Thanks to the Montreal Canadiens recent stretch of ineptness that puts their hold on first in the Atlantic Division in a precarious position, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion joined Steve Lloyd and Todd White on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ to talk about his team and the advantageous situation that they’re in.
I didn’t transcribe all of the interview, so if you want to give it a listen, you can do so by scrolling down to the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On whether his peers still perceive him as an inexperienced hand who can be taken advantage of in trade talks…
“I think they try and do everyone favours all the time. A lot of these guys have been my counterparts. You know Jarmo Kekalainen and I scouted for many years. Tim (Murray) and I scouted for many years. Stan Bowman was an assistant GM and scouted for many years. I’ve gotten to know John Chayka quite a bit over this year. I know Peter (Chiarelli) from Ottawa. Jim Benning was a scout and a lot of us came along the same path. (Brent Flahr and Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota as well), exactly. The list goes on, so that’s not an issue at all. They phone you and they try and get the best out of you.”
Who cares about how much experience one has when you can target and victimize bad GMs.
If your regular day does not involve calling Peter Chiarelli to offer him bum deals in the hopes that he’ll accept one, you’re not doing your job properly.
On whether the way the season has gone has changed his philosophy heading into March 1st…
“No, not at all. I think we’re always going to look to improve our team. For us, our first goal is to try and make the playoffs. We’re happy with where we stand right now, but we’ve still got 29 games left and we can’t take our foot off the pedal. I think getting (Craig Anderson) back, will definitely be, we saw it the other day, it was big boost to our team. However Guy (Boucher) decides to use his goaltenders for the rest of the year, we’ll leave it up to him, but I feel that we’re in a good position now.”
As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, the Senators are in a great spot. They are six points back of the first-place Canadiens with five games in hand. Although a recent lull congested the Atlantic Division standings and allowed a few teams behind them to close distance, the Senators have an excellent opportunity now that Craig Anderson is back to give themselves a bit of a point cushion.
Whether or not it’s advantageous to finish at the top of the Division for matchup purposes is open to debate. The Senators may be playing more conscientiously, but it’s not translating well in the underlying numbers and their offence has taken a bit of a hit. Rivals like the Bruins are the opposite. Despite some strong underlying numbers, they haven’t enjoyed as much success, but maybe they’re due for some better luck.
The Leafs and Canadiens feel like coin flips, but if the Habs fire Michel Therrien, I’d take them a little bit more seriously, but it would be devastating to win the Atlantic Division and face a more talented wild card team from the Metropolitan who stumbles down the stretch. Although the Rangers and Blue Jackets don’t really invoke that much fear, I’d really hate to line up against the defending Stanley Cup champions in a seven game set.
The NHL trade deadline can change things, but here’s my list of preferred opponent in the first round from most desirable to least:
- Toronto Maple Leafs – From a pure entertainment and rivalry perspective, this series would be fantastic. Sure, the inferiority complex towards everything Toronto can be a little much, but hey, fuck the blue and white! I’d love to see the Senators knock them off in the first round, humble Mike Babcock, make players like Marner and Matthews wait a little longer to experience postseason success and give the fans in Maple Leafs Square something new to mourn besides a blown 4-1 lead.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – I love Cam Atkinson, but this team lacks high-end talent up front and Bobrovsky’s hips/groin can come unhinged faster than his team’s coach, John Tortorella. Besides, a great sub-plot to the series would be counting the number of times Mark Stone strips Jack Johnson of the puck.
- Montreal Canadiens – This series gets extra marks for the rivalry angle, but the Habs do have some strong underlying numbers. They have become unraveled of late, so the possibility of Marc Bergevin shitcanning Therrien could be real. If he stays, it could really bode well for the Senators. Fortunately, it seems like the Habs are content to continue their longstanding tradition of relying heavily on Carey Price to carry their relatively average team.
- New York Rangers – Going up against the handsome Henrik Lundqvist is never really fun, but the Rangers could be a good matchup for the Senators. Sure, the Rangers have some speed and size up front, but their blue line is a mess and they get by riding the percentages. Not only are the Rangers in the conversation with teams like the Coyotes, Avalanche, Devils and Sabres as having some of the worst underlying numbers in the league, they are the one team that the Senators have better possession numbers than. On paper, their record may portray the Rangers as heavy favourites, but they could be ripe for the picking.
- Boston Bruins – This is probably the most boring series on paper. Sure, Brad Marchand is a twat, but what else is there to get worked up about here? The Bruins have some excellent underlying numbers, but weren’t lucky enough to get the saves and goals to save Claude Julien’s job. Bruce Cassidy’s short-term success probably won’t carry over for the long-haul after Julien’s firing, but it’s hard to get excited about this matchup against an aging Bruins squad.
- Pittsburgh Penguins – Would you want to face Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champions? To borrow a phrase from Daniel Alfredsson, ‘Probably not.’ Ottawa hasn’t won a series against the Penguins since 2007 and they have been outclassed in each of their three playoff matchups since.
On how quickly the Mike Condon trade came together…
“Very quickly. It’s funny. I got asked a question the other day, ‘How many calls does it take to make a trade?’ And just for example, with Tommy Wingels, it felt like it took like a hundred calls to make the trade. On Mike Condon, Jimmy (Rutherford) was probably one of the guys that I talked to the least at that point in time. I think Jimmy and I had two conversations. I saw him at the Board of Governors (meeting) and I congratulated him on (winning) the Cup and he congratulated me (on being named as the Senators’ new general manager). He was the last GM that I talked to at that point in time and I remember because I said, ‘I’ve talked to everyone, but Jim Rutherford and I had sent him a note.’ And then it took two calls or two or three calls, if I’m not mistaken, and the deal was done. I phoned and he phoned back. The day before, I asked, ‘Jim can I just hold off with everything going on?’ I wanted to talk to Craig (Anderson) that we were going to bring someone else in. Maybe it’s my sensitive side, but I felt it was the thing to do. I talked to Craig, phoned Jim back the next day and got the deal done. As I mentioned, with Wingels, it felt like it was one-hundred and fifty calls even. And it was a fairly simple deal, but it depends on the GM you deal with and sometimes they always want to get a bit more, a bit more and a bit more. Other times it’s just the right thing to do and sometimes, I want to get a bit more. At a certain point in time, you’ve just got to say, ‘Okay, the deal’s done.’”
Dorion’s got to be in a class of his own. I doubt Tommy Wingels’ family has called on him 150 times in the past year. I guess this is why San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has a reputation for moving slowly when it comes to trade talks.
On the Senators’ doing due diligence on the Colorado Avalanche’s players as they prepare to sell ahead of the March 1st deadline…
“Yeah, I’ve talked to Joe as I have talked to a lot of my other counterparts that maybe some names aren’t out there. I think it’s the right thing to do to kick tires, find out what’s available and not available from their team. I don’t think the reports are always accurate, so sometimes it’s better to hear from the horse’s mouth. Joe and I talked, but at this point in time, I can’t see us going in that direction. It wouldn’t make sense. We want to do something to try improve the team and making deals is very difficult to do. I think after July 1st, we’re second after Florida as far as number of deals (made). But, I can’t see us mortgaging everything in the future and some stuff in the present to get one or two or whatever players are out there. I think we have to be realistic that we want to improve, but to give up three, four or five assets would be something that would be very difficult to do.”
I don’t blame Dorion for balking at the asking price that Sakic is reportedly asking for. I don’t mind the Senators looking to use assets like Cody Ceci, Curtis Lazar or even a Logan Brown to improve their roster, but if Sakic insists on the inclusion of Thomas Chabot and or Colin White in any trade for Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, the conversation should end there.
I’ve already outlined my concerns for a prospective Duchene trade here, so I won’t rehash the reasons here. Give it a read instead.
On whether the team would like to add a forward or defenceman near the deadline…
“I think we would (like to add) both. We know we have three NHL-calibre goalies and one we assigned to Binghamton yesterday. I think it’s just, knock on wood, (we want to) try to avoid injuries and at the same time, if we can improve our depth or improve any position, it will be something that we look at. But, there’s nothing really specific at this point in time. We’ve been very fortunate so far on defence. We haven’t had that many injuries, but we all know that you need a certain number of defenceman. (Injuries) could happen against tomorrow against Buffalo where one or two guys go down and then you’re a bit shorthanded. Some of the play of our defence in Binghamton, some guys have been really impressive. I had the chance to watch, I mean, I watched it on my iPad and some of the guys have been really impressive in the last few games where I’m saying, ‘Wow, these guys are way closer than we thought they’d be.’”
Quality depth is always a good thing and judging by the Guy Boucher’s lineup decisions and the staff electing to dress seven defenceman instead of one of Chris Neil or Curtis Lazar, it seems like the coaching staff has finally recognized how much of a drag those two are to their linemates.
I’m not the biggest Mark Borowiecki fan, but (I’ll hold a door for him) and he’s actually had a decent year playing alongside Chris Wideman. It probably speaks to the strength of Wideman’s season more than anything, but credit where credit is due: they haven’t been awful. Obviously I’d still love to see the organization punt their second pairing and find an upgrade on Boro, but I’ll probably have to settle for the Senators finding player who can improve their fourth line and keep Fredrik Claesson on the bench.
On returning Andrew Hammond and whether management has talked to Kurt Kleinendorst about how they want to rotate Hammond in with prospects like Matt O’Connor and Chris Driedger…
“I let Randy (Lee) talk to Kurt about it. I think we don’t want Andrew, for now, playing back-to-back games. But, if he feels good in a week’s time or two weeks’ time to play back-to-back games, we’ll go ahead with it. No, just play the best guy. We know that Andrew is pretty good down there and he’ll get some game time. When it comes to the other two guys, well, both of you guys have had the chance to take the bull by the horns and be the number one guy. And no one has really done it for long sequences, so it’s a business. If you want to play, make sure you win and that hasn’t been the case all year.”
Binghamton’s been so excruciatingly horrendous as a team, it’s got to be hard to distinguish how bad Driedger and O’Connor have been. Both pseudo-prospects are impending RFAs, so there’s no guarantee that the organization will offer one or both players qualifying offers, so maybe this is just Pierre Dorion putting both players on notice and giving them a proverbial boot in the ass to get their games going.
It’s going to be a difficult juggling act for Kleinendorst. On one hand, the Senators desperately want to offload Hammond. On the other, they need to assess what they have before cutting ties permanently with their young goalies. I’m guessing the Senators care more about unloading Hammond’s salary more than anything and that will be what wins out.
On Colin White’s development this year…
“He’s been good. He’s been very, very good. He’s someone we’re really excited about. He’s someone that we know is going to be a part of this organization for a long time. He’s someone that we know has a good chance to (play) – whether he plays for us next year in October or whether it’s in December – we know he’s someone that’s going to be a long-term NHL player. When you have players of that calibre that have the skill, the drive, the character and the speed, they’re pretty special and you know that they’re only going to make you better and help you win down the road.”
I’d wager on White being an internal upgrade for the team’s third or fourth line down the stretch this season.
On what Curtis Lazar has to do to get the trust of the coaching staff and get back on the right developmental track…
“I think with Curtis, it’s just… sometimes when you’re playing golf and you’ve missed every four-footer for the last seven holes and you put one in and make everyone after, I think once he gets his first one, I think the weight will be lifted off his shoulders. Curtis cares a lot. I think he’s someone that is putting a bit too much pressure on himself, but I still have a lot of faith in what Curtis can do. Maybe Curtis won’t be a first line (laughs) player like we thought he might have been when we drafted him, but I still think at the end of the day that Curtis was a big part of us when we made that playoff run – when he played with (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau and (Erik) Condra. I still think he can definitely help us when he’ll be in the lineup.”
Curtis was successful on that third line in 2015 because Condra and Pageau were the ones driving its success. Without linemates who could successfully regain the puck in the defensive zone and efficiently transition it through the neutral zone, Lazar has been lost. Playing him with non-skilled guys hasn’t helped, but he’s fallen into the trap of playing too conservatively to mitigate his mistakes. He’s too predictable and blasé with his puckhandling and shot selection and now we’re left hoping that some general manager overpays to acquire Lazar’s intangibles and pedigree.
On how much contact he has had with agents regarding their impending restricted and unrestricted free agents…
“Well, we had a big one in Zack Smith. For us, we felt that this was someone that we needed to sign. We felt we got a good contract done. Zack was happy and we are happy to have him with us for the next four years. It’s been widely talked about that we have sat down and talked to Mike Condon’s agent. We’ve had discussions with Tom Pyatt’s agent. (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau we’ve talked to. A lot of times with those guys, I like to see where they finish at the end of the year or where they’ve put us as far as a playoff push and where their current contribution has come from. So with those guys, we’ve always had pretty much the team philosophy of wait until the end of year and see where we’re at so we can compare apples with apples. ‘This is what he did for the whole year’ compared with ‘this is what he did for 60 games’.”
I think it’s really dumb for management types to overemphasize or romanticize how a player performs in a “stretch drive” using arbitrary start and end points, especially when it’s at the expense of the larger sample size and the games that preceded it.
All that being said, Condon and Pyatt are two players I wouldn’t overexert myself trying to extend. They’re two relatively cost-efficient players who’ve been decent for the team this season, but they’re not the kind of players who are difficult to replace. Granted, I don’t know what kind of term or dollars either player would be looking for, so if they’re cheap, the familiarity factor will definitely play in their favour. The Senators do have a tendency to reward their own and as a result, the team doesn’t have a lengthy track record of walking away from impending UFAs who had some utility. In other words, it’s often easier for the organization to decide to bring them back than go into the market and look for cheap upgrades.
The problem that the Senators may have moving forward is the number of expiring contracts. They can’t continue to keep the same roster, give everyone raises and expect the team to improve. As the cost-efficient contracts to its best players come off the books, it can ill afford to overpay on superfluous talents like Condon or Pyatt. They’re the easy and cheap to replace.
On prospective extensions for Condon and Pyatt…
“We’re not going to move either one of them before the end of the year. It’s not big secret. We tease our coach that Pyatt is his favourite player of all time. At a certain point in time, we always think about the organization. If a player is happy here and if we can make a deal that can make it work, it’s the same thing with Mike Condon. Is he happy here? He seems very happy here. Both guys… when it came to Pyatt, our European scouts knew about him and they said he had been playing well there. Guy (Boucher) knew him. When it came to the case of Mike Condon, our pro scouts knew him. Our management knew him. We saw him a lot play with Montreal. Pierre Groulx felt good about him, so I think in both cases, I think both players are very happy to be in the NHL – even though Mike was there before – but (play) in situations where they’ve been allowed to thrive. Hopefully they can stay with us, but if we can’t get deals done, it’s not the end of the world. There are a lot of players out there.”
Bang fucking on with those last two sentences, Pierre. There will be a lot of players out there and every year, useful depth players enter September without contracts. The Senators shouldn’t feel any pressure to give term and more money to either of these players.
On whether the league has gone over and detailed every possibility with GMs leading up to the expansion draft…
“Oh, they’re pretty good. I’ve got to give the league a lot of credit. What we can do from my meeting (with the league) is that deals can be done, but no funny stuff. Let’s put everything transparent, legitimate and they’ll be okay with it. Make it pass the smell test and you know what, I think that’s the right thing to do. I think in previous expansions, there was a lot of stuff that maybe didn’t pass the smell test. For everyone that knows how we operate in Ottawa, we’re going to do things by the book. I’ve seen George (McPhee) scout out there, but I’ve never talked to him about deals or stuff like that. But, once March 1st comes along, I’ll reach out. ‘What are you looking to do? Can we help you, if you can help me?’ And stuff like that.”
Dear George McPhee,
If we trade you Cody Ceci for nothing, will you take Bobby Ryan off our hands in the expansion draft?
On what the current crop of impending NCAA free agents looks like…
“Yeah, there’s… we’re after one forward and one defenceman. We just want the best guys. It’s an okay year and when I was in Boston, I got a chance to see a few of them. After the trade deadline, I’ll probably get a chance to see a few more just to make sure, but right now we’re… one forward and one defenceman that we’re higher on than the rest of them. It’s tough. Sometimes, a lot of these kids are American kids and they don’t want to come to Canada. Some want to come for the opportunity and some want to play in Canadian markets. So we’ll see how it goes. We’re in on a few guys, so we’ll see how it goes. At the end of the day, if we get two points against Buffalo, I’ll be happy.”
The Senators have 44 NHL contracts on the books and that will probably go up to 45 after Colin White signs his ELC. They have the room to add here and with the lack of quality prospects in Binghamton, they certainly could use an infusion of talent in their minor league system.