It’s lovely to see the Ottawa Senators have officially wrested the crown from the Arizona Coyotes as The Team That Does Everything Based On Money. And with that designation, it won’t be long before they also take over from the Coyotes as a farm team for the rest of the NHL.
That much came crystal clear Tuesday when the Senators opted to put Zack Smith and his $3.25 million yearly stipend on waivers. It's somewhat surprising he cleared waivers – at noon on Wednesday, it was announced that all 30 teams had passed – because he’s a good soldier, a respected pro and most importantly, because the Senators seemed to be counting on Smith getting scooped up. They wanted to lose him.
Here’s a team that could have put a 36-year-old Marian Gaborik and his $4.6 million salary (and $4.9 million cap hit) on waivers. But they chose not to because they believed nobody would put in a claim on Gaborik. They could have put Mikkel Boedker on waivers, but despite his $4 million cap hit, he’s being paid only $3 million a year, which is less than what Smith makes. And he’s two years younger. Bobby Ryan couldn’t be exposed because of his no-move clause and he’s another guy who would not have been taken even if he had been placed on waivers.
Despite not losing him, waiving Smith was a move based solely and exclusively on money. Remember that cringe-worthy video where Senators owner Eugene Melnyk asked Mark Borowiecki what the mood of the dressing room was? Well, if he really cared about that, he would not have done this to Smith, who acknowledged that he had the worst season of his career in 2017-18, but is also a guy who is respected by his teammates. Matt Duchene said the news of Smith’s waiver exposure was, “a kick in the balls for us.” Well, if the recent machinations of Melnyk are any indication of what the future looks like in Canada’s capital, Senators players might want to wear their metaphorical cups 24 hours a day.
This is one of those point-of-no-return moves that a team makes that defines what it is going to be. Because Smith cleared waivers, the Senators have the option of putting him in the minors and saving just over $1 million on the salary cap. But that would make sense only if this were a cap move. It was not. It was a money move. And if Smith goes to the minors, the Senators have to pay him 100 percent of his salary anyway.
Perhaps there is a grand plan in Ottawa, but it’s really difficult to figure out what it is at the moment, beyond watching every penny and cutting to the bone. That is no way to run an NHL franchise, in this or any other market. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that determines a team’s fortunes regardless of the market more than quality of ownership. And based on that criterion, and the fact that Melnyk has publicly stated he’s not going anywhere, the Senators look to be in terrible shape for the foreseeable future.
The Senators have lost their first-round pick, which could very well turn out to be projected first-overall pick Jack Hughes. One of the Vancouver Canucks’ most surprising prospects is Jonathan Dahlen, the player the Senators surrendered to the Canucks to get Alexandre Burrows. They’ve traded the best player the franchise has ever had for pennies on the dollar.
The precise moment in time the Quebec Nordiques became a perennial bottom-feeder was June 13, 1987. That was the day they traded Dale Hunter and Clint Malarchuk for Gaetan Duchesne, Alan Haworth and a first-round pick (that turned out to be Joe Sakic). It gutted the Nordiques to the core and ripped out their heart and soul. Even though Sakic was instantly successful on a personal level, the Nordiques were awful for a long time. It wasn’t the only factor, but it undoubtedly contributed to them moving.
So what moment in time will we harken back to when it comes to the Senators? Perhaps it was the decision to let Daniel Alfredsson go. Likely the Erik Karlsson trade. But when they put a $3.25-million guy on waivers, that was the day the Senators made it crystal clear to the hockey world that winning games is no long a priority for them. Mark Stone and Duchene will almost certainly follow the others out of town and the Senators will be faced with some very dark days.