After this weekend’s disappointing reveal that the Senators dropped two spots in the NHL Draft Lottery and would be selecting fourth overall, general manager Pierre Dorion jumped on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ to talk about the lottery and recent events involving his club.
The 12-minute interview can be heard in its entirety by using the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post. A full transcription of Dorion’s comments can be read below accompanied by my own thoughts which will be in bold.
On what was going through his mind when the card flipped over and revealed the Senators to have the fourth overall selection…
“Well obviously, disappointment and excitement at the same time. Disappointed because we all wanted this organization to have the first pick, but at the same, the product of having not a good year last year was that we knew we’d get a pick in the top-five and we knew it wasn’t worst-case scenario to pick at five. And at pick four, we knew we were going to get a good player – a player that has a really good chance of helping us next year and making us a better hockey team.”
When Dorion’s in the business of selling hope these days, he’s never going to admit publicly that he’s overwrought with disappointment. Dropping two slots isn’t the end of the world however, but it does make his life a little more difficult. Landing the first overall selection and making a consensus choice in Rasmus Dahlin would have been easy and made Dorion invulnerable to criticism, selecting fourth however has its pitfalls and leaves the organization with the opportunity to go in a number of different directions.
Dorion is already on the record as saying that he will not trade the pick, but holding pat lends itself to the possibility that a player the Senators really coveted may not be there when it’s time to make their selection.
It’s interesting that Dorion continues to play up this year’s lottery pick as a player who has a chance to step in and help the team next season, but judging by recent drafts like last year’s that saw only the first two picks – Nico Hischier (20 goals and 52 points in 82 games) and Nolan Patrick (13 goals and 30 points in 72 games) – become NHL regulars during the 2017-18 season, it feels unrealistic to place lofty expectations on a player to jump in next season and play at a high level.
On having the opportunity to get out and do some scouting down the stretch…
“Yes, without a doubt. The fact that we got a second first-rounder makes this draft even more enticing. It’s a really good, deep draft. Obviously, a lot of people had their cut-off at six or seven, for us, it was more like nine or 10. We’ll have our scouting meetings next week and we’re really excited to go through that, but at the same time in getting on the road, I hadn’t been on the road since the Logan Brown draft. I didn’t do much scouting that year except for the first pick in Logan, but getting a chance to be on the road through February, March and part of April has been really exciting.”
It’s easy to make light of the size of the Senators’ scouting staff and joke about how these scouting trips for Dorion are somewhat of a necessity, but that’s some pretty cynical stuff. Obviously Dorion was in a unique situation that afforded him the opportunity to get out and make these scouting trips, but what intrigues me is how much stock Dorion’s experiences will influence the draft strategy.
Given the small sample size of viewing experiences that Dorion can personally draw from, I’d love to listen to next week’s amateur scouting meetings to get a better understanding of how much weight Dorion gives these viewings to supplement what the amateur staff already knows. Will his input be dissenting and sway a vote, or is it inconsequential in the sense that the amateur staff ultimately has the final say because of their extensive familiarity with the players in question.
On having an easy spot to pick at four because of the industry belief that there’s a considerable drop-off in talent after the fourth pick…
“No (laughing). We’re excited about four, but in every draft, things get categorized very easily – sometimes without much substance. But, we are excited about four and we’re excited that we’re four. We felt that… really, the top 10 has a chance to be really good impact players down the road.”
The industry consensus is that there is a drop in talent after the first seven or eight selections, but with the Senators picking from the fourth overall position, there’s a significant amount of pressure on the Senators to maximize the value with this pick.
They have to get a piece that can be a significant building block to work with because in the past decade the team has had two top-10 picks and both Mika Zibanejad and Jared Cowen are no longer with the organization.
Cowen’s career was undone by injuries and poor hockey IQ, but Zibanejad was a good player. It’s unfortunate that the three players who went after him in the draft — Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier and Dougie Hamilton – all wound up becoming more valuable pieces, but that’s revisionist history.
The Senators wound up flipping Zibanejad and a second round pick were flipped to the Rangers for Derick Brassard, who was then flipped to the Penguins for a late first round pick and goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson.
Goaltending prospects and late first rounders realistically don’t have safely projectable floors, but with the first and second picks essentially similar value, the sixth overall pick in 2011 essentially netted the Senators 139 games of Derick Brassard and a goaltending prospect who may take years to develop.
Is that maximizing the value of that sixth overall selection?
Probably not, but this is precisely the kind of situation that the Senators need to avoid.
They desperately need whatever blue-chip prospect they draft at four to pan out the way they’re hoping. Not only to instill some optimism and confidence back in this fan base, but because a hit could buy Pierre Dorion some more years to work with as a general manager for this hockey team.
On it being wide open after one and whether the organization will take the best player and not focus on one position of need…
“No, exactly. We don’t think it’s a secret if we tell you that we’re not going to take a goalie at four. Whether it’s a forward or defenceman, we’re definitely going to take the best player that we feel can help us win the most whether it’s in the short or medium term even in the long term.”
The Senators could use an infusion of skill on the back end, but they could also desperately use another scorer up front who the team could plug into the top-six in two to three years.
With question marks surrounding Brady Tkachuk’s offensive upside, it will be interesting to see what the Senators do in the event that Filip Zadina and Andrei Svechnikov come off the board ahead of the fourth pick. The Senators could roll the dice on Tkachuk, they could look at a defenceman in Quinn Hughes, Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson or Adam Boqvist, and alternatively, they could stretch and take a chance on Oliver Wahlstrom’s shooting prowess.
On his meeting with Guy Boucher yesterday…
“I’m glad you asked. Just for you guys on TSN 1200, Guy and his entire staff are returning next season. We look forward to continuing the process that we started last year and to seeing a great improvement in our team in the upcoming season.”
Considering how much scrutiny Dorion has publicly thrown Boucher’s way over the course of the recent town halls with fans and media availabilities, I’m somewhat stunned by this development.
I mean, sure, a good chunk of me believes the reasoning behind the return of the staff is money-related, but Dorion was pretty candid with his criticisms.
He ripped the special teams play, the lack of practices, the volume of first goals allowed (like this is something that a coach has some measure of control over), bad line changes and the frequent too many men penalties and Boucher’s mantra that “rest is a weapon”.
By returning the entire staff, at least it gives the organization an excuse to use this staff as scapegoats in the event that this season falls short of expectations.
On whether his meeting yesterday was to articulate the changes he wants to see made…
“When we met with the coaches, it was just after the season so there was probably a bit more emotion. We all care about winning. We suggested, management, ‘How can we get better? And (are) there areas of change?’ They came up with a game plan and we’re really happy about the direction that the coaching staff seems to want to go (with). It seems to align with our philosophy as a management staff.”
One of the recurring themes this offseason has been Dorion’s dialogue with the coaching staff (or lack thereof). Dorion’s a staunch believer in giving his coaching staff full autonomy, but in listening to his comments in recent weeks, I have to wonder whether this approach is adversely affecting the club.
In giving Boucher the responsibility to run and handle his club as he sees fit, Boucher has made decisions and choices that management believes negatively impacted the team’s performance on the ice.
In an integrated world where communication and information flows so fast and easily, I can’t understand why the organization would take such an archaic approach to handling duties, when management believes that easily identifiable changes could have positively helped this team. It makes no sense, unless management refused to push these changes because it wanted something to hang over the coaching staff in the event that the team fell short.
On whether the coaching staff duties will be changed for the upcoming season…
“The one thing we’re really excited about is Guy’s taken ownership of the power play. He will be running the power play next year. Marty Raymond and Rob Cookson will switch roles as far as Rob will be on the bench and Marty will be the eye in the sky. With Guy handling the power play, we know we have Marc Crawford that can handle a bit more five-on-five duties and preparation.”
I know in Boucher’s first season behind the bench, he was disappointed about the power play because as a new coach, he didn’t have a lot of time in training camp to get the players up to speed because he had to emphasize the team’s system and how he wanted them to play at even strength. It was supposed to be a point of emphasis during his season behind the bench.
When Boucher was hired, Dorion praised him as being a coach who was renowned for the power play and during Boucher’s introductory press conference, he said the following:
“When I look the power play, you’re right, there are great assets here. I have worked with Mike Hoffman in junior, I had him do similar things that I did with (Steven) Stamkos in Tampa and the same when I had (John) Tavares when I had three times with Hockey Canada. Those guys are shooters, so definitely I do have a plan with Mike, but I have a plan with the other players also. Erik’s the best straddler on the blue line that you can find, so we’re definitely going to use that in our tools. I like an accelerated power play – that’s the way that I’ve been teaching it for 20 years. It’s been 20 years now that I’ve been doing power play. Power play is more than anything else, details. The minute details matter for power play for me. So I need to talk to the players. I need to be on the ice with them. I need to recognize what I want. Which guys are great for what I want? So it’s hard for me to look at last year’s power play and go, ‘Okay, I would do this and I would do that.’ I have an idea, definitely. I know what I want to do, but to be out here and say that I would do something different, I think it’s wrong on my part to do that. I have a plan. I’ve always had success with it and I’m planning on having success again. It’s going to be very enjoyable to have tools like that. In general for me, I want to accelerate the play of the power play, not slow it down and that’s given me success over time.”
Boucher would then go on to appear on a few radio stations where he talked about how he’s well-known for his power play.
“I made my name with power play (performance) and offence,” Boucher stated on TSN 1200’s ‘TGOR’. “And if you look at all the teams that I’ve coached, that’s the thing that sticks out is how the offensive teams are always at the top.”
He would go on to add, “I love taking care of the power play – that’s one of my fortes.”
Well Guy, now’s your chance to run it yourself.
On explaining the poor penalty kill and the number of defencemen who seemed to regress this season…
“Well, sometimes it’s expectations. It is overall team play and sometimes the last line of defence to get to the goalie is the defencemen, so obviously some players didn’t achieve maybe the potential we expected, but they’re still young defencemen and they still have got a lot of room to grow.”
Ben Harpur and Cody Ceci were awful, and I was hoping for Fredrik Claesson to play at a higher level and be given some minutes alongside Erik Karlsson, but the organization kept playing ineffective veterans in high-leverage situations and it helped sink this team’s chances this season.
Dorion is not going to publicly bury players that the organization is committed to or he is in the process of trying to leverage the hell out of whatever perceived value there is on the trade market for a restricted free agent like Ceci.
On characterizing the tone of his conversation with Guy Boucher on Monday…
“Yes, I don’t really want to get into every little detail, but it was a really productive and positive conversation.”
Forget every little detail, the brevity of the answer made it seem like Dorion didn’t want to talk about any of the details.
On sitting down in the conversation with Boucher and going through every detail during the season to ensure that mistakes aren’t made again…
“Without a doubt. Our intentions, and they were discussed with the coaching staff right after the year, is that we’re a skating team. We need to practice. I think speed was Guy’s mantra when he came aboard and I think we (diverted) a bit from it last year. We need to skate hard in practice to play as hard and as fast as much as possible, and they understood that.”
Dorion makes it sound like the team had a conditioning issue and I wonder whether that was something that came out in the meetings with players during their exit interviews.
Truth be told, the biggest issue facing the Senators was a combination of bad goaltending and the volume of chances it gave up in the middle of the ice.
The following visuals are from Hockeyviz.com:
Notice a contrast between 2016-17 and 2017-18?
On whether there are any updates regarding the Belleville Senators…
“Well, first of all, we have to thank Kurt Kleinendorst because all of our prospects that we brought up played great down there. When they came up, they did a tremendous job for us, but at the end of the year, we decided that we weren’t going to renew Kurt’s contract. But, he did a tremendous job. Sometimes it’s not wins and losses with your minor league team, but it’s about how your prospects progress. And just as recently as a few days ago, we came to terms that we would not be renewing his contract.”
If anyone wants a really thorough breakdown of what went on in Belleville this past season, give Eye on the Sens a read for Peter Levi’s season review. It’s excellent.
Aside from uber-prospect Thomas Chabot though, I can’t think of a prospect who came in and played particularly well. I mean, there was Christian Wolanin, but he didn’t spend a minute in Belleville.
Maybe things would have been different if Christian Jaros did not get hurt.
Colin White and Filip Chlapik were okay, but their promotions always felt rushed and both probably could have been better served by spending more time in the minors. That said, if given the choice, I’d rather watch the kids play over seeing AHL depth fodder like Jim O’Brien, Jack Rodewald, Ben Sexton, Patrick Sieloff and Erik Burgdoerfer.
On the goaltending situation in Belleville and whether the Senators would like to sign a veteran or roll with the young Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson tandem…
“We’ve discussed both scenarios. Right now, we’re discussing both scenarios.”
Danny Taylor just bounced back to Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL and Andrew Hammond’s contract expired with the Avalanche, so neither veteran will be back with Belleville next season. Before it was announced that Kurt Kleinendorst would not be returning, he publicly stated that he’d like to see the Senators add a veteran goaltender to the AHL mix. Considering the performance of Mike Condon and Craig Anderson this season, coupled with the allure of playing for the fresh Belleville franchise, maybe there’s a chance a veteran goalie will look at Ottawa and see opportunity.
On discussing new contracts with restricted free agents like Mark Stone and Cody Ceci…
“As we discussed a few weeks ago, there have been preliminary talks on both of those players.”
It doesn’t sound like much has changed – which is a good thing.
On having the success he did in his first season as a general manager followed by this year’s difficult season and how confident he will be to hit the reset button next season…
“Well, we’re excited it’s going to be a much better Ottawa team. We’re looking for a great improvement on what we did last year. I think some years are anomalies and I think last year, a lot of things that could go wrong went wrong – right from the start of camp when Clarke MacArthur didn’t pass his physical. I think probably having an Erik Karlsson who wasn’t close to 100-percent until the second half of the year was another big factor. So there were a few distractions and intangibles that probably don’t come along every year and that’s why we’re excited that next year we’re going to have a great improvement on what we did this past year.”
Unless Dorion is referring to a new philosophy and direction, I don’t really understand how he can anticipate there being a great improvement on what the team did this season until the Erik Karlsson situation is resolved. If Karlsson can stay in the mix and the goaltending improves to even a league-average level, this team will inevitably be better.
The Senators’ numbers with and without Karlsson on the ice are well-documented however, and if he goes someone has to take those minutes. Without any internal option who can fill the void and help give the Senators a territorial advantage, the Senators could be spending a lot of time within their own end next season.
On Logan Brown’s future and where the organization sees him next fall…
“It will all depend on Logan Brown, himself. If Logan Brown has a hard summer training, always moves his feet through the exhibition games, he’ll have a very good shot of making our team. Both him and Drake Batherson were at the top of the point scoring (leaderboards) in the OHL and (QMJHL) league playoffs. We feel that both guys are going to be offensive players at the NHL level, but both guys are going to decide when they are ready. Sometimes it’s a question of physical maturity, but also mental maturity to handle adversity because you’re playing against men and not against kids anymore. We’re really excited about Logan Brown, but we’re going to do the right thing. If he has to go to the minors and it’s the same situation as (Thomas) Chabot in 15 games and Erik Karlsson for 15 games or Cody Ceci for about 25, then that has to be the case. We’re going to do the right thing to make sure that they develop properly, so when they can contribute at their best for the Ottawa Senators, they are ready to do so.”
The glaring hole in the Senators’ depth chart is the second line centre position. The easiest thing to do would be to give Jean-Gabriel Pageau an extended opportunity to play a more offensive role alongside Mark Stone, but hopefully Logan Brown looks at the opportunity that’s sitting right there for him and puts in the work this offseason to give him the best chance to take advantage of it.
On whether Logan Brown has been pushed and motivated by the organization to do what’s necessary to become a good pro…
“I think we’re all different people at 18 or 19 years old. Some mature quicker and some mature older. We’ve seen a great deal of maturation from Logan. There’s no doubt the talent (reflects a) high NHL IQ as far as passing ability generating offence, but sometimes they need to figure out things themselves and I think Logan is figuring things out himself. But, we give a lot of credit – both Randy Lee and myself – to the relationship that Shean Donovan has with (Logan) to make him a better player.”
Rumours about Brown’s work ethic have dogged him since his draft year, but I have no idea how pervasive the problem is or whether it’s a problem now. Fortunately, it’s something that’s within his control and totally correctable with maturity and time.