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‘Captain of the community’: Senators finally put ‘C’ on Tkachuk

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The writing is off the wall and into the Senators history books.

As sure as everyone knew Jack Eichel would eventually get traded, we all expected Brady Tkachuk would be named the 10th captain of the Ottawa Senators.

Coincidentally, two of hockey’s more predictable storylines happened 24 hours apart, both in Ottawa.

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On Thursday, Eichel was traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the Vegas Golden Knights while the Knights were preparing for a game at the Canadian Tire Centre against the Senators.

A day later the Senators announced that Tkachuk was getting the ‘C’ that might have been his in training camp, except that the winger was involved in lengthy contract negotiations that kept him away from the team until he signed a seven-year deal on Oct. 14.

Protracted contract talks often damage a relationship between a star player and his team. Oddly enough, the opposite happened in this case. The Senators and their fan base only feel closer to Tkachuk because he committed long term to Ottawa, after so many previous stars departed as would-be deals collapsed.

Tkachuk said he was informed of the news on Thursday, following a meeting with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. General manager Pierre Dorion and Senators head coach D.J. Smith had previously dropped plenty of hints about this development, once Tkachuk had time to settle into the season. He has four points in seven games, and the captaincy announcement took some of the sting out of Thursday’s 5-1 loss to the Knights.

“There’s plenty of other guys that have captain attributes,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, we think that Brady’s play, his demeanour, his leadership . . . can help this franchise going forward and put us on the map.”

Smith acknowledged that franchise defenceman Thomas Chabot would have been a good choice as well, but likes the idea of Tkachuk’s raw and physical play dragging others into battle, with the ‘C’ as a crowning touch.

“It’s not an easy choice,” Smith said, “but we feel that Brady’s style of play, his day-to-day actions with the guys, his ability to lead with emotion will help us in the long run.”

Smith touched on Tkachuk’s unique way of caring for the “little guy,” referring to not just his teammates on the ice but his treatment of team staff, fans and the general public that define his big-hearted character.

“Being a captain of the team isn’t just the players, it’s the captain of the community, really,” Smith said. “He’s the kind of guy who is going to lead not only in the room but away from the rink and bring something to the brand.”

The Senators have not had a captain since Erik Karlsson was traded in the fall of 2018.

Smith personally presented Tkachuk with his new No. 7 jersey, the one with the ‘C’ on the chest. If the sweater got heavier with that single letter, Tkachuk wasn’t letting on that this would be any kind of burden.

Tkachuk acknowledged the privilege and honour to follow in the footsteps of some great Senators captains before him, but vowed to be the same old lovable player (here) and aggravating player (to opponents) he has always been.

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“It’s definitely an added responsibility but I’m still going to be the same person who comes to the rink with a smile on my face,” Tkachuk said. “I’m just happy to go to work with all my best buddies. So, it’s definitely exciting but I don’t think I’m going to change one bit with it.”

Tkachuk said all the right things about a team relying on group leadership, not just one player. And he feels the Senators have a good mix of voices and different leadership styles.

To whom does Tkachuk compare in Senators captaincy history?

Karlsson led with his skill. Daniel Alfredsson with a combination of skill and will.

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Just a thought, but I liken Tkachuk a little bit to Randy Cunneyworth, with the most obvious difference being that Cunneyworth was an established veteran in the twilight of his career when he took on the role of leading a younger Senators group from 1994-98. Like Tkachuk, Cunneyworth was tough, wore his heart on his sleeve and was beloved by his teammates and the general public. At 22, with term on his contract, Tkachuk gets a chance to be a captain for a long time, as part of a developing young core. He could be captain for as long as Alfredsson or even longer, should Tkachuk sign another significant deal here beyond 2027-28. Alfredsson wore the ‘C’ from 1999 to 2013.

Tkachuk made a point of saying he wants to connect with the broader fan base as part of his new role.

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It’s expected that the six-foot-four, 205-pound St. Louis native will continue his rugged play with a side dish of inspiring his bench. In 205 career NHL games, Tkachuk has 129 points and 271 penalty minutes while contributing hours of robust play and chirping at ice level.

“The big thing for me is to lead by example and try to put my heart and soul into it,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like everybody’s different in their leadership characteristics and I think that’s what makes our team so special, everybody has an impact in that locker room.”

The man known as “Chucky” says he has already received family texts of congrats, including from older brother Matthew of the Calgary Flames. Brady’s mother, Chantal, happens to be in Ottawa and so the two were able to share the big news in person. Tkachuk said he would be calling his father, Keith, following Friday’s media availability.

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In a statement, Melnyk said that Tkachuk was the right choice because he “personifies leadership.

“While on the ice, he craves winning and commands respect,” Melnyk said. “Off of it, he routinely sets a good example for his teammates and carries himself with a combination of confidence and dignity. He’s deserving of this next step in his career.”

Dorion sees Tkachuk as a natural fit.

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“Brady’s ingrained understanding of what it means to be a pro has made him the right choice for the team’s captaincy,” Dorion said. “He holds a unique skill set and places team success above all else. Admired by teammates and coaches, and respected by opponents, he’s certain to serve as a great ambassador for both our team and for the city of Ottawa.”

Tkachuk won’t have to wait long for his first game as team captain. The Senators are at home to the Tampa Lightning on Saturday afternoon.

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