approaches at a fast clip. Turning Green was the start (again – like it or not).

Stanley Cup contending teams generally get structured properly from the back end first up to the front. Sergei Bobrovsky, Jeremy Swayman, Jake Oettinger, Igor Shesterkin and the surprising Arturs Silovs have been enormous difference-makers this post-season so unless you enjoy the riches of having Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon on your roster (rare, wouldn’t you say?), your climb to success necessitates a strong goalie.

Ottawa’s situation ain’t great.

Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg flopped last season, sporting some of the worst combined numbers across the league. Both are signed through next season so perhaps the realistic target is improving defensively in front of the two. It’s a target that requires reaching regardless of whether either one is employed in Ottawa or not.

The defensive play – from both the forward group and blueliners – was pure bursitis . . . painful to watch.

As is much-discussed (ad nauseum), the Senators are left-shot hefty on defence with Jake Sanderson, Thomas Chabot and Jake Chychrun taking up all the space.

So, let’s make a deal.

A top pairing right defenceman might just be a priority (thanks, Tips).

Contractually the club is not in bad shape. The lone unrestricted free agent is Dominik Kubalik.

(Do I really need to write this next sentence: ‘he won’t be back?’).

Shane Pinto as a restricted FA will be interesting to watch. A shorter-term deal could be in the works. Erik Brannstrom and Parker Kelly are also RFAs.

Free agency in itself will be tough. Given Ottawa’s high taxation levels, long winters and less-than-successful record in recent seasons (as well as a pretty lurid ownership picture in previous campaigns), luring plums to hop aboard will be a hard sell. While it’s a lark to say Jake Guentzel, Brady Skjei, Steven Stamkos and Sam Reinhart are available, that’s highly debatable for a team with Ottawa’s pedigree.

The draft puts Ottawa in a position to get help for the future. GM Steve Staios gets to pick seventh at the end of next month, to which he says: “We value character and hockey sense.”

Defence will be a priority, to be sure, but this is kind of a wonky entry draft where – after the first few picks – opinions vary.

The keys to the car are clearly in Staios’ hands at this juncture and this is where the rubber hits the road in a major way.

We’ll bear witness to what he’s got in store during an important next couple of months.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Ridley Greig is playing alongside Leaf captain John Tavares at the world championship. Did Morgan Rielly turn down an invite? . . . Rick Tocchet – my kind of player; my kind of coach . . . Tocchet busted his tail making a spot for himself as a rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers. Something he can identify with while watching a guy like Dakota Joshua . . . Something he can’t identify with while watching a guy like Elias Pettersson . . . There are two speeds in this Edmonton-Vancouver series: Fast and faster. Pettersson is playing at neither . . . When I interviewed Tocchet after his rookie campaign (1985), he told me this: ‘I’ll fight every time I have to the first couple of years and then I’ll stick to hockey.’ Mission accomplished . . . Nikita Zadorov equals Captain Ivan Drago. Heard that one this week, and who’s to argue? If the shoe fits . . . Few things attain perfection in life, but that Oilers’ power play might be one of them . . . Conor Garland, all 5-foot-2 of him, is playing big-boy hockey . . . Each year at this time, the weak get eaten by the strong in the NHL. For two consecutive years, Sam Bennett’s been enjoying a feast . . . Consider and recall this: In Bennett’s draft year (he was with the Kingston Frontenacs), he was considered out-of-shape and kind of a reach-pick (even at No. 4) . . . Word is future Toronto GM Brad Treliving would have agreed to send Bennett to the Leafs from his Calgary club if they were willing to surrender Nick Robertson in the deal . . . That was in 2021 when Treliving got Emil Heineman (now with the Habs’ organization) and a second-round pick . . . With all-world netminder Thatcher Demko getting close to a return, what then Vancouver? . . . Tocchet on Demko: “The progress is getting better and better . . . he’s definitely progressed” . . . Two of the absolute best of the ‘all-worlds’ – Demko and Connor Hellebuyck – were expected to be the big-picture story these playoffs. Hmm . . . Boston’s win in Florida Tuesday was pure guts. Didn’t expect anything less than that kind of effort. That’s the Bruins calling card . . . Seriously though, how many of you had Boston winning another game in this series? . . . I don’t know much about Dallas but people-in-the-know were telling us before the playoffs began to watch out for the league’s deepest team. We understand now . . . A quick thought on the NY Rangers: You’ve got your foot on Carolina’s air-hose, you don’t let up. This could go very poorly for New York . . . This Rod Brind’Amour-to-Toronto stuff won’t let up. The Canes withdrew their contract extension offer to Brind’Amour last month so nothing’s out of the realm of possible . . . The Rangers could do their Original 6 brother a solid if they finish off the Canes . . . Can’t stop thinking though about another reputed Class-A hiring a few years ago in Toronto with Mike Babcock, and how all that ended up, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself . . . I’m getting ahead of myself . . . Next week I promise not to get ahead of myself.

Header Image: Ottawa Senators president of hockey operations and general manager Steve Staios. (PHOTO: Courtesy Sportsnet)