The excitement is back in Canada’s capital and the Ottawa Senators are ready to win to again.
The disappointment of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for five straight seasons, including by 27 points last season, has been overrun by the joy and hope the Senators have given their fans in the past two months, further fueled by another big headline they authored Wednesday.
Tim Stutzle became the latest to go all-in on the Senators when the 20-year-old forward, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, signed an eight-year, $66.8 million contract ($8.35 million average annual value) that will begin with the 2023-24 season.
Ottawa previously signed 23-year-old restricted free agent forward Josh Norris, who scored 35 goals last season, to an eight-year, $63.6 million contract ($7.95 million AAV) on July 14, one day after adding potential future Hall of Fame forward Claude Giroux, who signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract ($6.5 million AAV).
They also acquired 24-year-old forward Alex DeBrincat, two-time 41-goal scorer, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 7 and goalie Cam Talbot in a trade with the Minnesota Wild five days later.
“It’s an exciting time for our fans, exciting time for our players,” general manager Pierre Dorion said Wednesday after announcing Stutzle’s contract and handing him the pen to sign it. “I think the organization has suffered, but more importantly the fans have suffered. And now the fans are all pumped up. Everywhere I went this summer in Ottawa it was great.”
[RELATED: Stutzle signs eight-year contract with Senators]
Dorion joked that had to apologize to one of the professional golfers he played with to start the Canadian Women’s Open on Aug. 22 in Ottawa because he was taking more selfies with fans than she was.
“I think people are excited about the product that we’re going to put it on the ice and we’ve seen it in ticket sales,” Dorion said. “How many number of fans we have here I think they’re going to be fully on board with what we’ve done this year.”
The players certainly are.
Dorion said most of the Senators players are back in town even though training camp doesn’t officially open for another two weeks.
“To have almost every player here two weeks before camp, that probably is the biggest indicator of anything,” Dorion said. “You know that sometimes guys come in two or three days [before]. Almost everyone is here now two weeks ahead of camp, so I think that’s an indication of how our players are excited about this upcoming season.”
Stutzle joins Norris, forwards Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, and defenseman Thomas Chabot as Ottawa’s five core players who are signed for at least the next five seasons.
Stutzle will have the highest NHL salary cap charge on the Senators when his contract kicks in at the start of next season. Tkachuk’s cap charge of $8.214 million for the next six seasons is currently the highest.
Chabot’s is $8 million for six more seasons, Norris’ is $7.95 million for eight, and Batherson’s is $4.975 million for five.
“They could have maybe got a bit more, but I think they’re buying into the team concept,” Dorion said. “Let’s not fool ourselves, $66.8 million is more money than any of us will ever see, but I think it shows their commitment to us building a special team here.
“They want to win here.”
Video: Tim Stutzle on his extension with the Senators
Stutzle said it was important for him to sign a long-term contract now, with one season remaining on his entry-level contract, to prove that he’s all-in on the Senators and winning in Ottawa like Norris, Tkachuk, Chabot and Batherson.
“It doesn’t really matter to play one more year and maybe get some more money,” Stutzle said. “It’s just about playing with the team and with the guys, and I just want to play my best hockey.”
Stutzle has the potential to be the best of the bunch, another reason the Senators were so excited to get him locked in through the 2030-31 season.
He had 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 79 games last season, when he transitioned from wing to center. Thirty-one of his points (10 goals, 21 assists) came in 27 games from March 5 through the end of the season.
“I think Tim can be a superstar,” Dorion said. “You look at every part of his game, he’s competitive, he’s dynamic, he’s got speed, he’s got skill, great hockey instincts. He’s learned how to check. He’s learned how to play center. This league can eat you up at times and it did at times when he was 18 years old. Now when he’s out there he’s so dynamic that I think he can be a future superstar in this league.”
For a future Stanley Cup contender, which is what this offseason has allowed Senators fans to believe this team is.