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Duchene the first domino in another Ottawa exodus

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There was a small window of time on Thursday where Ottawa Senators fans were trying to be optimistic.

To be precise, it was a two hour and 49 minute window that started at 3:41 p.m. ET, when TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie tweeted that, unless there was the framework of a contract extension in place, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel would likely join Matt Duchene as healthy scratches in New Jersey.

Social media and talk radio was abuzz with the possibility of Stone stepping on the ice at the Prudential Center, which would signal a contract extension with the most popular player on the roster was merely a formality. This type of drama and intrigue in the minutes leading up to a game is usually reserved for the Stanley Cup playoffs, not a regular-season game in February. 

And yet, in their heart of hearts, every single Senators fan knew that Stone wouldn’t be on the ice at 6:30 p.m. 

Optimism is not a sentiment that comes easily to Ottawa fans. Instead, resignation is the default emotion around these parts. 

So when Stone, Dzingel and Duchene were absent from the pregame skate at the Prudential Center, it pushed the situation closer to the resolution that most Sens fans were expecting all along: all three players are likely headed out of town.

Duchene is the first domino to fall, headed to Columbus for a return that doesn’t come close to matching what the Senators gave up for him. The Sens worked hard on trying to convince Duchene to stay over the past few months, as that was their preferred outcome. Instead, Duchene felt more comfortable rolling the dice with a franchise he’s never played for rather than signing up for eight more years in Ottawa.

The Senators have an image problem and this latest turn of events will only amplify the notion that the organization can’t hang on to its star players. Depending on how far back you want to draw the line, you could go with departures like Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Alexei Yashin and Dany Heatley. Or you could focus on more recent exits like Daniel Alfredsson (twice), Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson.

Whatever timeline you use, each departure of a high-profile player was cloaked in mystery, intrigue and tension. In virtually every aforementioned situation, it feels like a reasonable explanation for the departure wasn’t given that satiated the fan base. 

It’s almost like the plot from a B-level horror film that received funding from the Canadian government: One by one, a serious of high-profile hockey players disappear from a city without a reasonable explanation.

With Duchene off the board and the departures of Stone and Dzingel just a matter of time, it simply feels like we’re back to copy-and-paste journalism. Re-writing and re-telling the same story, just with altered names and dates.

Something has to change in Ottawa and it’s not the attitude of the fan base. This isn’t a small handful of angry fans, carrying virtual pitchforks and torches on the internet. This is a majority group of passionate fans who feel alienated by the direction of an organization. They aren’t a cavalier group of fair-weather fans who are fleeing the bandwagon after a rough patch in the road. They stuck through four playoff losses to the Leafs, Jeff Friesen’s goal and a disappointing visit to the Stanley Cup Final. 

But what Sens fans are enduring right now goes beyond what would be considered within the normal range of ups and downs of a sports franchise. You expect your favourite sports franchise to leave you heartbroken; that’s the unspoken rule when we strap ourselves into the roller-coaster ride of being a sports fan in the first place.

What you don’t sign up for is perpetual state of dysfunction that leaves you hopeless. We cheer for sports teams because we need an escape from the drama and tension from our own lives; we don’t seek that from our favourite teams. 

A conservative estimate would place the drop in season ticket sales to about 20 per cent from last season, as the club was trying to recover from a disastrous season both on and off the ice. This season was supposed to be a fresh start, with the slogan #OttawaRising being used by the club to launch a new era. 

That marketing campaign and hashtag were premature. There was still some unfinished business for the team in the form of their big three free agents. That, coupled with the fact that Ottawa is sitting in last place and not in possession of their own first-round pick, only adds to the precarious situation that has enveloped the Senators. The slogan #OttawaRising is more apt to work eight months from now when a lot of this is in the rear-view mirror. 

But when we get to training camp in September, Sens fans will already be fretting over the future of Thomas Chabot, who enters the final year of his entry-level contract next season. A reasonable person would point out that Chabot is under team control for several more years, so the thought of him leaving shouldn’t cross anybody’s mind for another few years. But these aren’t reasonable times in Ottawa and the idea of Chabot accepting an offer sheet in the summer of 2020 that is too rich for the club will certainly be on the radar if he’s not locked up before then. 

That’s the problem with pessimism; it clouds your ability to enjoy anything because you’re constantly convinced the worst outcome is just around the corner. So while the Senators will undoubtedly trumpet a new era featuring the likes of Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Colin White, many of their most loyal fans will respond with a collective shrug, counting down the days until they hit unrestricted free agency. 

The majority of blame for the Senators’ current predicament is being placed squarely at the feet of owner Eugene Melnyk, who has been the one constant over the past 15 years. Melnyk, however, has disappeared from the public sphere – a sharp change of direction for a man who once had the reputation of never meeting a microphone that he didn’t like.

An educated guess would suggest that Melnyk’s disappearance has less to do with a coordinated PR strategy and more to do with his complete lack of trust with local reporters. He believes his words get twisted and turned against him, so he has opted to simply release statements and pre-cut videos in lieu of doing press conferences. 

But now is the time when Ottawa fans are desperately craving some sort of clear, concise message from someone in charge. Not a vague statement promising more resources will be poured into scouting, drafting and developing. Not a press release promising to spend to the cap down the road during an era of unprecedented success. 

They need someone in front of the microphones right now to speak to the majority of their fan base who feel alienated and emotionally disconnected from the team. 

There is a movement on social media to start a “Melnyk Out” chant inside the Canadian Tire Centre on Friday night as the Senators host Duchene and the Blue Jackets. Though they’ve been reluctant in the past, it’s time the Senators engage with that portion of the fan base.

The words “Melnyk Out” could easily be replaced with “We Demand Better.” That’s the crux of the message here to Melnyk: These fans want to throw their money at your team and become emotionally invested in the Senators again. But you have to find a way to get their trust back. Of all the emotional connections between a fan base and a sports team, trust is the one bond you cannot break.

Right now, it’s shattered into a million pieces on the floor. 

Not being able to sign three pending UFAs – in particular a fan-favourite in Stone – doesn’t help matters. If this rebuild and vision wasn’t good enough for Stone, why should it be good enough for the fans? 

It’s a legitimate question to ponder. 

Senators’ fans are now waiting for the inevitable. Duchene is gone and Stone and Dzingel won’t be too far behind. 

But sadly, the fans in this city know the drill all too well.  

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2 years after Westboro bus tragedy, city has settled $5M in claims

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Two years after a double-decker OC Transpo bus slammed into Westboro station, killing three passengers and injuring scores more, the City of Ottawa says it has paid out more than $5 million to the victims and families who filed lawsuits in the wake of the tragedy.

Judy Booth, Bruce Thomlinson and Anja van Beek died in the crash on Jan. 11, 2019. Other passengers suffered life-altering injuries.

The City of Ottawa has been served with 18 statements of claim including one class-action lawsuit. The courts have not yet issued a decision on whether that class action should be certified, according to city solicitor David White. Another dozen notices filed could eventually bring the total number of lawsuits against the city to 30.

White said claims involving two of the three deceased passengers have now been settled, and he expects more claims to be settled this year. The city and its insurers have advanced partial payments to some victims who needed the financial assistance, he said.

A year ago, the city formally stated it was civilly responsible for the crash. The focus then shifted to figuring out how much claimants should receive, rather than deliberating over legal responsibility.

“The City and its insurers continue to work diligently to resolve the claims that have been advanced, though there is work yet to be done in this regard,” White wrote in an email ahead of the second anniversary of the tragedy.

“The objective is to ensure that the victims and their families are adequately and appropriately compensated.”

As for criminal proceedings, the trial of bus driver Aissatou Diallo remains scheduled for eight weeks beginning March 22. Diallo faces more than three dozen charges including three counts of dangerous driving causing death.

When they announced those charges back in August 2019, police said the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the crash.

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Ottawa adds 127 new COVID-19 cases on Monday for more than 1,000 in past week

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Ottawa Public Health says 127 more people in Ottawa have tested positive for COVID-19, another triple-digit case count for the city.

One new death related to COVID-19 was also reported in Ottawa today.

In the past week, the city has added more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases to its pandemic total. There have been only two days in January to date where OPH has reported fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19. Daily reports from Jan. 5 to Jan 11 inclusive add up to 1,033 new cases of COVID-19 in total. 

This comes as Ontario reports more than 3,300 new cases provincewide and 29 new deaths, pushing the provincewide death toll from the pandemic to more than 5,000. The province reported 159 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa. 

Figures from OPH have differed from the province’s, sometimes significantly, in recent days, which OPH says is due to differences in when data is pulled for each respective daily update. On Saturday, OPH said its team adjusted its data pulling time locally to help cut down on the discrepancies with the provincial reports.

According to Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 11,505 total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city since the pandemic began last March. OPH says 398 residents of Ottawa have died of COVID-19.

The number of active cases in the city continues its record-breaking rise, but the increase slowed significantly on Monday, driven by a large number of resolved cases. The testing positivity rate has also decreased slightly.

However, the city’s rate of new cases per capita is still going up.

OTTAWA’S COVID-19 KEY STATISTICS

A province-wide lockdown went into effect on Dec. 26, 2020. Ottawa Public Health moved Ottawa into its red zone last week.

Ottawa Public Health data:

  1. COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 95.8 cases
  2. Positivity rate in Ottawa: 4.6 per cent (Jan. 4 – Jan. 10)
  3. Reproduction number: 1.12 (seven day average) 

ACTIVE CASES OF COVID-19 IN OTTAWA

The number of people with active infections of COVID-19 has increased by five to 1,207, as it continues its trend of reaching record-breaking heights.

However, this is much lower rate of increase compared to the weekend, when more than 200 new active infections were recorded.

OPH says 121 more people have had their cases of COVID-19 resolve, bringing the city’s number of resolved cases to 9,900.

The number of active cases is the number of total laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 minus the numbers of resolved cases and deaths. A case is considered resolved 14 days after known symptom onset or positive test result.

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COVID-19: About half of 184 new Ottawa cases in those 29 and under; Ontario reports record high 3,945 cases

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Ottawa Public Health reported another 184 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as the province reported another single-day record with 3,945 new infections over the past 24 hours.

Ontario reported 61 more deaths linked to the virus in the previous 24-hour period. Two of those deaths were in Ottawa.

Ninety new cases, or about half of Sunday’s new cases in Ottawa, were reported among those aged 29 and under, with 18 new cases in children nine and under, 28 new cases in those aged 10 to 19 and 44 cases in those aged 20 to 29.

Of those in hospital in Ottawa, one patient is under 19, two are in their 20s, three in their 50s and four in their 60s. There are nine patients in their 70s, five in their 80s and two in their 90s.

Four new institutional outbreaks were declared Sunday in long-term care settings, with new outbreaks at the Duke of Devonshire retirement home, Colonel By retirement home, Grace Manor and at a group home.

“Ottawa we were doing so well,” Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, the minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture, said via Twitter on Sunday afternoon. “We had just 19 cases Dec. 23. Had we kept it up we were heading to Yellow (“protect” zone). Today, however, even with new restrictions, Dr. ⁦Vera Etches is telling us we are moving to Grey (“lockdown”) … Our rate of infection after the province wide shutdown is going the wrong way and fast.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 1,160 new cases of coronavirus in Toronto, 641 in Peel Region and 357 in York Region. There are 223 more cases in Windsor-Essex County and 220 in Waterloo.

A total of 4,983 people have died from COVID-19 in Ontario and 215,782 have tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations are increasing at a rate that is alarming public health experts.

There were 26 new admissions in Ontario hospitals since the last reporting period. There are now 1,483 COVID-19 patients requiring hospital treatment, with 388 people in intensive care units across the province and 266 on ventilators.

More than 62,300 tests have been completed since the last provincial update on Saturday.

A total of 397 people have now died from the virus in Ottawa as the city’s active case count continues to spike.

There are now 1,202 active cases in the city. According to OPH data, 9,779 of those are resolved.

There are 26 patients in Ottawa hospitals, with nine in intensive care.

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