With the new NHL season a week away, exhibition games are in full swing, teams are setting their rosters and those outstanding RFA’s have signed with their organisations to get back before the puck drops. Well, most of them…News broke Monday night that Brady Tkachuk’s camp and the Senators are still at a stalemate, meaning the much maligned, problem plagued O-Train isn’t the only thing derailed in the nation’s capital these days.
The usual insiders are reporting that several issues are holding up the process: First that Tkachuk would prefer a bridge deal (akin to Elias Pettersson in Vancouver) presumably banking on the cap increasing, along with his value, by the time his contract ends. Not unreasonable by any means. The Sens for their part want a long term commitment from their star forward. Also very reasonable. One would think there’d be a happy medium here, perhaps similar to the precedent set by the rival Leafs who signed their stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for 5 & 6 years respectively. But like a Leafs post season appearance, things have collapsed, and fans are left wondering why…Just kidding. (Editor’s Note: He wasn’t kidding.)
The second and perhaps biggest sticking point is signing bonus money. The majority of star players who sign these types of deals get a lot of the money up front in the form of a signing bonus, and less actual money later so the AAV works out under the cap. However, this seems anathema to cash strapped owner Eugene Melnyk. The Sens are notorious for back loaded deals which pretty much guarantees that they ship said player out before the real money kicks in. Colin White, you’re on the clock…If the situation with Tkachuk was an isolated incident it’d be one thing, but the guy who many feel should be the next Sens captain finds himself in this circumstance similar to the guy who previously lead the team in Erik Karlsson, and the man who many thought would replace him in wearing the C, Mark Stone. They too wanted signing bonuses, and to paraphrase former Sen Nikita Filatov, “Eugene don’t do signing bonuses!” (Shout out to Sens fans who get this deep cut)
This has of course frustrated an already tempestuous fan base who should be looking at their stable of young talent and prospects, brimming with the potential of a bright future in short order. However, like an ominous specter, the presence of a malignant owner threatens at any moment to see it all torn asunder in the blink of an eye. The Melnyk apologists (burner accounts and certain local media…) will point out he signed Chabot long term (with NO signing bonus) and got Drake Batherson locked in at a great price for both player and team. What’s the problem? And yeah, those are great pieces to have. And Stone, Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson were UFA’s when their deals came up, but when you see a pattern develop the way it has, the amount to which the organisation itself has cut corners, the downtown arena deal torpedoed in large part because Eugene didn’t have the money to contribute upfront, his constant issues in the news involving him owing a debt to somebody, fans need to know that the most significant pieces will be around, and that certainty has all but vanished. What happens next with Norris, or Stutzle? And when Tkachuk states his preference for a bridge deal it can’t help but put the thought in the back of one’s mind that he’s just being pragmatic as, for as much as he loves the city and his teammates, who wants to be treated like this by their owner? The fan base isn’t naïve, and I can only hope not growing apathetic with this constant churn out of much beloved players, which Brady’s quickly become, endearing himself to the Sens Sickos, and the infamous, “He didn’t want to be here” columns from those carrying water for ownership simply so he doesn’t revoke their press credentials.
It’d be one thing if Tkachuk was asking for McDavid of Matthews money or a staggering signing bonus the likes of which no team would consider, but from all accounts that hasn’t been the case. For their part, the Tkachuks are smart, and PR savvy. They know this would turn the fans sentiment against him, instead of seeing them post on Twitter everyday in hopes he signs like a child awaiting Christmas, so they’ve simply done the pragmatic thing, and played hard ball, understanding the leverage they have, which players should use, in order to get a fair deal. This isn’t to suggest both sides don’t have to give a little, that’s the nature of negotiations, and inevitably some kind of deal will get worked out, but it’s easy to see where the difficulty lies when it happens time and time again.