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The wait for the kind of love in Claude Giroux received in Ottawa on Wednesday has been a long time coming.
Veteran free agents with his pedigree — an almost point a game player during his 15-year, 1,018-game career in the National Hockey League, including nine years as captain of the Philadelphia Flyers — just don’t sign with the Senators.
At least they never used to.
Apparently, the times, they are a changin’.
The Giroux signing is the latest move in what has been a dizzying week, month and summer for long-suffering Senators fans.
The buzz of excitement in the city that has come with the arrival of Giroux, the incoming trade for Alex DeBrincat and the outgoing trade of Matt Murray could be heard above all the mess of the construction noise from east to west and north to south.
The fans that have suffered through the loss of stars Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau during the difficult rebuilding years are rejoicing at the change in tone.
For years, the franchise has been a team plagued by dysfunction and has been the butt of jokes around the NHL, but the organization is now in the midst of an unparalleled run of positive change.
From the buyouts to the trades to the signings of the past week, general manager Pierre Dorion is on a roll, saying Wednesday that it was finally time to take the next step to the point where “we mean business this year.”
And Dorion’s not done yet.
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We’re waiting on a defenceman to round out the top end of the defence chart that could match the talent of the new-look forward lines. Later Wednesday, the versatile Connor Brown was traded to the Washington Capitals for a second round draft pick, which could, in turn, be used to secure such a defenceman as free agency continues.
Accordingly, there’s no hiding the optimism in the air.
It’s not just the abrupt willingness for the organization to open up the wallet far wider since the death of former owner Eugene Melnyk in March — Giroux will make $7 million in each of the next two seasons and $5.5 million the year after that, and DeBrincat has a $9-million price tag for next season — but there’s also a community spirit to everything that has been happening.
A significant part of the appeal in bringing Giroux in to help guide Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Tim Stuetzle is his community roots. Giroux spent his teenage years in Orléans before going on to star with the Gatineau Olympiques.
There may be cranes everywhere you look on the skyline, but Ottawa is still very much a village.
“Everywhere I’ve been going in Ottawa in the last two months, everyone has been asking me, ‘Are you signing Claude?’” Dorion said in his afternoon mediia conference alongside Giroux and Giroux’s two-year-old son, Gavin.
“I can’t go to the grocery store. I can’t go the beer store. I can’t go to the liquor store. I can’t go anywhere.”
All kidding aside, Dorion is being treated much more kindly these days, when compared to the darkest days of the rebuild.
It’s in keeping with the momentum that has come from the recent return to the spotlight of the blasts from the Senators past: Daniel Alfredsson becoming the first modern-day player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and Wade Redden joining the club’s development staff.
When Melnyk was in charge, the organization didn’t publicly promote Alfredsson’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame due to the strained off-ice relationship between the two.
Given the environment of a new community buzz surrounding the franchise, it’s perfectly fitting that the next wave of hopefuls, those attending the team’s development camp this week, were taking in Bluesfest at LeBreton Flats on Wednesday night.
Sunny days, sunny nights, good notes and good vibes all around.
Some of those kids may even be skating on those very grounds in a few years time, if and when the revived arena project at LeBreton goes ahead.
On that front, we’ve all been guilty of getting ahead of ourselves before.
Again, though, the tone of numerous parties talking about potentially working together has lowered the temperature from all the public sparring that marked the final years of Eugene Melnyk’s ownership.
Wherever Anna and Olivia Melnyk choose to go from here in terms of selling all, some or none of the franchise, management appears to be operating differently.
Dorion begs to differ, saying he talked to Eugene Melnyk four years ago about the prospect of one day bringing Giroux back to Ottawa and that everything that’s happening now was always part of the grand plan.
Whatever the case may be, the money manoeuvring of the past few months has been a welcome change.
Of course, the Senators still have to turn all the good feelings into wins and need to end the longest drought without a playoff appearance in franchise history.
At this point, though, a healthy share of the fans that had turned away from the team appear ready to jump back on board, filling more of the empty seats at Canadian Tire Centre.
Now back in Ottawa, Giroux is offering the city a cautious optimism that the good times could return.
“Are we going to win the Stanley Cup next year?,” he asked. “Probably not. I’m not saying we won’t, but probably not. But we have a full year to build on it and work on our game to get an identity, and, when we do that, that’s when we’re going to start being dangerous.”