The Ottawa Senators may get a chance to dig gold this spring.
With only nine games left as they prepare to face the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at the TD Garden to close out a two-game road trip, the Senators are starting to make off-season plans, and for some of them it could include a trip to next month’s IIHF world championship in Finland.
The invitations haven’t gone out, but as TSN’s Darren Dreger noted on the popular Insider Trading segment Tuesday night, former Arizona Coyotes great Shane Doan is expected to be named the general manager of Team Canada for the annual spring tournament in the coming days.
Once that happens, Doan will start putting together the staff and Senators coach DJ Smith is on the radar screen to be the head coach of Team Canada. The organization is also looking at former Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green, who was fired by the club earlier this season and he’s the leading contender.
If Canada wants Smith in the mix as the bench boss, he’d likely be interested in taking part in the three-week tourney overseas. But Smith would probably be the first to tell you if being the head coach of Team Canada is going to help Green pave his way back to another NHL job then he should take the role.
The 44-year-old Smith and his staff have done a great job with this group during this difficult rebuild in Ottawa, especially this season. The Senators have been hit by injuries to key players, two bouts with COVID-19 that cost them any hope of competing for a playoff spot and inconsistency.
Whether Smith would want to go as an assistant after a long year here remains to be seen, but if he’s part of the staff there could be some familiar faces on the Canadian roster. There’s also talk Ottawa assistant coach Davis Payne may be in the mix for Canada.
Back after missing three games with the flu, winger Drake Batherson scored his 15th of the season in the club’s 4-1 win Tuesday in Detroit. He told Postmedia after he returned from his high-ankle sprain last month he’d like to suit up for Canada just to extend his season.
He was invited to go last spring by Canadian GM Roberto Luongo, but turned it down because of his status as a restricted free agent last summer. Signed to a six-year deal before training camp, Batherson would love the opportunity to play for his country and would be reliable in any role.
Sidelined with a hand injury, defenseman Thomas Chabot would be a candidate, but if he doesn’t suit up for the Senators before the end of the season then he likely won’t play at the tournament. As Smith would say, he’d have to be “100 per cent” healthy because the Senators wouldn’t want to take any risk.
Winger Connor Brown hasn’t had the kind of season he did during the shortened 56-game schedule, but he was strong for Canada last spring and may get an invite to return.
Of course, Canada won’t be the only country that will come calling:
TEAMUSA: The Americans may have Ottawa associate coach Jack Capuano on his staff after he was the head coach last spring.
Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, center Josh Norris and defenseman Jake Sanderson would all be on Team USA’s shortlist for invitations.
Norris will likely turn down an invitation because of his status as a restricted free agent this spring.
As for Tkachuk, he’ll have a decision to make. You wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to focus on off-season training because competing for a playoff spot in Ottawa next season is paramount.
Unless Sanderson, 19, makes his NHL debut with the Senators in the final week of the season there’s little or no chance he’ll play for Team USA. It would be a good way to end what’s been a difficult season with COVID-19 and injuries, but the University of North Dakota graduate is a big part of the future here.
GERMANY: Ottawa center Tim Stuetzle, who has 17 goals and 47 points in 70 games this season, is completing his first full year in the NHL.
He’s one of the best players to come out of Germany in this era and there will be an invitation for him to participate. Stuetzle would have a chance to play with several of his close friends and he loves playing so he shouldn’t be ruled out.
SWEDEN: Goaltender Anton Forsberg has been one of the best Swedish goalies in the NHL this season and he deserves an invitation.
Whether the 29-year-old would accept isn’t known, but he should be given the option to extend his season if he’d like.
Not sure if defenseman Erik Brannstrom would be on the radar screen, but playing at that level would certainly help his game.
Russia isn’t invited to participate in the event, which will get underway May 13 and will wrap up May 29. Helsinki and Tampere will be the host cities.