Brady Tkachuk was convinced this season would be different.
The Ottawa Senators captain felt the same way in 2022-23. And in the previous season, too.
Former general manager Pierre Dorion confidently declared that the team’s reconstruction was complete in September 2021.
Expectations were very high for the organization’s young players – led by Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot – with many expecting them to battle with the section’s heavyweights for the title in Atlantic.
The Senators instead found themselves in the same position as before Dorion’s resounding declaration.
The Ontario franchise, which finally seemed on the verge of contending for a playoff spot after last participating in 2017, is currently 28e in the general classification with only 42 points in 47 matches.
This anemic performance comes after the Senators finished in 21e place in 2022-23. They finished at 26e rank in the previous season.
“The whole team is disappointed,” Tkachuk admitted during the festivities surrounding the All-Star Game last weekend in Toronto. We’re stuck. »
Which should not particularly please the team owners.
Michael Andlauer, who completed the purchase of the club as training camp got underway last fall, fired Dorion in November due to a botched transaction that forced the Ottawa team to be relieved of a first-round draft pick.
Another up-and-down start to the season – fans in the federal capital have experienced several in recent years – also led to the dismissal of head coach DJ Smith in December.
Jacques Martin, who was behind the Senators bench from 1996 to 2004, took over on an interim basis, was unable to turn things around as evidenced by his 9-10-2 record. The Ontario club, however, posted two consecutive overtime victories before the All-Star break and the following bye week.
“DJ was a very good coach,” Tkachuk said of Smith, who led the team since 2019. “Jacques brings a different perspective, a different way of thinking depending on the circumstances. »
Unless they have an irresistible streak like that of the Edmonton Oilers – their 16-game winning streak ended Tuesday night – the Senators will miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
Dorion, who has been their general manager since April 2016, was never able to resolve the team’s issues in net and depth during this erratic rebuild. That task now falls to president and general manager Steve Staios, who will also have to make another decision regarding who his head coach will be before the 2024-25 season.
Tkachuk – who agreed to a contract worth more than US$57.5 million a month after Dorion declared the team’s successful rebuild would be in Ottawa until 2027-28 – couldn’t hide his frustration as to the turn of events.
“We had high expectations for this season,” said the pugnacious striker. We didn’t achieve our goals… and it’s the fault of the leaders of this team. »
Tkachuk, who is 24, said he is encouraged by the team’s performance in recent weeks – although it is most likely a little too late – but says he feels the weight of responsibility for another disappointing season .
“What disappoints me the most is that I’m not just doing this for us or our team, but also for the community,” he said. The supporters who kept hope in us. We want to give them good memories, the ones they dream of living. They deserve it. This is what is the most difficult to live with, in my opinion. We disappointed many fans.
“I hate it,” he concluded.