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What's Behind the Sens' Sudden Change in Spending Habits?

Most people will remember the iconic TV moment 18 years ago when the Oprah Winfrey Show gave all 276 audience members brand-new Pontiac G6 sedans. Winfrey famously scurried around the studio, pointing at her fans and bellowing, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”

Senators' GM Pierre Dorion is officially Oprah Winfrey.

Dorion certainly must feel like Oprah did that day, gleefully handing out one big deal after another this summer. You get a multi-year deal! You get a multi-year deal! You get...the idea.

It started with the acquisition of Alex DeBrincat, a player who'll make $9 million in actual salary this season. Then it was the signing of star forward Claude Giroux. Whether you're talking talent or contract value, the Giroux signing (3 years x $6.5 million) was the biggest free agent signing in club history.

Dorion re-signed the newly acquired Mathieu Joseph for four years. He acquired a proven, more expensive goalie in Cam Talbot. And finally, he locked up his top two centres, Josh Norris and Tim Stutzle. For the next eight or nine years, the Sens will shovel over $130 million into the bank accounts of that dynamic centre-ice duo.

This is not typical behaviour for this team. They're the small market NHL team that tries to do more with less. They've always run lean, with smaller staffs and smaller budgets, always hoping their strategy would keep them in contention and convince Sens Nation that watching their product was a fine way to spend a -30 C Thursday night in January.

When a professional sports franchise suddenly begins to act so out of character, it's really hard not wonder: What's going on here? Who are these people and what have they done with the Ottawa Senators? What's behind this new, sudden, amplified commitment to winning?

And they've done more than just make major investments in the player roster. They've traded away or bought out their low achievers. They've mended fences with the city and the NCC to get LeBreton back on track. They made up with OSEG, partnering on a World Junior Hockey hosting bid. They expanded their hockey operations, and even brought back key alumni like Wade Redden, Chris Neil, and Chris Phillips (yes, you're next, Alfie).

Certainly, ownership is at the heart of this sea change. But what's their motive for the change? It would appear that owners Anna and Olivia Melnyk (and their three-person board of directors), are being guided by one of three things right now.

Perhaps they're following through on the wishes of their late father, adhering to his manual to spend close to the cap by 2021, hoping to realize his dream of a rebuild that leads to “unparalleled success.”

Maybe they're now running the franchise their own way, doing everything they believe it takes to be a money-making championship team someday.

Or they're home staging – sprucing up the place – getting the franchise ready for a sale.

If current ownership were still carefully taking posthumous cues from Melnyk, it's doubtful they'd be spending this freely, smartly and pro-actively handing the biggest deal in club history to a player who was still a year away from free agency. It's also unlikely that they'd so quickly make nice with OSEG in a World Junior bid or the NCC in the LeBreton plans.

The latter two options make the most sense. Maybe it's a hybrid of the two until the decision to keep or sell is made. A properly run organization is good for all business, whether it's theirs or someone else's.

For Senators' fans, the current ownership motives for this exciting transition don't really matter. The important thing is they've finally arrived at this point. All the dark cloud concerns about this team's commitment to winning have lifted. And with the Sens' rookie tournament in Buffalo kicking off the return of hockey this week, that's all any fan has been asking for.

By Steve Warne | Sens Nation Hockey


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