For a very brief moment in time, Ryan Dzingel was once the most popular man in Ottawa.
On a warm May night in Pittsburgh—with under six minutes to play in Game 7 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Final—the Senators trailed the Penguins 2-1. The winner of the game would be headed to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and the city of Ottawa watched, breathlessly, as the Sens pushed for the tying goal.
Cue the Ryan Dzingel heroics. Erik Karlsson hammered a shot from the point that struck the post, with the puck falling perfectly at Dzingel’s feet. He made no mistake, swatting the puck past Penguins goalie Matt Murray, now his new teammate in Ottawa.
Dzingel’s goal tied it up, forcing overtime and, had that game ended differently, his tying goal might have been remembered forever. But, with Pittsburgh later winning it in double overtime and eliminating the Sens, Dzingel’s moment quickly faded. Having said that, the goal still stands out, simply because it’s the last time the Ottawa Senators have scored a playoff goal.
Well, a lot has happened since then.
Over the next two years, the Sens fell badly out of contention and Dzingel was sent packing to Columbus in the Sens’ fire sale. The clear-cutting of that 2017 Ottawa roster has been relentless, with every player from that Conference finalist now gone, all purged to acquire future assets for the rebuild.
“No one has ever trashed a team the way we have,” said owner Eugene Melnyk on a podcast last year. But last month, the Sens flipped that strategy, making plans to reuse and recycle.
On February 13, Ottawa re-acquired Dzingel from Carolina and, this time, his price tag wasn’t nearly as high. The Sens gave up forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette, who they weren’t using much anyway. The ‘Canes probably felt the same lack of remorse in parting ways with Dzingel, whose production—four points in 11 games—was a little out of step with his $3.5 million salary.
19 days after the deal, after a 2 week quarantine at the Brookstreet Hotel and a few days to get up to speed in practice, Dzingel was finally activated from the non-roster on March 3rd, finally ready to begin his second tour of duty in Ottawa. He made his debut March 4th in Calgary on a line with Chris Tierney and Austin Watson.
As one of the faster skaters in the league, Dzingel has absolutely improved Ottawa’s team speed. But can he still help their scoring? He’s off to a fine start with two goals in his first two games and feeling good in Ottawa. Apparently, some things can be finer than to be in Carolina.
“In Carolina, I didn’t have as a big a role as I would have liked,” admitted Dzingel. “I just want to play quality minutes again, and I know what I’m capable of. I feel great physically.”
Meanwhile, Ottawa would seem to be the perfect place to to rediscover his comfort level and offensive touch.
“You (normally) walk on egg shells when you get a new place,” said Dzingel. “To come to a team that I’m so familiar with…it was easy. I’m still friends with 5 or 6 guys from the (2019) team. It was definitely a lot easier than getting traded in the past.”
“It felt like I haven’t left.”
All parties hope he can be the player he was in 2018-19. Dzingel turns 29 on Tuesday (March 9th) and, at the time of the deal, was having his best NHL season with 22 goals and 44 points in the first 57 games. He finished that year with 56 points. Recreating that kind of production would be huge for the Sens…and for Dzingel. Free agency looms again this summer and he’s now playing for his next contract.
If things go well this spring and Dzingel regains his popularity, perhaps he and the Senators will see the marriage as a good fit and actually extend this little reunion.