Senators open camp with optimism, without forward Alex Formenton
'We want to play meaningful games until the end of the year,' hopes GM
The Ottawa Senators are entering the upcoming season with optimism after a productive summer from general manager Pierre Dorion.
The new additions join a solid group that includes captain Brady Tkachuk, defenceman Thomas Chabot and forward Tim Stützle, who appears poised for a further breakout season.
There also was a noticeable absence. Forward Alex Formenton, who remains without a contract, was not one of the 59 players invited to camp.
Dorion likened Formenton's absence to that of Tkachuk, who sat out training camp last year in a contract dispute before signing just prior to the start of the regular season.
"With Alex Formenton it's a bit of the same situation as Brady last year," Dorion said. "We're negotiating and once he signs he will be in camp, but until he signs he won't be here."
Dorion said he was unable to comment on investigations, including one by the NHL, into allegations of sexual assault involving unnamed players on Hockey Canada's 2018 junior team, which Formenton and Senators teammate Drake Batherson were both members of.
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He said the situation had no bearing on contract negotiations or roster decisions.
"I think we all want to have answers," said Dorion.
"I'm the father of a kid that I pay Hockey Canada fees to and I think we all want to have answers, but at the same time, I'm also the GM of an NHL team. We've been given the directive that until the NHL investigation is over not to comment."
'Sick of losing'
With the changes made over the summer and the growth of its core group, expectations are high for the Senators. But having misspoken in the past — Dorion confidently said "the rebuild is done" before last season, only to see the Senators finish out of the playoffs with a 33-42-7 record — Dorion was somewhat guarded in his hopes for this team.
"We want to play meaningful games until the end of the year," Dorion said. "We want to be in it at the trade deadline."
D.J. Smith, entering his fourth year as the Senators coach, said the players are "sick of losing night after night and they're sick of being at the bottom."
"In saying that, they've come early, they've come together to do all these things, but so have a lot of teams and winning teams are all doing that, so I think we're at that level," Smith said.
"There's lots of teams just like us now, that have just as much talent … that are all doing this. And I just think we're at that age now where these guys want to play meaningful games and that tells me for sure that they're at that level. Now it's up to us to prove it."
Dorion made significant additions over the off-season, but the Senators would likely benefit from adding another veteran defenceman.
The GM said if the right opportunity presented itself, the team would make a move to improve right away seeing as they have a lot of cap space left — about $5.7 million according to capfriendly.com.
Hearing the Senators talk about willingly spending money is a drastic change from past seasons, when star players were traded due to salary expectations.
"I can't tell you I have an unlimited budget, but we've got a pretty good budget," said Dorion. "In previous years, and I think we always look forward, the cap was more at the floor than the ceiling. This year it's a bit different and I think we're all happy for it and the additions that we've been able to do."
The Senators hit the ice Thursday for the first time and have their first pre-season games in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.