After conducting his end of the year media availability last week, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion jumped on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ for the first time in months to talk about his hockey club.
To listen to the full interview, you can use the embedded media player at the bottom of this post, but I’ve transcribed all of Dorion’s comments below.
Interspersed between Dorion’s remarks are thoughts of my own which I’ve highlighted in bold.
On what Dorion didn’t like with the media coverage this season…
“Okay, let’s start off. I think we’ve got to be better at this. We’ve probably got to do more media availabilities. We’ve got to be more transparent. I don’t want to get into too many specifics, but I will say one tweet from someone that I respected a lot bothered me tremendously. The way it was constructed, the way it was phrased, the way it took momentum, made our jobs much tougher. It created a distraction that was unnecessary and I don’t think it had much relevance or truth to it.”
CTV’s Terry Marcotte was on Ottawa the radio the next day and he’s of the belief that it was his tweet that set Dorion off. (As an aside, he sounded pretty damn emotional in the interview and doesn’t understand why he was targeted specifically by Dorion.)
Why the general manager would be upset with a tweet that was later corroborated by NHL insiders like Bob McKenzie or was something that Bobby Ryan believed was moments away from happening on deadline day is beyond me. It probably has to do with Marcotte’s phrasing on “taking on Ryan contract expected to be part of the ask,” like it was a definitive component to what the Senators were looking for.
Whatever the case, moving Erik Karlsson was never going to be easy.
If Karlsson no longer has the confidence in ownership to want to sign an extension here and it forces Dorion’s hand to move him this summer, that’s an unenviable spot to be in – regardless of Terry Marcotte’s tweet.
At this stage, fans are being held hostage by Melnyk’s ownership, but if Karlsson won’t return because of him or his unwillingness to pay his best players market value, I don’t think many fans will begrudge him for wanting out.
I don’t know whether Marcotte’s tweet disrupted the market or impacted the kinds of offers Dorion was getting, but maybe Dorion’s pissed because Marcotte tipped the organization’s hand and gave some insight into how ownership may be pressuring Dorion into cutting payroll and leveraging Karlsson’s awesomeness to rid itself of the unpalatable Bobby Ryan contract.
If that’s the case, it’s goofy.
Had the events unfolded with or without Marcotte’s tweet, you can take whatever frustration Dorion has and magnify it by a million because this fan base is going to be irate to see this organization prioritizing savings over making the best hockey deal it can.
On putting forth the idea that the Senators didn’t actively shop Karlsson and whether that was semantics. Did the Senators actually come close to trading Karlsson at the deadline?
“Yeah, I want to answer this as truthfully as possible. I think we’ve got to show Erik some respect here. He’s our franchise player and he’s a dynamic player. To be quite honest with you, after I said the Gretzky comment, I think it was two days after I saw Erik in Minnesota, I apologized. I said, ‘No one should ever have to hear that.’ We never shopped Erik actively. Obviously we were a team that was very close to the bottom. Many of my counterparts phoned on a lot of players on the roster. I think it took momentum, whether we were close with a team or not close with a team that’s really not to be debatable. We just listened to offers and at the end of the day, there were no franchise deals on our franchise player.”
Maybe this will placate some fans, but if the team is listening to offers because it has to and is negotiating or making counterproposals once said offers are made, most will recognize that there’s essentially no difference.
On whether Bobby Ryan was any part of these discussions and whether Bobby Ryan is a deal-breaker and whether he has to be a part of a Karlsson deal moving forward…
“I’m not going to get into specifics on Bobby Ryan. The one thing I will say and it’s the only thing that I will say – I don’t want to talk about it anymore – is that there were teams that made multiple offers where he wasn’t even part of it. So let’s be clear on that. The last time we talk about it.”
There were many confirmed offers on the table and some permutations included Bobby Ryan, so why was Dorion mad at Terry Marcotte for reporting the truth?
On what management is specifically looking at to decide if the coaching staff will return next season…
“Well, it was a tough year. There’s no doubt that we feel that this team underachieved. We all have to look in the mirror. Management has to look in the mirror. What could we have done better? I think we have to evaluate the coaching staff from top to bottom and we’re going to do so in the next few days. It’s not going to be a decision we’re going to make right now. We’re going to sit down with them again at some point in time over the next few weeks and from there, everyone knows I’m going to Barrie tonight to scout and then I’m going to spend some time in Belleville. We want to sit down and really reflect. There’s no blame here. We just want to look forward, but at the same time, we want to make sure that we make a proper evaluation whether it’s coaches, support staff, players, we have to do so.”
It’s hard to believe the organization needs the time to step away and evaluate everything that’s gone on when the team has essentially been out of the playoff picture since December. Since that time, management has had the opportunity to collect all the evidence it needs to figure out what the cause of the struggles are. Between Dorion’s comments about Boucher’s practice habits, the reluctance to integrate younger players and the poor special teams play, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be some kind of dismissal – whether it’s Boucher or at least some of his assistants – to pay the price for this disappointing season, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see this group return next season as a cost-cutting measure.
On how much responsibility Boucher took for the power play and the struggles the team had without him running it…
“You’d have to ask him that, not me. To me, everything falls on the coach’s sword. He’s the coach, he’s in charge. It’s the same thing with myself being the general manager, even though Randy Lee is the general manager in Belleville. I’m accountable for that team. We’re accountable together, but I’m in charge. I’m the head of hockey operations, so at the same time, I’m accountable for it. I think Guy being the head coach has to be accountable for our special teams. He’s the guy in charge. He can overrule on anything, that’s the job of a head coach. Even though you delegate certain responsibilities, you can always oversee. For him, he was always told that, ‘Guy you’re in charge. You have to make sure it works.’
Full marks to Dorion for taking accountability for their AHL team in Belleville. The B-Sens were tied for possessing the league’s third-worst point percentage (.414), their MVP was Jim O’Brien and Filip Chlapik led the team in scoring with 32 points. Dorion’s a brave man for accepting responsibility for this.
It’s interesting how management is willing to let the staff operate as it sees fit without much intervention. In Dorion’s media availability, he referenced how he made mention of things that he did not agree with – like his disdain for the lack of practices the coaching staff ran this season – but let them continue to do it. Instead of curbing the problem, a perceived shortcoming was allowed to continue to what the general manager believes was the detriment of the team.
In what world does that make sense?
Success should be built off the flow of information across all levels of this organization to ensure that everyone is given all the tools and support it needs to make the most informed decisions it can. If shortcomings aren’t being properly addressed and are instead being held over a person until the end of the season, how dysfunctional is that and more importantly, in the data and communication era, how much success can you have as an organization?
On the Senators practicing enough and the questionable integration of young players into the lineup…
“Let’s address it in three points. First of all, we talked about it in the presser upstairs. Practice, we don’t want to hear that ‘rest is a weapon’ anymore. We have to practice more. It was brought up a few times during the year, but we’re going to let Guy coach. He’s got a difficult job. We’re going to practice more if he’s back or whomever the coach is. Second thing, the implementation of younger players. We have to be careful here. I talked about it in the presser. We’ve talked about it all year. I think Randy (Lee) when he’s had media availabilities he’s talked about it also, we all want our young players to succeed. But, you talked about when you bring younger people into an organization, they’re probably paid less – whether it’s the business world – but sometimes they’re not ready to make big decisions. In the hockey world, you bring younger players in maybe they’re not ready to have an impact. So you’ve got make sure that you develop them well. We alluded to it in our press conference earlier, Colin White of all of our young prospects, him and Chabot get it so much. They are mature beyond their years, but they mean it (when they say the right things). When we talked to him at the end of the year and we said, ‘On few times when we called up someone else,’ he said, ‘No, they were better than me. They deserved to be called up.’ When we called up Ben Sexton, Randy to him and he said, ‘You don’ even need to explain to me. He’s been better than me. He deserves to go up and play in the NHL.’ And at the end of the year, we explained to him maybe the situation could have been a bit different if we were in a playoff run, but for his development, we felt that he needed to play 50 games or so, handle the puck as much as he can and play in all situations. Mistakes aren’t as magnified down there as they are here. He’s got to get stronger, he knows it, he’s coming to Ottawa and he’s making a full commitment, but he’s got it. For a 20-year old who sees a lot of his good buddies being established NHL players, you might think there’s jealousy or he’s mad, but it’s the furthest thing from it. He goes, ‘For me to be the best NHL player, I knew I needed to spend more time in Belleville than in Ottawa this year.’ So it always depends, you have got to gauge where every player is. It’s like when they come into the business world, some people will gravitate towards higher levels quicker and others take time. It doesn’t mean that the guy who takes two months to achieve a certain position isn’t as good, it’s just you’ve got to do it the right way. And sometimes we have to tell our fans if I get stopped in the grocery store and they ask, it’s each case individually. Like Thomas Chabot probably only needed about 15 games. Colin White probably, we figured needed about 50 (games) and that was the gauge of where we felt they needed to be. I hope that answers and what was the third (question)? Yeah, I touched on them all: practice; implementation and the development of younger players.”
Beyond Chabot’s successful season, I don’t know if there was another player on the Senators’ roster who had much of an impact. I referenced the Belleville Senators’ unproductive season earlier, but on a number of occasions this season, the Senators were forced to promote their best younger prospects because the organization lacked quality depth.
Whether it was on the parent roster on the third or fourth lines or AHL veterans who could step into the Senators’ lineup and allow the better prospects to remain in the minors playing more meaningful minutes, the organization failed to learn from what helped make the team successful down the stretch and into the 2017 playoffs: quality depth.
As much as we can fault the organization for failing to integrate the younger players, especially Chabot earlier on in the season, the organization brought in shitty veteran players who were given every opportunity to fail before the team moved on.
Making matters worse, after the success that Tom Pyatt and Guy Boucher had last season, Dorion empowered the coach to have a larger say in the player personnel moves. Maybe it was reflective of the organization’s budgeting and scouting staffs, or maybe it was a sign that Dorion wasn’t necessarily comfortable targeting players who could be successful in Boucher’s system, but whatever the case is, every free agent pickup or waiver claim was predictably a bust.
In the case of players like Nate Thompson, Johnny Oduya, Gabriel Dumont, easily available data and evidence showed these players to be inconsequential players at this stage of their respective careers, but it was ignored. Chalk it up to ignorance, bias, or poor evaluation, but the Senators gave a lot of ice time to shitty veteran players this season and that’s not all on the coach.
The general manager has to own some of it for not only failing to bring in higher calibre players, but for failing to get rid of these players quickly enough to remove Boucher’s temptation to keep running with these guys.
On having younger players and not forcing guys when they’re not ready…
“Yeah, an example of that is Filip Gustavsson. We’ve got something special in Filip Gustavsson like Thomas Chabot is special. Barring any miracle, Filip Gustavsson is going to be at least in the minors for a full year if not more. We have to make sure that we develop him properly. We’ve got to make sure that when he steps into the NHL that he’s ready to succeed. No matter how our goaltending is next year, when you have a prized asset, you have to make sure you develop him well and he understands that. We’ve talked to him about it – that at the right time, he’ll be our goalie of the future.”
Belleville was supposed to be a place for development, but the only thing that developed this season was a headache. The mismanagement of its goaltenders was inexcusable and it stemmed from the naïve belief that they could rid themselves of Andrew Hammond’s contract last summer. They inked veteran Danny Taylor to a contract believing that someone would roll the dice on Hammond’s previous NHL success. A trade never materialized until November, but even then, Hammond was loaned to the Senators by the Avalanche.
These two veterans ruined whatever opportunity there should have been for younger goaltenders like Marcus Hogberg and Chris Driedger, and these mistakes cannot be made again in the team’s handling of Gustavsson.
Even if I don’t think much of Driedger’s outlook, Hogberg and Gustavsson should play next season, but Kurt Kleinendorst is already on the record petitioning the organization to bring in a veteran next season. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but let the kids play.
On being disappointed in the work ethic or compete with the players down the stretch after being eliminated so early in the season…
“It’s a good question. A lot of players played for pride. I don’t think we were blown out of too many games down the stretch. After, you could say we were kind of… to me, when we couldn’t win every game to get to 96 or 97 points, we felt we were eliminated. From that game, we had that game in Toronto where we were blown out early and maybe another game out of 25 or so, so that’s pretty good. You can’t question the players’ work ethic and commitment at that part.”
In 2016-17, the Senators had 11 games in which they allowed five or more goals (0-10-1) and this past season, they doubled that total to 22 games (2-19-1).
On whether the Senators will offer Erik Karlsson a contract on July 1st…
“Something like that.”
The suspicion here is that the Senators will table what they feel is a fair offer to Karlsson, he’ll rebuff the offer and then the organization can turn around and say that it did its best to keep their generational defenceman in the fold, but he just did not want to return.
On whether Erik Karlsson is going to be an eight-figure cap hit on an annual basis player on where he stands in the league…
“The best thing I can do is is there is no chance I am ever paying a fine.”
On the decision that goes with whether he wants to sign here or not and whether his decision to stay impacts Stone or Duchene’s decision to stay long-term…
“I think you would have to ask them. I alluded to it earlier. We alluded to it. Randy (Lee) and myself, we had great exit interviews. I think our five best ones were Erik, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene – both those guys have said they love it in Ottawa, especially Matt with how much he likes it in Ottawa. The other two were Craig (Anderson) and (Mark Borowiecki).”
You just knew Mark Borowiecki would be a good interview, there’s a reason why the media just love talking to him.
On what makes for a good exit interview…
“Honesty and accountability.
We got to one goal of the Stanley Cup Final last year and they were extensive and we were in 30th place this year and they were extensive. Sometimes you need a few days to gather your thoughts and that’s what we did with the players. We gave them a full day to gather their thoughts and a good exit interview is when we listen. A few were told, but (for) most of them, we listened and listened to what happened, what we have to do to be better and what we have to do so this year never repeats itself again.”
Mixing in some saves will help. A full and healthy year out of Karlsson would help too. Beyond that, it’s hard to envision next season being significantly better if the goaltending struggles and the Senators either move Karlsson for a marginalized return or trade him for a number of young assets who could be years away from being productive contributors to the team. There’s a very real chance that next year’s team could bottom out again.
On having contract negotiations with Mark Stone…
“We touched base during the season. I want to correct you and make sure you get it because I know how some of our fans think and they might expect a contract tomorrow. We touched base during the season and we said at the end of the season, we’d sit down. Mark’s an important player for us, so Monday on my way home at about 6:30 (pm), we had a good productive call from the CTC to Orleans and we know we’re going to sit down in the next few months. Craig Oster, myself and our group have done many contracts together. We feel that we’ll be able to work on something.”
If I’m an agent, I’m leveraging an offer sheet to ensure that my client gets the most money he can get. In this case, using a team like Colorado – who have acquired a number of high picks and can risk losing them by extending an offer sheet – to get Stone the kind of deal he should be looking for if the Senators balk at giving him market value in the negotiations.
On avoiding arbitration with Mark Stone if it gets to that…
“I don’t want to say that because what if, but we have a great relationship. Craig is someone that we’ve always had a great relationship (with). We’ve had many of his players by coincidence and we avoided arbitration with (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau last year, so we hope we can do the same (with Stone).”
If a player elects for arbitration, he cannot sign an offer sheet. In Ottawa’s situation, they probably want to avoid arbitration with Stone because they’ll be looking to extend him long-term rather than get him on short-term deal that brings him closer to unrestricted free agency.
On whether there were any talks of extending Chris Wideman during theseason…
“There were talks that we thought Chris would be able to come back and then the surgeon threw a curve at us and we have to respect that. They are experts in their field. If you speak to Chris, he felt he was ready to play the last few games of the year or the last week of the year, but we’ll all respect doctors. When it comes medically, they have the final say. We did talk briefly to his agent and said we’d reach out in the next few weeks to see if we could come to an agreement. We like Chris. We think Chris has grown and become a good part of this franchise and this organization on this team, so we’d like to do something, but we’re not going to do anything ridiculous.”
Hopefully Dorion’s not saving the ridiculous for Cody Ceci.
Getting Wideman under wraps would be great for the organization because it very well could stand to lose Ceci and Erik Karlsson this summer. Karlsson obviously has the uncertain future because his (un)willingness to sign a contract extension and Ceci is a restricted free agent who should be jettisoned this summer to the highest bidder.
As a right-shot defenceman, at least Wideman represents a depth option who has shown an ability to flourish in sheltered minutes on the third pairing. He can also play on the power play and move the puck.
Wideman’s not a perfect player by any means, he has his own shortcomings that are often exposed when he’s battling with bigger and more physical forwards, but he’s a competent player whose strengths outweigh his weaknesses and in the right situation, he may be able to have success playing more minutes against tougher competition.
On Dorion that buyouts were a possibility and who determines whether a player is healthy enough to be bought out during the offseason…
“If I’m not mistaken, (the player) has to be medically cleared by doctors to be able to play at that point in time. There can be grievance situations, so on that, I’m not exactly sure, but what we want to make sure, we’ll make sure that if we ever buy out a player, he’ll be healthy.”
The question stems from news that Marian Gaborik underwent successful surgery on a herniated disc in his back. Like Alex Burrows, Gaborik is an obvious candidate for a buyout this summer.
On what a team can do something to positively influence the schedule next year…
“Well, that’s something this year that has changed a bit. When it comes to the schedule next year, both myself and Geoff Publow are really involved with the NHL when it’s going to come down to it and sit down with them. The process has already started. I had the chance to talk to the NHL schedule-maker at the NHL GM meetings and we’re set to have a face-to-face at some point in time in the next month where Geoff Publow and myself, we’re going to ensure that the business side’s needs are met, but more importantly that the hockey side’s needs are met.”
Geoff Publow is the Senators’ vice president of strategic development and after two seasons of shoddy scheduling, it’s encouraging to hear that the Senators are finally taking their schedule seriously.
The organization can dump on Guy Boucher for giving his players too much rest, but the organization could have remedied the problem by never agreeing to go to Sweden in the middle of the regular season – which in turn led to the league giving the organization a congested schedule that featured a league-leading 19 back-to-back games.
On how many of this team’s plans and strategies pertain to what happens with Erik Karlsson…
“In some ways it influences it greatly, but in other ways, it doesn’t influence it at all. We feel… we’re not going to fool anyone. For us to say that we’re a Stanley Cup contender next year would be foolish. We have a plan in place where we want to be a perennial playoff team and we hope that Erik is part of that.”
This answer makes me wonder whether the organization is positioning itself to cut expenses everywhere disguising the situation as a rebuild before stating at a Karlsson trade press conference that he simply wanted to go to a contender.
On whether there’s anyone in Belleville who didn’t play at the NHL level this season but could be a player in the future…
“Yeah, your favourite guy, Gabriel Gagne. No, there’s a few other guys. Obviously (Marcus) Hogberg had an up and down year. We wanted to follow a plan. We wanted him in the (ECHL) until Christmas. We brought him up, he started great but then had some inconsistencies. He’s one guy. On the back end, (Andreas) Englund got a game late in the year. His character, how he played and how he competes is very difficult to beat. You do need puck-movers in this league, but you do need guys to protect the lead when you’re up by a goal in the last minute and that’s where Englund really comes in. (Maxime) Lajoie started slow. We feel he’s an NHL player moving forward. The last month according to Randy Lee, he really took off. I’m excited to see him on Friday and Saturday. Up front, Nick Paul has to figure out if he wants to be a player. Gabriel Gagne we think is a player down the road. Obviously (Filip) Chlapik and (Colin) White, and I know I’m forgetting someone and I feel terrible and I’ll apologize to them on Friday night. (Christian) Jaros, sorry that’s who I forgot. He had a big time injury in the second half and didn’t play. He was great in the first half and he needed to adjust. That’s the guy I forgot to mention. I was trying to think off the top of my head, he’s another defencemen who we really like down there. Obviously people saw (Christian) Wolanin here. We told him we hope we never see him in Belleville and he made quite an impression to us. Up front, I’m trying to think… other players need to be better.”
There’s an assortment of young talent in Belleville, but not many players can safely be projected to play in the top half of a lineup. If everything breaks right, most players have middle-six potential as forwards or middle or third pairing potential as defencemen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, every team needs good, young talent that can be cheaply integrated and staggered into the lineup.
On Wolanin’s poise with the puck and the confidence he has…
“Actually, if I can correct you on something, do you know what the most welcoming thing to us was? It was how he adjusted defensively and he got better for the most part – except for one or two games. He knew which games. He pointed out the Carolina game, I think in Carolina where he wasn’t as good, and the Detroit game where he gave up the two-on-one. But, in the first game, he made a mistake a bit, but it was (Conor) McDavid that came down. He does that to guys that have played years in the league with us. We always knew he had that poise with the puck. We always knew that his skill level was very good, but the way he was able to defend, adjust and how to use his stick and angles, that was the one thing that really impressed us. Because, we told Guy (Boucher), you could play him one game after, (it’s your call). There was no tank nation on our side. The only real directions we asked Guy and we left it up to him was, ‘Play Christian Wolanin one game and then you can decide if you want him in the lineup or not. That is your decision.’ And then the other one was when we saw that we couldn’t get to 96 points winning every game, we said we better start playing Mike Condon to see what we’ve got in him to bounce back and maybe get into more games. Those were really the only two directions Guy got all year from our side, but they were both when we were out of it.”
It’s easy to get excited about what Wolanin brings to the table as a left-shot defenceman. I can’t remember the last time the Senators featured two competent, puck moving, left-shot defencemen in their lineup. I don’t know if you have to go back to the days of Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden, but it feels like it’s been awhile.
On the goaltending situation in Belleville…
“Gustavsson will be one of the two guys and then we’ll see. We’re not going to commit to anything else. We’re not happy with the goaltending there this year. We’ve gone with young guys. It hasn’t worked out. We’re really going to evaluate that. One thing is for sure, Filip Gustavsson is one of the two goaltenders there next year. After that, we’re going to sit down — Pierre Groulx, Cory Cooper, Randy Lee and myself – and we’ll make a decision from there.”
The organization has also gone with older players – Andrew Hammond and Danny Taylor – were veterans who’ve had success in the NHL or KHL, and that didn’t work either. So maybe it’s hard to evaluate a team’s goaltending when the team playing in front of them isn’t very good.
Kurt Kleinendorst indicated to management that he would like to see a veteran goaltender be brought in next season, but maybe that’s a reflection of the talent playing up front. Kleinendorst won the Calder Cup playing a teenage goaltender in Binghamton, so it can’t just be an age thing.
For me, I’d prefer to see Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustvasson in the mix and developing at the minor’s highest level, but maybe it doesn’t matter that much if the players in front of them don’t improve. The pressure is on Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee to improve the farm.
On committing to making a renewed emphasis on scouting and player development, but not committing to hiring more people in those areas…
“There’s no backpedalling on that. I think our hockey resources are abundant and they’ve been the same that they’ve been when Bryan Murray was the general manager. Nothing’s changed there. As far as our management staff, the one thing is that we’re not big. You know when you’re part of our management group that your voice resonates a lot because I’ve been on management staffs where it’s triple the number here and there are too many chefs in the kitchen. So we know that your input matters and when it comes to scouting staff and development people, I’ve been on staffs where you have too many scouts. You’re chasing bad players the entire year instead of focusing on drafting good ones. I alluded to it earlier, I alluded to it in the town hall, the guy that we have now – Trent Mann – he can’t hear that, but I think he’ll be a better scout than me. He’s on the right path to be a better scout than me. It’s humbling to say that, but he’s really good. He did tremendous work last year in his first draft and he likes his staff the way it is at the present time. He might move some people around, but we feel we have got the resources to draft well and develop well. I think anyone who talks to Shean Donovan knows that he’s great at what he does. We don’t want to inundate our prospects with having someone there every day. I think they’ve got to play their season rather than have someone with them, but overall, if there’s someone who’s really good, we could definitely look at it.”
It’s no real surprise to see Dorion downplay the size of a staff and reject the perception that more resources could benefit the organization. The last thing he wants to do in this climate is fuel the belief that the organization needs a bigger commitment from its owner.
With that said, in my earlier ‘Thoughts in Bold’ piece that detailed Dorion’s media availability, I examined the team’s draft history and hesitancy to draft European players who did not play in North America or the Swedish league. It could merely be an anomaly, but this reluctance seems to be related to the size of the scouting staff.
Scouting in North America is cheaper and more efficient for the organization. Shorter travel times, more prospects and repeat viewings make it easier to get a handle on a prospect’s future, so it’s understandable why the organization has shown a preference for drafting talent that develops in North America. With that said, it becomes pretty easy to wonder how many gaps exist in the Senators’ scouting coverage or how many talented players have been passed over simply because the Senators did not due their due diligence on the best available talent.
On what was the most disappointing aspect of the season for him watching this club…
“The 50 times the other team scored first. I think it was 50 or 51. Terrible second periods and (bad line changes). Did you have a bug in the coach’s meetings? There are many things. To me, the one thing that I will come back to and I did talk about it earlier, was us not practicing enough. And I left it that in Guy’s hands. I brought it up a few times during the season, but I respect whatever decision (he) made. To me, that was really bothersome and to our management group, that’s something we cannot afford to do. We’re a skilled team and skilled teams need to skate and practice. At times, our defensive zone coverage drove me crazy, but it was also part of our success last year and we went away from it. But, practicing is the one thing that bothered us the most.”
If it’s really bothersome, change the behaviour before it’s too late. You’re all part of the same team and should be pulling in the same direction, if your experience and knowledge could be of use to improve the team and you’re in a position of power, use it. Waiting until the end of the season to lambaste the coaching staff for not practicing enough reeks of standoffishness. It’s an antiquated philosophy that no longer fits the modern game thanks to the information and communication technologies that exist today. Teams that struggle to adjust will get left by the wayside.
On Fredrik Claesson and Ben Harpur’s development last year…
“If you’d asked me about Ben Harpur after our two games in Sweden where he played with Cody Ceci and they went against arguably one of the better lines in the league and they shut them down, I would have said, ‘We’ve got a stud there.’ If you had asked me after 10 games in the second half, I would have said, ‘Not sure what we’ve got there.’ Younger players have to be more consistent. He’s one of them. He’s got to own the confidence he shows in Belleville. Now it’s easier said (than done) because in Belleville, he’s a menace. We don’t think we’re giving you false information here, most times in Belleville, he was better than Thomas Chabot when they were both there. So he’s got the potential and he knows he’s got to be better. It was addressed. Consistency. Don’t accept the fact that you’re here. Impose yourself here. With Freddy, Freddy started great and finished great. He’s got to find consistency. Freddy accepts his role. He’s the happiest man alive. He’s a great teammate. He brings great vibe and energy to the room every night, but you’ve got to understand whether you’re a healthy scratch or you’re playing with Erik Karlsson, you’ve got to be consistent there too. It’s all about consistency, knowing your limits and knowing what you can do to make sure your team has success. So that’s where both of those guys lie.”
Ignoring the inane comparison of a small 13-game sample size, Thomas Chabot was 20 years old and he only had one professional game of experience before playing the first 13 games of his AHL career. He tallied two goals and seven points in 13 games on a bad Belleville team.
Harpur on the other hand is two years older than Chabot and had 11 NHL games and more than 114 games of minor league professional experience under his belt before the start of the 2017-18 season. I would expect him to be more comfortable in his environment and not have to worry about making as many adjustments to his game.
Moving past the AHL experience, it’s impossible not to get excited about Chabot’s future and what elements he brings to the Senators.
If he could not separate himself from Harpur at the minor league level, he sure did that in the NHL as a rookie.
In 63 games for the Senators, Chabot registered 9 goals and 25 points. His blend of skating, hockey IQ and offensive skills is the stuff you dream on once he gets a little more experience. The underlying metrics were relatively strong. Using NaturalStatTrick.com’s ‘With or Without You’ data, it’s obvious that Chabot’s teammates tend to play better when they’re on the ice with Chabot rather than when he’s off of it. None the seven players who posted positive CF% rates when they were not playing with Chabot were regulars this season – Ben Sexton, Nick Paul, Mike Blunden, Patrick Sieloff, Nick Shore, Christian Wolanin and Chris Wideman. At least with the latter two however, they were competent puck movers who played on separate pairings. The others simply benefited from smaller sample sizes.
In Ben Harpur’s case, he strikes me as a player who is given bigger minutes and more responsibility simply because he’s a big defenceman who fits the archetypal defensive defenceman mould.
The results definitely did not warrant a bigger role, but Harpur was frequently called upon to play alongside Cody Ceci in a shutdown role once Dion Phaneuf was dealt.
Harpur’s ‘With or Without You’ numbers this season were diametrically opposed to Chabot’s. When teammates were on the ice playing alongside Harpur, they spent a disproportionate amount of time within their own end defending.
Harpur earned praise for surprising in his small sample size of games last season, but it could have been a function of the team’s success last year in the playoffs. Maybe that’s unfair because it’s not like he played poorly, it’s just that when the team was rolling and playing at its highest level, it’s hard to assess these nine games as a true valuation for what Harpur can reasonably be expected to bring to the table on a consistent basis moving forward.
On giving Guy autonomy as a head coach but pointing out a few things here or there…
“But, it wasn’t like we went into the office and said, ‘You’ve got to practice more.’ It was more, ‘Guy, you’re the coach. You do what you need to do for this team to have as much success as possible.’”
I don’t understand this philosophy.
On whether he has is guilty of listening to the coach on needing a particular player or two…
“Yes, but at the same time, one thing that I’ve learned from all my years in the NHL is, especially with third or fourth line guys or role defencemen, if you impose someone on them, they’ll never play and they’ll never develop. So you have to work with your coaches even more on those guys. People think you’ve got to work with your coach on first line players, it’s the furthest thing from the truth. When it comes to role guys, that’s where you have to work with your coach the most. And did we give Guy a bit too much leniency? Maybe, but in the end, it was our call.”
It seems like Boucher had a preference for redundant veteran players who he was familiar with, but at least the organization recognizes the error of its ways and stop bringing redundant players into the fold simply because of their experience playing under Boucher.
On going with less expensive players as role players and reconciling it with the fact that these players are often younger with less experience…
“I think we alluded to it earlier, but it’s a case-by-case scenario. It depends where we see the ceiling for certain guys. One guy I didn’t mention before was Jack Rodewald – had a really good first half and not as good a second half. We hope he can become some sort of role player. It depends. You can’t go with 20 young guys in your lineup or else you’re going to be 31st without a doubt. You do need a good mix. You need a core of solid veterans, but at the same time I think you can implement younger guys. Whatever role they’ll continue to develop in. We’ve said it all along, we didn’t want Colin White playing seven minutes. It was not going to happen and we didn’t want Thomas Chabot playing under 10 minutes. It wouldn’t be the right thing for his development. There comes a time where a guy like Harpur, he can play those minutes and he had done enough in the American (Hockey) League and he’s old enough that it was right. So we’ve got to fill out your lineup… and how we allocated money by lines probably has to be done better, but that onus is on me. We need to make sure we do that better.”
The Senators love them some role players.
On whether the impressions left on him by fans at these town halls had an impact on him…
“Yeah, the one thing about the town halls which we found is great is that our fans are passionate. They care, they are educated about the team and they care about the team. The one day when a gentleman brought up having a little maple leaf on the sweater to represent that we’re Canada’s capital, we thought that was a great idea. The suggestion about (honouring) Jonathan Pitre, right away we talked with Randy (Lee) and the most distinguished award at our development is the hardest worker. Jonathan spoke at our development camp and he was outstanding, so we’re going to rename the hardest worker (award) as the Jonathan Pitre Award. I wish we could have thought about it, but one of our fans thought about it. Obviously our fans are talking about our in-game experience and they were vocal about it. Our fans want to know the plan, but we want to give them direction on where we’re headed. Obviously we’re going to be younger. We hope to be faster. We want to be a team that is entertaining to watch, but if you gave our fans (the option) of entertaining to watch or win and be boring, for the most part, they’d say win, but just a bit entertaining. So we have got to find the right balance. I think we’re in a results-oriented business, but we’re in the entertainment business also. If we can win as much as we can and still provide a (good bang for their buck), I think everyone comes out a winner.”
The town halls were an interesting exercise for the Senators because I really believed they were going to use them to filter the message and deliver more PR-driven messages. To my pleasant surprise, the opened up the microphones to field questions that they couldn’t entirely prepare themselves for. I’m hoping to get a town hall blog up in the next 24 hours to provide my own insights from the first town hall session. Keep an eye out for that.
On what the timeline is for making a determination on the future of the coaching staff…
“Well, the first thing is Barrie tonight. Belleville over the weekend, maybe Owen Sound or Sarnia on Sunday. Next week review and sit down probably over the next two weeks. (Then) the (NHL Draft) lottery, so early May is probably when we’ll (make a decision). Whatever the decision (is), there might be no announcement, there might be an announcement, but that would probably be the timeframe.”
Dorion’s been pretty outspoken about what he hasn’t liked about the coaching staff this season, but he never really articulated what he did like. It’s a stark contrast from an interview during the 2016-17 season when he referred to hiring Boucher as his best decision. If I had to guess, either Boucher is done or at least one of his assistants is gone to pay the price for this disappointing season.
On whether he’s attending the draft lottery and what his lucky charm will be…
“No, I’ll probably wear the one tie that I wore… I always wear red ties. My kids gave me a tie and I wore it to my first press conference as GM, so I’ll probably wear that tie. Maybe we should ask our fans. Come by and drop off your lucky items and I’ll bring the box. Maybe that’s something that we should look at.”
Plaid jacket, Pierre. Go with your trademark plaid jacket.