After holding court with season ticket holders across three separate town hall sessions last week, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion had his end of the year media availability Thursday where he discussed his team’s performance and outlined steps that the organization must take in the next few months to put itself back on track in its pursuit of competitiveness.
For those who are unfamiliar with the format for this post, the audio from the availability courtesy of TSN 1200 is available at the bottom of this post.
A full transcript of Dorion’s comments can be read below. After each of Dorion’s comments, I will include my own thoughts that will marked by a bold font.
Here we go…
On there being a timeline for making a decision on Guy Boucher’s future…
“Yes, a full evaluation of the coaching staff is underway right now top to bottom. There’s no real timeline. We want to give ourselves enough time to make a really thorough evaluation. As we’ve said, no harsh decisions. We’re going to meet right after the season. I don’t think (the decision) is for now. I don’t think it’s for the next two weeks, but at some point in time, we’ll make a decision but I don’t see it in the month of April.”
It’s hard to believe that Dorion doesn’t have all the information and player feedback he needs to make an informed decision on whether he wants to bring Boucher back or not, but spending an extra few weeks to avoid an emotional decision or wait to see which coaches become available as teams are eliminated from the postseason seems like a prudent move – presuming of course that the hockey operations department would get the green light to hire an experienced head coach who will cost the team more money.
On the blame that Dorion and Melnyk threw at the media for their coverage of the Senators this season…
“And that’s a fair question. That’s more than fair. I think, first of all, as the head of the hockey (operations), myself, and I’ll just talk about my perspective on things because that’s the only perspective I can give is I probably had to be better this year. I probably have to apologize to our fans. I have to apologize to our fans. An example of that is I said a tongue-in-cheek comment in the middle of January where I said if (Wayne) Gretzky could get traded, anyone else could get traded. And obviously directions were pointed at a certain player and that probably wasn’t the right thing to say at that time. And for that, I need to apologize to our fans.”
The comments that Dorion is referring to stem from a media availability on January 18, 2018.
When Erik Karlsson shared Drew Doughty’s sentiment acknowledging “I’m going to get what I’m worth,” it put the organization in an uncomfortable spot. With their small-market outlook and a budget complicated by expensive contracts to underperforming veterans like Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf, the prospect of clearing cash to pay Karlsson the kind of money he deserves was going to be a challenge.
Rather than placate fan concerns by getting ahead of the matter and stating that money would not be an issue and the organization will do everything within its power to ensure that Karlsson is a part of the organization’s future for years to come, the organization reportedly met with Karlsson to discuss his comments.
From Elliotte Friedman’s ’31 Thoughts’ column on December 11, 2017:
“In the immediate aftermath of Karlsson’s comments, there was a lot of anger inside the organization. Owner Eugene Melnyk is always the flashpoint, but it went deeper. There was at least one tense meeting between the captain and team officials.”
Rather than get ahead of the situation and acknowledge the importance of Karlsson to the franchise and a commitment from the organization in money and competitiveness, it was going to do everything within its power to ensure that Karlsson was a long-term fixture.
From the moment of Karlsson’s comments to Friedman’s excerpt, it has always felt like the organization was preparing fans for the possibility or even likelihood that Karlsson’s time in Ottawa was drawing to a close.
“When it comes to dealing with the media and the people here, we have to be better. We have to do it more often. We finished in 30th place. We have to accept criticism as long as the criticism is the truth and I think some things are reported aren’t even close to the truth. And the problem is that in the world we live in right now, it becomes sensationalized and I probably should have addressed it head on. But at the same time, I think you guys have to… whatever you report on, check your facts. If you’re going to start rumours, ooooooooh… that’s a scary…. you know what, be careful. Make sure it’s not like a friend of three cousins. (Make sure your source is) NHL people, that’s all. I say this with the utmost respect because 99-percent of the people in this room I respect. It’s just check your facts, that’s all. If you want to criticize us because we’re in 30th place, that is your right and (I) have no issues with that because we weren’t very good this year and we have to accept it. As a second-year general manager, I have to take part of that blame and responsibility. But, we have to better at (dealing with the media). There’s no doubt about it. These three town halls that we did, it opened our eyes. It opened my eyes. We care about our fans. For anyone who stayed, the three (town halls) I stayed and I spoke to fans, took their questions. A few of them came up and said, ‘I was too nervous to ask you this, so could I ask you this?’ I had some great conversations with some fans afterwards, just about we need to be better and the message that we put out there needs to be better.”
Dorion addressed what specifically set him off later that day in his appearance on TSN 1200. I’ll be posting another Dorion speaks for this appearance, so you can read about this there.
What I will say is that the Senators have an image problem and the pattern of behaviour that has extended from ownership down to through its communications department is to blame the media.
With all due respect to the Ottawa RedBlacks, the Ottawa Senators have existed and operated for the better part of its existence in a one-horse town. The entertainment dollars and sports coverage within this city has been dominated by their product.
The Senators have every right to guard their product in the event that criticisms or opinions aren’t credibly backed up with substance. But, rather than take ownership for a 30th place finish, the laundry list of C-level executives and coaches who have paid the price for disappointing results, it seems like the organization – from management down through its communications department – blames the media for fuelling the negativity that has permeated this fan base.
After Thursday’s media availability, TSN 1200 station director and morning host John Rodenburg posted the following message on Twitter:
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the #MelnykOut billboards drove a discussion about how the Senators organization was run.
“You would have to be really naive to believe that there aren’t overt pressures or consequences from the organization whenever the tone is perceived to be negative.
Maybe that’s thin-skinned on the organization’s part, but in fairness to the Senators, that is their choice to make. Where I see an opportunity to recognize that criticisms can come from a good place because people passionately want to see change and improvements for their favourite team, the Senators have every right to protect their brand as they see fit.”
It’s great that Dorion’s apologizing and recognizing that apathy is worse than constructive criticism from an impassioned audience.
On what has to go into the decision on whether Guy Boucher remains as head coach…
“I think the first and foremost thing right now is I’m going to do a bit of scouting. I’m going to go to Belleville this weekend… well, Rochester Friday, Belleville Saturday and I’m not sure about Sunday if I’m going to go to a junior game or Toronto where Belleville plays, then the (NHL draft) lottery. After that, during this process we’re going to sit down and figure out what we need to do. At that point in time, we’ll make the decision. We still all think that Guy’s a very good coach. Don’t get me wrong here, but when you finish in 30th place, I think you have to evaluate everything.”
A 30th place finish, poor special teams, encouraging the general manager to pick up redundant players for depth roles because there is a degree of familiarity there, too many bench minors, shifting the assistant coaches’ roles midseason, the list of problems is long.
On if Boucher comes back, what he needs to improve upon…
“If he’s back, I think things need to change and they were addressed. During the season, Guy and myself had meetings. We’ll address things, but Guy has the toughest job in Ottawa. I’ve said that multiple times. The toughest job in Ottawa is the head coach of the Ottawa Senators. During the course of the season, we have little interchanges, but we believe having Guy coach with an open mind is the best way for (us to have) success. So during the course of the season we’ll bring up little things that we feel maybe could improve, but at the same time, he’s the coach and we’ll let him be the coach. At the end of the season, we had about a two-hour meeting and there were quite a few things that were addressed because to us, this is unacceptable. The one thing I will say is two things that will change, for sure if he’s back, is the implementation of younger players into our lineup – but he will decide who gets what ice time – and we’re going to practice more. ‘Rest is a weapon’, if I hear that one more time, I’ll go crazy.”
I understand wanting to give a head coach autonomy and a sense of control, at the same time however, there has to be some degree of dialogue and input wherein decisions for the good of the organization can be influenced before things reach a point of no return. If integrating younger players into the lineup – a personnel issue that should most certainly should involve the general manager, especially when the Senators were removed from the playoff picture so early in the season – and a lack of practicing were identified as problems, why the hell were they allowed to continue? Where is the communication and where is the direction from management? Dorion’s in his second year as the general manager, so maybe some of this isolationism and poor leadership could be chalked up to inexperience, but it’s inexcusable in this day and age of sports, that these kind of problems weren’t resolved through a unified philosophy.
Moreover, maybe the organization’s higher-ups can take some responsibility for the NHL schedule. It would be interesting to know what kind of financial windfall the team received for its midseason trip to Sweden that congested the rest of the team’s schedule. I don’t want to make excuses for Guy Boucher since I believe that there were a number of mistakes that he made over the course of the season, but if the coaching staff believed that fatigue was a problem that the team had to combat (ie. creating a bigger susceptibility to injuries), maybe the organization could take responsibility for sending the team to Sweden in the first place.
On the three to five year period referenced during the town halls as being a timeline for Stanley Cup contention…
“No, and that (time frame) came from Mr. Melnyk, but it’s also part of our plan. We’re not going to go from a team right now that can be a Stanley Cup favourite next year, but at the same time, we think we can… step one is to start making the playoffs next year, but be there for every year. We don’t want to be in the playoffs every other year and for that, there might be a bit of lumps and there might be an implementation of younger players into the lineup, so we can build and they reach their potential in three to five years, they’re at their best. So I think that was the intention stated. We want to be a playoff team every year. When the puck drops, next year I think it will be October 4th, 5th or 6th, whatever day it is in early October, we want to feel that we’re a perennial playoff team every year and build towards a Stanley Cup in three to five years.”
Being a perennial playoff team sounds great, but in a cyclical sports world, I’d prefer to hear organization sell fans on the goal of winning a championship and building the biggest window of Stanley Cup contention that it can.
On there being an owner image issue with the fans and how much impact the fans have on an Erik Karlsson decision…
“I think we have to listen to and respect our fans. I think they’re the backbone of our organization, especially the season seat members that participated in the town halls and the ones that were unable to be there. We are going to make the best hockey decisions for this organization moving forward, but we listen to our fans.”
I’m not sure how Dorion balances his “we listen to our fans” statement with comments from earlier in the season that “Cody (Ceci) is one player – and I know a lot of the pundits out there might disagree with it – I’d like to have as a Senator for a long, long time.”
On whether buying out players in an option for the organization this summer…
“Yes, but I think out of respect to the players we’ve discussed it with, we’re going to keep it (internal). But in the exit interviews, it was brought up with more than one player.”
If buyouts are a possibility, Marian Gaborik was an obvious candidate from the moment that the Senators acquired him. Mind you, it remains to be seen whether surgery on a herniated disc in his back could impact the possibility of a buyout there.
With $10.825-million and three years remaining on his deal, a prospective buyout would cost the Senators $1,202,778 per year over the next six seasons.
Alex Burrows is another player whose contract looked awful from the moment he was acquired and subsequently extended at the 2017 NHL trade deadline. Buying out the remaining year and $2.5-million on Burrows’ deal would the Senators $833,333 per year over the next two seasons. Since Burrows signed a contract after he was 35-years old, the Senators would not receive any cap hit benefit from the buyout – which would not matter much since the Senators are not a cap ceiling team.
On the possibility of keeping their own 2018 first round pick…
“99.9-percent. We never know what can happen, but we’ve had the chance to go scout quite a bit. I’ve had the chance with my scouting background and let me make it clear, I’m going to scout not because of the number of scouts we have. I think I can help Trent Mann and the scouting staff with my experience and I’ve had the chance to see who they think is the top five. We’ve even gone outside the top 10 or 12, just to make sure that anyone else could be in that range. It’s a very good draft. We’re excited that we got two first round picks this year and we think that these two picks can be cornerstones of our franchise – especially when you have a top-five pick. The franchise hasn’t had a top-five pick in the last 17 years. If I’m off in my numbers here, I apologize, but we think that can be really a big stepping stone in us being a contending team in the next three to five years.”
The Senators drafted Jason Spezza with the second overall pick that they acquired from the New York Islanders at the 2001 NHL Draft. The organization hasn’t drafted this low with their own top-five pick since the team drafted Chris Phillips in 1996.
Obviously getting such a high pick will restore a lot of optimism to this fan base, but I believe that there are a lot of fans out there who are guarded with their optimism. For them, the concern is that the organization will believe that this is simply a one-off and simply preserve the status quo and continue to operate without addressing any of the organizational shortcomings that helped bring about this situation in the first place.
On the three to five year plan of Cup contention and whether that could be too long of a period to encourage players like Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone to want to sign extensions…
“Well, I think Mark Stone is 25 and Matt Duchene is 26. One is a ’91 birth and the other is a ’92. If we can hit in that window, (they’ll be close to 30 years old). All I can tell you is that we had five outstanding exit interviews. You’ve heard me talk about the exit interview with Erik Karlsson. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene were, I think, the second and third guys we met with and I think they both want to be here long-term. They were honest and frank conversations about us getting better. I think they know what the plan is and they know what our intentions are. We hope we can keep them part of this for a long time. The other two, if you care, were Craig Anderson and Mark Borowiecki. They were five of the best exit interviews that I’ve had in the three years that we’ve been doing them. They weren’t fluffy conversations. They were honest, hard conversations about how we can get better and having the players’ input really mattered.”
It’s clear that the Senators like to put a lot of ton of weight into what’s said at these exit interviews, which raises an interesting angle for anyone who plays for the Senators moving forward. Like prospective draft picks heading to the NHL combine and NHL Draft, how much can players improve their own stock within the organization in the eyes of the decision-makers by getting some advice and coaching from their agents?
On the possibility of replacing Karlsson and whether that comes from an outside player or whether the team has internal options who could step up…
“Well, we think Thomas Chabot can be a star in this league. He’s just scratching the surface. When it comes to Thomas Chabot, we know we have a real good, young, quality… whether he’s a one, two, three, four… we know we have something special there. And on top of that, the two kids that we took in that draft – him and Colin White – they’re mature beyond their years. They get it. When Colin White comes to us and says in the exit interview to Randy (Lee) and myself, ‘You guys called up the right people. At times, it wasn’t right for me to come up. I needed to play those 20 minutes, play on the power play and penalty kill and handle the puck more.’ He even told us, ‘When I came up here the second time, I felt I was more prepared than when I was here earlier in the year.’ For a 20-year old to say that when a lot of his friends on the US team are in the NHL… that shows me maturity beyond belief. And it’s the same thing with Thomas Chabot, some of the things he said in the exit interviews, I said, ‘Wow! We all wish we could have been that mature at 20-years old.’ So I think we’ve got something special there.”
If the Senators are put into a position where Karlsson has to be moved, the philosophy and PR message is no different than it would be for any team that cannot sell a winner, you sell hope. By praising the performance and maturity of young players like Chabot and White, you’re giving fans two players to invest hope in and believe they’ll play a key role in returning this organization to a respectable level.
On talking to Stone’s representatives about a contract and whether everything’s on the table…
“Yeah, Craig Oster from Newport and myself had discussions during the season. We just felt after the season would be the best time. Monday we ended up talking and we had a really productive talk, but that doesn’t mean… we know Mark is going to be here next year if we can’t come to an agreement and that gives us another year to have a contract. But, that is one contract that we can talk about. We talked on Monday. It was probably the whole (drive) from here to Orleans we talked and it was really productive. We’re going to sit down at some time probably in May or June. There’s no timetable on this and try and hammer out something.”
Matt Cane’s projected salary model with a predicted cap ceiling of $80-million puts a Mark Stone extension at eight years at an annual salary averaging $9,172,897. As much pressure as there is to get an Erik Karlsson contract extension done, it will be interesting to see what ownership or management’s reasonable salary range for Stone is.
On ideally wanting to get a Stone contract done before Karlsson’s deal…
“I might have gotten an email or maybe not gotten an email (from the NHL). Maybe warned or maybe not warned (by the NHL). I can’t talk about future contracts on a specific player (as I’ve been instructed) from our league. So I’m going to be very careful on that one, but when it comes to Mark Stone, we’ve had talks and they were productive. We feel confident that we can do something.”
The Senators cannot publicly disclose any terms of a Karlsson extension before July 1st, but you’d be naïve to believe that conversations about what his expectations for a new contract are. Hell, his asking price is probably what helped fuel the organization’s willingness to let teams kick tires on him.
On figuring out the contract value of what kind of money the team can offer to Erik Karlsson…
“I think we’ve addressed it. I want to be respectful here. I think we addressed it in the town halls. If you’re ready to pay the fine, I’ll go and sit down for a coffee afterwards. We have a CBA and I’m not allowed to say anything (publicly) until July 1st.”
On challenging Mike Hoffman during his exit interview…
“(On) pure talent, Mike Hoffman is in the top percentile in this league. Shooting ability and skating ability, passing ability, Mike Hoffman is a pure, natural talent. I think we can all say that at the forward position, he might be one of our best or our most-skilled guy. Randy (Lee) and myself just challenged him on, ‘Where do you think on a scale of whatever level, how do you think you played? Why was that? And more importantly, why will you be better next year?’ And he responded well.”
No one will ever confuse Mike Hoffman with a Selke Trophy winner and when analysts pick apart his game, he’s one of those players who always leaves you feeling that there’s more to give. Dorion’s not wrong to believe Hoffman’s shooting ability and passing ability are exceptional, but it is lapses like the one above that drives executives crazy.
There’s definitely something to be said about hockey executives and coaches being more forgiving of players making mental or physical mistakes provided they work hard, but admittedly, it’s frustrating to see these lapses when they are within a player’s control.
On how much responsibility he takes for this season and why some of his moves last offseason didn’t work out…
“I take a lot of responsibility for what’s happened. I think when you’re at the head of hockey operations and you finish in 30th place, you have to look in the mirror. Obviously when it comes to offseason signings, some didn’t pan out as well as we expected and I take full responsibility for that. I’ve always said that when it comes to top-end guys, we’re going to consult maybe the scouting staff a bit more. When it comes to role players – especially with having 18 back-to-backs this year because the third and fourth line need to play — you’re going to consult more with the coaches. Things didn’t work out with some of them. Some of them have moved onto other teams and are doing really well, and maybe it was just not the right fit for us, but as individuals, they’re all great people.”
Looking back at Dorion’s moves since he inherited the general manager’s role, it feels like every single one panned out early on through the end of the 2016-17 season. Whether it was the Boucher hiring, the Derick Brassard trade, the Mike Condon acquisition or Viktor Stalberg, it seemed like the immediate benefits to his deals outweighed whatever risks he assumed. This season, it’s like all of the early onset luck ran out and Dorion’s deals bottomed out this season.
On whether the Senators struggled to replace the leadership of a Marc Methot or a Clarke MacArthur…
“Yeah, it’s a good point. Clarke unfortunately did not pass his medical. We couldn’t control that. It was something that was, I wouldn’t call it unexpected, but it caught us by surprise. And maybe we would have been more ready for it if it had come earlier in the summer. On Marc Methot, Marc’s a great guy. We thoroughly enjoyed having him here and Vegas paid a lot of money to get a team in the league. They’re doing really well and congrats to them. We tried to acquire Marc back, there’s no secret there. Everyone knows that, but what they got in return, we couldn’t match what Dallas offered.”
Without the story of how MacArthur was healthy enough to play in the postseason, sustain a neck injury during the playoffs and still continue to play, while failing his physical a few short months later will be fascinating if it ever comes about, it’s hard to know whether the organization knew that MacArthur was going to be shutdown, especially so late in the offseason. Understandably, there are going to be suggestions that MacArthur knew he wanted to return last postseason and used it as a last hurrah, to prove to himself that he could return and play at a high level. Now with that peace of mind, he could walk away from the game and continue to collect his salary through insurance without having to retire and forfeit his future earnings. It’s not an outlandish suggestion, but I just don’t know how much truth to it there is considering it seems like the kind of thing that an insurance company would really dig into.
The Dallas Stars traded away a 2020 second round pick and a 19-year old goaltending prospect in Dylan Ferguson, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft. The likelihood of Ferguson panning out as goaltender, let alone such a late round selection, seems incredibly remote, so it’s hard to stomach the idea that the Senators could not have matched Dallas’ offer. They could have, they just chose not to.
Although the Senators traded away their 2018 second round pick in the Mika Zibanejad trade to New York, the team still possessed its 2019 and 2020 second rounders. Rather than stomach the idea that the Senators balked at the asking price of reacquiring Methot, it’s easier to simply recognize that Methot’s exposure in the expansion draft was the equivalent of a salary dump.
They needed to dump salary to make their internal budget work and ditching the two-years and $9.8-million left on Methot’s contract without having to do any mental or player personnel gymnastics was the easiest course.
Where the organization deserves blame is their insistence on using ineffective veteran roster fodder to plug the gaps. In MacArthur’s case, the organization targeted bottom-six players who Boucher had familiarity with and in Methot’s, the team targeted Johnny Oduya to handle some of those difficult minutes. It never mattered that Oduya was no longer be entrusted to play important minutes two seasons ago or that the team had inexpensive younger players who showed they could play reasonably well with Karlsson, the Senators went old because they didn’t trust their younger players and they got burned.
On getting away from overpaying older guys and implementing younger guys into the depth roles…
“Yeah, I think our model has to be a bit better in how we align our dollars, so we can have as much cap flexibility as possible. You know, obviously some of the veterans that we had really helped us in our player front in what we needed to achieve last year and their performances weren’t as good as we expected this year. And for that, that’s on me.”
Well, it’s not all on Dorion. His predecessor didn’t exactly leave him with a roster devoid of bad contracts. Two of Murray’s biggest blunders – Ryan and Phaneuf – involved committing big dollars to two undeserving players who were on the wrong side of their career trajectory. Dorion did well to save the organization a few dollars on this year’s Phaneuf deal, but fortunately, if the Senators are going to go through an arduous rebuild, the Ryan contracts looks less bad because the team is emphasizing development rather than short-term results.
If the Senators insist on dumping Ryan this offseason in a Karlsson, it will give fans a real glimpse at what’s driving management: a marginalized return will reaffirm belief that Melnyk isn’t interested in getting the best hockey deal, he is only interested in saving himself money.
On the decision to keep the pick this year and whether it’s a reflection of the draft being better this year or whether there’s an assumption that the team will be better next season…
“It’s a combination of those things. I think at the same time, if you can get a player into your lineup and there’s a good chance. Nothing’s for sure. Some guys it depends on how physically and mentally mature the player that we would take in the top-five is ready to step into the NHL, but at the same time, we’re going to take the guy that’s going to help us the best to have long-term success in the NHL. But, if you can implement that player into your lineup right away, I think it makes you a better team. Next year, we could be one point out of the playoffs and we can end up winning the lottery and that’s the thing that we have to look at. I think it was (Philadelphia) that went from 13 to two last year in their first of three picks, so we have to analyze all those situations and there’s a certain chance to take. But, if you can put a player in your lineup right away, it definitely helps you be a better team immediately.”
Saying the organization is all about drafting the best possible player is the customary PR speak at this time of year, but you have to wonder whether it’s smart for the organization to already be talking about dressing their first rounder and his prospective impact on the team next season.
From last year’s draft, only three players wound up playing in more than 10 games. Two of those players were the first and second overall picks – Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick – and the third was overage defenceman Sebastien Aho, who was drafted at 21-years old by the New York Islanders.
Hischier put up a 20 goal and 52 point season, but Patrick only tallied 13 goals and 30 points, that kind of production is fine for a player who turned 19 last September and should be expected to produce more moving forward, but it’s the equivalent of third line production now.
For all the turmoil that could happen on and off the ice next season, it may simply be more prudent for the organization to return their pick to junior and keep him as far away from the distractions in Ottawa as possible.
On how much of this about accountability and how much it needs to improve next season…
“I think accountability comes from everyone. I think accountability comes the general manager, the assistant general manager, the coaching staff, players and equipment guys. The one thing that I think really helped us last year and it was one of the best meetings that we ever had. It was a meeting right before the playoffs started. We got all our hockey staff together. I remember because Bryan (Murray) was so good in that meeting. We just talked about we don’t know whether we could be playing four games and we could be playing 28 games. And we said to ourselves, ‘No matter how late we come in, no matter how hard it is, no matter injuries that happen or questionable refereeing, we were going to be positive.’ And I think it helped us thrive to (finishing one goal away from reaching) the Stanley Cup Final. This year, we found too many excuses. We’ve got to move forward from that.”
Injuries. Awful goaltending. Piss poor defensive zone coverage. A shoddy second pairing that logs too many difficult minutes. Glaring personnel mistakes that trickled down from management through to the coaching staff. It was an ugly, ugly season. Usually in the past, written off Senators teams would find someone to go on a late season run and surge up the standings, but with this club, the team just flatlined upon returning from Stockholm.
On what the feedback was from the players on the coaching staff during the exit meetings…
“The players didn’t blame the coaches. They blamed more themselves than anything else. It’s no secret that Randy (Lee) and I met the players without Guy. And it wasn’t about not Guy being there. I didn’t ask them, ‘What did you think of the coach?’ It wasn’t that. It was, ‘What happened this year? What are we going to do to be better next year? Why this will not repeat itself.’ That was more it, why we did it. We felt it was probably the right thing to have a meeting with the coaches before, so our management group had that before with the coaches. After that… we don’t really talk to our players except for the week before the season we’ll talk maybe about life things and maybe, who would you pick for the Masters or something like that? The GM’s side of it, we let our coaches coach and at the same time, we wanted to know what happened this year from their perspective.”
Considering the number of coaches that the Senators have hired since their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2007, it would hardly be surprising to see the organization dismiss Boucher after a disappointing year. Such a decision would certainly fit the organization’s pattern of behaviour, but this summer feels a little different simply because of the well-publicized depiction of Eugene Melnyk as a volatile owner who is difficult to work for.
If the Senators let Boucher go, would they be comfortable paying another coach? Considering the uptick in salaries, could the team afford a credible alternative? Would a credible coaching candidate even consider working for Melnyk?
If the Senators were going to fire Boucher, it would make sense for them to do it this offseason so that it can give Boucher as much time as possible to find a new gig. The organization could then hopefully take advantage of a larger pool of candidates rather than wait for the middle of the season to make a change. Mind you, the organization could follow in its own footsteps by gassing Boucher during the 2018-19 season if the team gets off to a poor start and replacing him with an internal candidate like Marc Crawford.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Senators have elected to go with an internal option. Whether it was replacing John Paddock with Bryan Murray or Cory Clouston replacing Craig Hartsburg or Dave Cameron replacing Paul MacLean during a difficult season, the Senators like to pursue inexpensive solutions.
On Cody Ceci’s RFA status and whether there are any conversations there…
“The only conversation that I’ve had with JP (Barry), we’ve talked over the last few days… Team Canada has inquired about Cody because he’s got an impending contract, there’s insurance things. So that’s what we talked about and we said, once this was settled, we were going to sit down and have a contract, but those talks aren’t as advanced as probably the Mark Stone (negotiations). Also, Filip Chlapik has been returned to Belleville. After his stint in Belleville, he’s going to try out for the Czech team. They’ve got games two weekends from now and as soon as Filip Gustavsson is done, he’s going to join the Swedish national team. They have a tournament also after Belleville is done this weekend, just for your information.”
Signing Cody Ceci to a long-term extension is the kind of decision that will not instill a ton of confidence into this management group. Dorion’s already talked about how the pundits do not portray Ceci in a flattering way, but despite these depictions, he still wants to make Ceci a Senator for a very long time.
It’s very disconcerting.
Dorion could be heavily influenced by Karlsson’s uncertain future, but under no circumstances should the organization compound a dumb decision to move on from Karlsson by signing Ceci to ensure that it keeps one of its right-shooting defencemen under team control.
The troubling part of Ceci’s future is that this offseason probably represents the last time that the Senators could cash in on Ceci’s value before his next contract prohibitively restricts his trade interest.
If the Senators are going to cash out on Ceci’s value – and they’ve given him every opportunity to prove that he can be a capable top-four defenceman – they have to do it now. The have overextended themselves by giving him big minutes against tough competition and he’s been torched, the last thing they can do is overextend themselves in term and money.
Imagine dumping Phaneuf, marginalizing a Karlsson return to save all this money for the owner only to turn around and re-sign Ceci, talk about the worst kind of scenario that could unfold (and it could be very real).
On whether he is confident that he will have the budget to sign his best players to extensions over the next summer or two…
“Yes, without a doubt.”
It’s not like Dorion would say otherwise.
On whether the budget has been set for next season…
“We will be as competitive of a team as we need to be.”
I have no idea what this means.
On whether there will be less money for salaries next season…
“All I’ll tell you is that whatever funds we’ve needed to have success, they’ve been available. And I gave this great example at the town hall meeting – the first one. When it came time to make the Matt Duchene deal, I let Mr. Melnyk know on November 1st — we were sitting in Belleville together – I said, ‘There’s a good chance we can get Matt Duchene. This is what we’re looking at. There’s a difference of about $1.25 to $2.0-million in salary when everything changes,’ and his simple answer was, ‘Is it a good hockey deal?’ And I said, ‘Yes, it is,’ and he said, ‘Well, don’t worry about that. Just go ahead and do it,’ and that’s the best way that I can answer that question.”
Last season the Senators spent an estimated $65.825 million on salaries last season for a projected cap hit of $72.383 million. With 17 players under contract, the team has $61.082 million in estimated salaries committed for a projected cap hit of $57.725 million. With the team expected to buy out players like Burrows and Gaborik, they could save themselves a few million more, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Ryan and Karlsson. My assumption is that Karlsson’s gone, but will the Senators be that desperate to clear out an additional $7.5 million?
On how he would assess the team’s underperforming goaltenders and whether he’s comfortable going ahead with them next season…
“At this point in time, they’re our two goalies next year. We all know that they underperformed this year, but it’s also how the team played in front of them and what type of scoring chances (they faced). Were they higher quality? Both know they can be better. Both feel they’ve underperformed. Both were a huge reason why we went where we did last year – Condon’s play during the regular season and Anderson’s play in the playoffs and in the regular season. We feel they can bounce back. We’ve addressed it with them and it happens. Sometimes certain players have a bad year and bounce back. And we feel with goaltending, sometimes it’s a bit more obvious but we have faith in both guys and both guys will be back. We have faith in that they can lead us to the playoffs again.”
They’re good candidates for regression because it’s not like either can get significantly worse.
According to Corsica.Hockey’s data, during the 2016-17 season Anderson posted the third-highest five-on-five save percentage of his career (93.95) and the second-highest high-danger save percentage of his career (84.62).
It was fair to assume that he was a candidate for regression in 2017-18, but he posted the worst save percentage of his career at five-on-five (90.19). It’s troublesome that Anderson’s struggles came after signing a new two-year extension at 36 years of age, but the Senators have to be hoping that this performance isn’t part of some natural age-related decline.
In Mike Condon’s case, he’s never really proven himself to be a reliably competent goaltender over an extended period of time. Sure, there have been stretches – like his first handful of games in Montreal when Carey Price was felled and then his first 20 games of the 2016-17 season – but the more he plays, the more his numbers resemble a middling backup.
Looking at total save percentages since the start of the 2015-16 season, only Louis Domingue (.906), Scott Darling (.906), Kari Lehtonen (.906) and Antti Niemi (.903) have lower save percentages than Condon’s aggregated .907.
The Senators have a penchant for rewarding goaltenders who carry them through a stretch during a difficult time, but it’s hard not to look at the two years and $5.5 million left on Condon’s contract and not wonder whether the Senators could have invested that money more wisely.
On how you balance out last year’s success versus this season’s disappointment and the perception that the players control the fate of the coaching staff…
“Hockey management decides who the coach is, not the players. If we feel we need to make a change after an evaluation process, we will do so. If we feel that we can move forward with Guy (Boucher) after an evaluation process, we will do so. At the same time, we all have to be better. Management, coaches, players, we all have to be better. When we left Sweden, we were fifth overall in the league and we ended up 30th, something happened and we have to reflect on it, evaluate it, figure out why it happened and more importantly, figure out why it won’t happen again.”
In fairness, the team was keeping its head above water at the time before the Sweden trip. Although the team had one of the best records (6-3-5) in the league at the time as Dorion correctly stated, its statistics foreshadowed an overachieving team that could come off the rails.
In the team’s first 14 games, the Senators were putting up numbers that weren’t emblematic of a team that could have sustainable success.
|Unblocked Shots (FF%)||48.59||22nd|
|Shots on Goal (SF%)||49.46||17th|
|Scoring Chances (SCF%)||47.76||17th|
When a team is middle of the pack or worse in the shot rate columns, it doesn’t usually end well if the team isn’t getting lucky with the percentages.
Fortunately for the Senators, the team built itself up a good point cushion and margin for error by getting their share of points through the awarding of non-regulation points (1-0-5 in their first 14 games) and thanks to the luck in their shooters scoring on a high percentage of their shots.
At the time of the Sweden trip, it was hoped that the goaltending would improve and pick up some of the slack once the Senators’ luck changed, but it just never happened.
On whether he anticipates adding to his hockey operations department…
“I think I addressed it, obviously we have a model here in Ottawa that we think works. Whether it was when John Muckler was here or Bryan Murray or myself, we’re not a big staff. When it comes to management, you know when you’re in the room or Randy (Lee), your opinion matters because there’s not a lot of voices. You know you have to work hard at it because you’re a strong voice in there. When it comes to scouts, I’ve been on staffs in Montreal and New York where probably there were too many people. There were too many voices. You ended up chasing bad players instead of focusing on the good ones. If we feel we can add the right people, we will definitely do that. There’s no doubt that we’ll add the right people if we feel we can do that, but at the same time, we’ve got the same hockey resources that we’ve had pretty much for the last few years. We’ve drafted well. The guy, our new chief amateur scout for the last few years, Trent Mann, is an unbelievable talent evaluator. I even said at our town hall meeting – and it pains me to say this – but I think he’s a better talent evaluator than I ever was, so I think we’re in good hands there. We’ve made changes to our pro scouting staff. As you guys know, I do like to go scout. I went on a scouting trip because I love NHL hockey. Nothing excites me more than NHL hockey. I couldn’t wait… yesterday we had a town hall meeting and I couldn’t wait to… not leave there, to go watch Winnipeg and Minnesota, but I ended up catching the last period of that one or most of it. I was listening on TSN 1200 driving home and at the same time, I stopped to eat on the way home and I got to see the first period of Vegas and Los Angeles. Playoff hockey is so good. Like, NHL hockey is so good. At times, we don’t realize the game is in such a good place right now, but being in those playoffs, like there’s nothing like the rush of last year. I know I went a bit off topic, but we’re good on personnel.”
So if the Senators are making a renewed commitment to drafting and developing players, as per the email sent out to season ticket holders by Eugene Melnyk in March, how does the organization plan on doing so if management believes it doesn’t have to add to its staffs?
On going to Barrie to obviously check out and scout Andrei Svechnikov and whether he would like to address any concerns that the organization has shied away from drafting Russian-born players…
“Whomever it might be, how many picks we have, if we feel that a Russian-born player is the best player, we’ll take him. There’s no doubt about that. We’re not going to (deprive) our fans by not taking a specific player because of nationality or something like that. We haven’t done so in the past. I think when Bryan Murray hired me as chief scout, I don’t think we have drafted one Russian since, but there can be exceptions to the rule. And moving forward, I think we’ll draft whomever is the best player.”
The Senators have not drafted a Russian-born player since selecting Ruslan Bashkirov in the second round of the 2007 NHL Draft. Dorion has already gone on record as stating that the team is specifically more comfortable selecting Russian-born players if they have already played in North America.
The reasoning for that is quite straightforward because it allows for easier and more frequent viewings by a multitude of scouts. Scouting in Europe is more expensive and it relies on the opinion of fewer scouts, so it makes sense for Dorion to say this, but at the same time, he inadvertently acknowledged some of the gaps that the Senators have with their scouts. Good players in Europe may be overlooked because the team has a bias or preference towards North American players they have a better handle on.
It’s clearly reflected in the team’s draft strategy and this reluctance to draft Russians essentially extends to any European-born player was not developed in Sweden.
The Russian-born Bashkirov, like Filip Chlapik, was drafted out of the QMJHL, which means that Markus Nurmi, the Senators’ sixth-round selection from 2016, was the Senators’ first European-born player since Kaspars Daugavins in 2006 (Latvia) to not be drafted out of the CHL or the Swedish league. The organization could portray it as coincidence or their philosophy of taking the best player, but it’s easy to wonder why an organization without the budget to spend on players isn’t investing their money more wisely in scouting and turning over more stones overseas.
On how much the schedule played a role in this team’s disappointing season…
“It played into it, but to me, it isn’t a reason why we weren’t very good. I think every team has a tough travel schedule. The western teams have tough travel schedules. Obviously some of the teams based out of New York or the surrounding areas don’t travel as much. It’s the NHL and guys are treated well. You’ve been on the planes and you’ve been in the hotels, we have nothing to complain about. I think we have to move forward, but to me, I’m not a big fan of excuses.”
At the beginning of the season, Dorion was on the record saying that he hated his team’s schedule.
On whether there are any players requiring offseason surgeries…
“Good question. Last year we almost had everyone banged up after our playoff run, I just want to make sure. No, to the best of my knowledge. Like last year, remember we came up here and then as I was walking down, I was told that Derick Brassard was needed to be operated (on) and it was as we were walking down the stairs. So I don’t want to mislead anyone and I don’t want to mislead anyone here, but to the best of our knowledge now, no.”
Poor Marian Gaborik, already forgotten about.
On Jonathan Pitre and efforts to honour him with a team-based award…
“Under the approval of Randy Lee, the most prestigious award at development camp is always the hardest worker. If you look at the winners or the recipients of that award, they’re probably all in the NHL or close to being NHL (players) or will be NHL players. So we’re going to rename that award the Jonathan Pitre Award in honour of him. He spoke at our development camp and in the I don’t know how many years I’ve been here now – 11 years that I’ve been here — it was probably the most heartfelt and honest meeting that we’ve ever had and I think it just makes sense. And it came from one of our fans, how can you honour him? I think Jonathan being a younger person, I think it reflects well on our prospects.”
It’s a great way to commemorate the life of such a courageous, young man.