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Pierre Dorion Speaks: ‘In the Box’ Appearance #thoughtsinbold

Following his media availability, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ yesterday to follow up and elaborate on a number of news items that were reported on throughout the week.

To listen to the full interview, you can use the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On Karlsson requiring surgery and it being a more serious injury than what it was previously considered to be…

“Yeah, he did unfortunately. We just felt that after he got seen by the doctors, everyone felt good, but didn’t feel 100-percent that we (didn’t) do an MRI. He left a few days after to go (away for a week’s vacation) which every player should have a right to do. Through that week, we consulted with doctors and we talked to someone in Ottawa here – I think it’s Dr. Lalonde, who’s very good – and I think we talked to a Dr. Lau in Toronto, who’s probably one of the best in the world also. It was recommended that we do a surgery with a Dr. Anderson in Charlotte and finding out more details just probably tells us how much character Karlsson (has) to play through the pain of having tendons that were cut. I’m not sure exactly on the details, but it happened we think in the Rangers series and it was just probably from the wear and tear and I think the crack in the bone could have hurt the tendons. Again, I’m not a surgeon or a doctor, but I think it tells us a lot about Erik’s character and his willingness to win.”

There aren’t enough words to describe just how great a generational talent like Erik Karlsson is, but to think about the level of play he demonstrated throughout now that the full extent of his injuries are known, it’s remarkable.

On there being a specific play where the injury was sustained…

“We’re not sure.”

On Karlsson freezing his foot to deal with the two bone fractures and possibly creating the problem of not understanding when or where it happened…

“Yeah and that could be it also. We’re not exactly sure how and when. We think it was during that series and we think that’s what happened. We know he played through tremendous pain and to play at that level through pain on one leg, I think that just shows us that we have something special here.”

He didn’t need to play through pain for people in Ottawa to recognize that, but it’s kind of sad that he needed this kind of playoff performance for others around the league to finally give him credit where credit was due.

On believing that Karlsson will be back to full strength by the start of next season…

“Yeah, we hope that he’ll be back for the regular season. I made a joke upstairs that he doesn’t even like to play in exhibition games, so this worked out to be perfect.”

As a team that lives and dies on the margins, the Senators can ill afford to have Karlsson miss games at the beginning of the season.

On how difficult it was to have the conversation with Chris Neil about not being able to continue his playing career in Ottawa…

“It was one of probably my top three toughest things I’ve had to say. I’ve talked about having to speak on behalf of the Anderson family, having to fire Dave Cameron and probably that one were my top three. It was not something that I was looking forward to. I pretty much begged Randy Lee to come with me and the conversation went even better than I thought. We talked about a potential role next year and if he would be willing to live with that role. It wasn’t something that he felt he would be comfortable in and it was something similar to this year. You wouldn’t want to do that to Chris if this was going to be his last year or even if he plays the next two years. And the conversation went well and Chris means so much to this organization. I think if you look at the character, the respect, the ability to be physical, the ability to be just a presence out there at the same time as contributing and doing probably what is one of the hardest jobs in hockey – fighting and taking on probably younger, bigger and stronger guys and still always be willing to do it. I think that speaks a lot about Chris and his family, Caitlyn. I had the chance to serve on the Sens Foundation board with Caitlyn and they’re just great human beings. They’re great people, so at the same time, it was tough but we both understood that we probably need to go in our separate directions for the upcoming year.”

Chris Neil will unquestionably go down as one of the most popular figures in Senators history. The duality of him being a professional fighter whose work ethic and dedication are only matched by his   off-ice contributions and community involvement just resonated with the fans.

On heading into that meeting believing that Chris Neil wanted to play another year…

“Yes, I talked to Todd Reynolds probably 15-minutes before the conversation. I just said, ‘This is what we’re going to do and Chris will probably talk to you afterwards.’ That’s my respect for Todd and I just felt that I had an idea. With some players you have an idea of what’s going to happened and with others, you don’t but this one I could see it coming.”

Neil raised some eyebrows with his comments that were featured in a Don Brennan article and shed some light on his decision behind playing another year.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy and Pierre … I think, if it was up to them, I’d be back,” said the right-winger who turns 38 on Saturday. “But they kind of put it in the coach’s hands and that had a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, Guy never really gave me the chance to show I can play.”

It certainly reads like Neil is blaming Boucher for the Senators’ decision to move on. Keep in mind, Pierre Dorion acquired some forwards at the behest of his coach to address and bolster the team’s bottom-six depth.  

But at the same time, Neil needs to take responsibility for his season. I get that he’s got a chip on his shoulder and will be out to prove everyone wrong because he’s an unemployed hockey player who’s expressing self-confidence in hopes that he can land another gig. It get that. But there’s also the fact that he’s a soon-to-be 38-year old who was an anchor each and every time he stepped on the ice. I don’t think it was Guy Boucher’s fault that Neil is coming off a season in which he set career lows in goals and points.

On how it became clear throughout the year that Neil was no longer a fit in Guy Boucher’s system…

“Yeah, I think the fit changes for a player, but that doesn’t mean that Chris didn’t help us. I think you look back at the Rangers series, if not for Chris Neil I’m not sure we win that series. Chris still feels that he can probably contribute on higher level than we were expected to provide for him and things change. Things change as far as ice time and role, but that’s always in the coach’s hand. And people always think that the coach probably has a bigger say on first liners than fourth liners, but I think it’s the opposite way around. Coaches really probably have a bigger say personnel-wise when it comes to your role players than probably your first line guys.”

That the coach had that much of a say in the personnel decisions probably irked Neil. It essentially cost him a spot as a regular in the lineup.

On what the status of contract negotiations are with impending UFA Chris Kelly…

“We told Chris that he wouldn’t be offered a contract on July 1st or beforehand. I think Chris was a bit disappointed with his play this year. He felt he could have given more, but coming off a broken leg and everything that he’s gone through we told Chris it was the complete opposite. I think what Chris brought in our dressing room as far as culture change, work ethic, accountability amongst the players, his ability to play the PK were all things that we were very happy with. But as things evolve, he still wants to play and we haven’t completely turned the page because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with Derick Brassard. I have a lot of respect for Chris Kelly as a human being and as a hockey player, he’s someone who knows the game and has gone through battles. We still left the door open and we signed him a bit later in the summer last year and that could be the same case this year.”

I’d like to believe the Senators could do better than Chris Kelly on the open market. If they can’t, that’d be depressing.

On the status of the other impending UFAs…

“I’ve had a conversation with every one of them. I’ve had conversations with Mike Condon. I’ve had conversations with Mike Condon’s agent. That’s progressing much better than originally intended. Tom Pyatt I’ve had conversations with his agent, so we’ve had conversations with Viktor Stalberg’s agent and conversations with Tommy Wingels’ agent. At least they’re all conversations. I think without disputing any secrets, we’ve made offers. They seem to be hesitant and I think I know why, expansion because they’ve all been told that they wouldn’t be protected. As I gave breaking news upstairs, we will protect Erik Karlsson in expansion. (We’re protecting) two guys now: (Craig) Anderson and Erik Karlsson. So we’re just waiting. I’m not afraid to make deals, but I think a lot of people forget that people like playing in Ottawa and with the fact of signing and being exposed, they don’t like that as much so it’s their choice to wait. And maybe they don’t want to sign with us and are just waiting for a better offer. If July 1st comes around and they haven’t signed, maybe they go somewhere else.”

Just a week ago, Dorion was talking about there not being much progress made on the Condon front, but realistically, the Senators do not need to bend over backwards to bring any of these players back into the fold. The last thing a club with a strict budget should do is overspend on third and fourth line players simply because they have familiarity with them. The Senators, like every team, need to get the most bang for the buck and Dorion needs to keep an open mind and explore all of the options on the market.

On the RFAs being put on the backburner…

“Uh, no. Obviously talks with Don Meehan on (Ryan) Dzingel are preliminary. We’re talking term more now than dollars and then we’ll get to dollars. And Pageau, again I spoke about that upstairs, but Craig (Oster) and did Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone (contracts) in Vegas two years ago, so I’ve got a lot of faith that Craig and I will get a few minutes and we’ll sit down Pageau. I said (to Pageau), ‘You can’t ruin my summer,’ and he said, ‘I won’t.’ We’ll see what happens, but both are (arbitration) cases so in the worst-case scenario they’re both one-year deals and we go through the same process again next year.”

If I had to bet on Pageau’s future, I’m guessing a three-year deal that pays him $7.2-million.

On there being any preference when it comes to term with Pageau…

“He’s a UFA in three years, so if you get into a fourth year obviously the money is going to be significantly more. That’s just the trend if you’re looking at contracts, but we’re open to one to seven or eight (years). We’re always open. I think you’ve always got to explore all options. Everything you do, you’ve got to explore all options.”

Due diligence, it’s a beautiful thing.

On having no problem committing term to Pageau…

“I have personal affections for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He’s probably one of my favourite players on the team. I think the way he performs and the way he plays the game, I think is something that our players can all aspire to. But at the same time, we always have to be fiscally responsible, not because you like someone that you’re going to give him more money.”

I like Pageau too, but the fact that the Senators have had a difficult time finding possession-driving wingers or offensively talented players has posed problems for Pageau’s even strength production. Without that production, it’s hard to justify a big pay day even if Pageau’s developed the label or reputation as a shutdown centre.

On concerns about the goalie position moving forward…

“No, not at all. We’ve got Andrew Hammond, we’ve got Craig Anderson, we’re going to qualify Chris Driedger and we’ve signed Marcus Hogberg. (I’m) not at all worried. There are other things that worry me way more than our goaltending position. No, as long we’ve got Craig Anderson and hopefully we can find a way to sign Mike Condon, that’s the direction we’re going to go to. If we can’t sign Mike Condon, I feel confident that Andrew Hammond can play for us. He never felt comfortable from about the first game he played last year because of the hip and he’s back healthy. He’s ahead of schedule and if that’s who are goaltending tandem is – Anderson and Condon or Anderson and Hammond – I feel comfortable.”

It was never addressed, but I’d love to know whether Dorion would consider buying out Andrew Hammond’s final season provided that Condon signs an extension with the club. Considering his health, Hammond’s probably not going anywhere and like Dorion mentioned, the Senators are going to want to give as many games to Hogberg and Driedger as they can. On the other hand, maybe Hammond is fully healthy and can placate concerns about losing Condon as a free agent. We already know that Senators goaltending coach Pierre Groulx staunchly supported acquiring Condon, but I have a hard time believing the Senators will be happy to pay Hammond and Condon’s freight.

On whether he’ll explore a contract extension with Craig Anderson…

“I can tell you my thoughts right now if you’re ready to pay the fine.”

This is Dorion’s go-to joke right now. Dorion’s dad humour is reaching epic levels. The jokes come so often now that I keep hoping that TSN 1200’s producers will pipe in fake crowd laughter so his segments come off as early 90’s or late 80’s TV sitcoms.

On whether there’s any chance the Senators will commit to protecting seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie…

“We’re looking at all of our options. We’re looking at 7-3-1 and looking at 8-1 and we’re looking at multiple options. You can’t show your hand too much. We’ve had a lot of dialogue between our counterparts. I think I counted in the first three days this, (I’ve talked to 23 general managers). So there’s a lot of discussion because everyone wants to know what you’re doing. But at the same time, Las Vegas paid a lot of money to come into this league. We’re going to lose someone. I’m not sure I’m going to be forced into doing a deal and losing two assets. Take one asset. That’s okay, that is your right and as an organization, we have to accept that. Now at the same time, there are always things that you have to look at. What is the second asset to lose (when you lose the first asset)? In your discussions, okay, ‘You don’t take this guy, but you’ll have to take someone else,’ and you’ve got to give them something so that’s giving the price for three assets. So at the same time, I’m not saying that we’re going to stay status quo, but if we don’t do anything until Saturday at 3:00 (pm ET) and submit our list by 5:00, I feel more than comfortable with this team. I feel more than comfortable that we’ve taken a step in the right direction. I feel more than comfortable that if we lose a defenceman or a forward, we’ve got a lot of depth. Especially on defence we’ve got a lot of depth – we’ve got (Thomas) Chabot coming up; we’ve got (Ben) Harpur who played in the playoffs and played great; Shean Donovan and Randy Lee swear to me that (Christian) Jaros is closer than we think to the NHL; and (Andreas) Englund had a great first half, but he slowed down in the second half. But, that’s understandable with the way playing so many games coming over from Europe and we had seven guys who almost played for us on a regular basis last year, so defence is really the last thing I’m worried about. I’m not worried about goaltending and I’m not worried about defence, so maybe that tells you where I’m worried about.”

The issue shouldn’t be the fear of losing players. Teams always lose players. It’s all about how you replace players and get the most bang for your buck. Ottawa shouldn’t be afraid to lose two players from his blue line simply because it creates a hole. It’s not like Ottawa’s blue line was a strength last season. If you can find replacement level (or ideally better) talent at a lower cost, it allows the Senators to address and fill different holes on the roster.

On whether calls picked up after it was reported that Dion Phaneuf would not waive his NMC…

“No, it was about the same. I had a lot of calls before and I had a lot of calls this week, so… I’ve had a lot of calls this week and it’s been a very active week and it’s been busy. It’s been interesting.”

Dorion’s no stranger to making a splash, so I hope that’s the case over the next week.

On no-trade clauses and how often players change those lists…

“You’re allowed to change them once a year. For the most part, it depends. Some teams they require a list of (teams) and in Dion’s case, it’s 12 teams that you will accept to be traded to and that was an inherited contract from Toronto. In Ottawa, what we do – except for Erik Karlsson – is give us a list of 10 teams that when you’re a pending UFA that you will accept or 10 teams that you do not want to be traded to. And that’s really what our standard is. A guy like Marc Methot has that and a guy like Zack Smith is going to come and have one. Who else have we done in the last few years that’s a UFA? We don’t give it to goalies. Clarke (MacArthur) has it. It’s always been that way and it won’t change, but a lot of times, those players have earned it. Those players have earned it. They’ve had a career and sometimes they’ll give up some money to have a certain clause like that and there’s no problem. We always tell players, ‘When you’re going to sign on the dotted line, make sure you’re happy and we’re happy.’”

I didn’t know about the Senators’ policy on movement clauses to goalies, it’s a good one to adhere to.

On how much trade activity he expects league-wide before Saturday…

“It’s like every other thing, I think there’s more hype around all the trades and everything that was going to happen. Everyone thought that Monday at 9:00 am that Vegas would announce 17 trades, so I think there’s still a lot of discussions going on but at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to come to fruition as far as how many trades are going to happen.”

I hope he’s wrong.

On how much trade interest there is for Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf…

“Guys are calling on all three, but that doesn’t mean that any one of the three will get traded because you have to think, ‘I trade then what am I getting back?’ Because of expansion, where does that come into play? If I take a forward then I have to leave someone else exposed and then you’re risking the chance of losing two assets and that’s where you say to yourself, ‘What is the best thing for the organization? What is going to help the Ottawa Senators field the best team next year – losing one asset or two assets? Are the two assets that you’re going to lose more important than the one asset that you’re going to lose?’ So that’s where it comes into play and I know people think I’m going to be crazy with this statement, but we have to think about the cap situation moving forward. We have to think about in a few years that we have guys that are going to be UFAs after this following year. The one more year after that (with Karlsson’s impending UFA status) is huge. And then you look at a guy like Mark Stone, he’s in the last year of a contract – his last year as an RFA and then possibly a UFA. So that’s where you have to think, ‘What do we have to do to also look at what we can do to field the best team next year? But at the same time, to field the best team within two, three or four years.”

It’s interesting to hear the organization is exercising caution with its contracts now that expansion is upon us. Considering how the bulk of Ottawa’s young core has an expiring first or second contract, the pressure on Dorion to get his players not only under contract but to manageable deals that allow his team to be competitive moving forward is going to be difficult thanks to the complications created by the burdensome Ryan and Phaneuf deals.

We’ve already seen an uptick in the volume of Phaneuf trade chatter since his unwillingness to waive his NMC was reported earlier this week. Whether that’s a reflection of Ottawa’s aggressiveness in trying to get out from his deal remains to be seen, but it would hardly be a surprise to see Ottawa do everything within their power to get out from under these two contracts. Between the playoff run and the better than anticipated play during this run, if there’s ever an offseason to move either player, now is the time.

On having discussions and trying to find the balance between making deals and worrying about losing too many assets…

“Between our group, I’ll phone the coach and talk to him. ‘Do you like this guy? Do you not like this guy?’ We’ll talk amongst our management group and at the end of the day, I know the responsibility falls on my shoulders but there’s a lot of internal discussions on what other teams are doing too. The reason why you do mock drafts is to say who can be available. Now, teams could be in a similar situation: teams might want to lose a guy that we think they don’t want to lose and we’ll all find that out Saturday. The lists have to be in by 5:00 (pm ET), so you figure the league goes through it so probably not until 9:00 or 10:00 is when we’ll get the lists and the league just might make them public on Sunday. And the other thing is, even if we were to make a deal with Las Vegas, the kibosh has been put on us. We had a conference call Tuesday and I respect the league’s position on that. Again, Vegas paid a lot of money. They want to make a splash on Wednesday night in Last Vegas at the award show when they’re going to announce their expansion team. The only people I feel bad about, sometimes if you have got a deal in place, you can’t even tell the player. I have a lot of respect for the players. This league is a lot about the players and what they achieve and that is a bit difficult, but at the same time, I think the league is going about it the right way and so is Vegas.”

That Dorion is empathetic towards the players in this situation is nice, but I’m just hoping this is foreshadowing a few unexpected trades. With the rumours and anticipation of a ton of trades, it’s an exciting time of year.

On players finding out next week when everyone else does that they’ve been selected in the expansion draft…

“I think Las Vegas has to submit their list at 10:00 am ET, so I think the reason for that is that they might try and fly some guys in. And let’s say you’re from the east coast, you can gain time going to Vegas. I remember talking to Bobby Ryan and he found out through someone else that he got traded here. Sometimes because there’s league protocols, until a trade call is made, you can’t tell the player. Now you’re watching TV and the trade deadline and you see that they’ve announced a trade and we haven’t even made the trade call. I haven’t even told the player and now the player is mad at you, but you’re just following league rules. One person is big on league rules: I follow them to the letter.”

In other words: don’t expect any leaks out of Ottawa beyond news that Dion has resubmitted his list of teams that he cannot be traded to.

 

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