The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
Pierre Dorion Speaks – Memorial Cup prospects, Sens’ impending FAs, etc.

From London, Ontario where he’ll be taking in tonight’s Memorial Cup semi-final that pits Curtis Lazar’s Edmonton Oil Kings against the Val d’Or Foreurs, Senators assistant general manager took time out of his day to speak to Steve Lloyd and Jason York on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ this afternoon.

Dorion briefly discussed a few of the Senators’ prospects participating in the tournament, but the most interesting portions of the interview concerned the team’s impending 2014 and 2015 free agents.

To listen to the full interview, you can click here or you can stream the audio that is embedded at the bottom of this post.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On where Ben Harpur’s development has been…

“He’s a big guy. He skates well for his size. He’s got good instincts. He’s got a good stick. He moves. He makes a good first outlet pass. Probably where he needs to improve, he’s got to bear down and be a bit more present and physical for a bigger man. But, he’ll be a good defensive defenceman for us down the road.”

The physicality component aside, the rest sounds pretty unreal for a guy that the Senators drafted in the fourth round of last year’s draft –especially since his skill was downplayed at the time of his selection. If he’s improved his play with the puck and his ability to move it within the defensive zone, that hopefully bodes well for his future and gives the Senators another defenceman who can project as a pro.

On Curtis Lazar’s Memorial Cup Tournament so far…

“I think his tournament has been good. I wouldn’t call it great so far. I wouldn’t call it to the level of how he played at the world junior – where he pretty much (carried) the team on his back – or how he played in the playoffs for them, but I think they’ve played a lot of hockey. If I’m not mistaken, I was told they flew from Portland to Guelph, so when I saw him play, he had played two games in two nights two nights ago. But, I know tonight he will bounce back and we can expect a lot of big things from Curtis within probably the next 10 to 15 years with us.”

Already looking forward to Chris Neil making Lazar carry his gear.

The bag carrying Curtis Lazar oozes more character than Alexandre Daigle’s hair oozed product.

On the craziness of the junior schedule and its impact on the scouting process…

“We do. We ask sometimes too much. We forget sometimes that they are physically nor mentally mature and then you ask them to play three games in three nights and travel. Just the way the junior schedules are made up, we’re taxing their bodies that aren’t fully developed, so we’re asking a lot out of them and sometimes that’s how so many injuries occur. So with kids, you have to be careful with what you do and you have to be careful in your assessment. Like, I always tell our scouts, ‘If you see a guy’s third game in two-and-a-half days, be a bit more lenient in your evaluation towards him,’ because I think even the NHL guys would have a hard time playing three times in two-and-a-half days and then we asked that of the junior player, so that’s difficult.”

On draft eligible players at this tournament and the qualities that they’re looking for…

“Well, it’s always a generalization. Skating, the way that the game has evolved, skating is probably the biggest issue. I think for us, the way that we try to be a puck possession team or a transition team, for us, having hockey sense, having skill and probably the most important thing is their compete level. If someone isn’t raising their compete level at a Memorial Cup and they’re draft eligible players, you wonder when push comes to shove in the NHL playoffs how they’re going to react. So for us, that’s a very big component in a player’s evaluation, but in saying that, we know most of these guys. When we see them throughout the year, (this tournament) is pretty much putting an exclamation dot on the scouting season for us coming here.”

The Senators really seem to be emphasizing finding players who they project can help them in the playoffs. For the most part, these comments have pertained to players at the amateur level, but for all of the attention that the Jason Spezza rumours have received over the past number of weeks, one has to wonder Spezza’s uncertain future with organization is as much a by-product of him wanting to be moved, his medical history, or his contract demands as it an indictment by the organization that it cannot win with Jason playing his style of hockey.

If the Senators are willing to sacrifice a little bit of offence for a more dedicated commitment to playing the full 200′, it will not be long before the focus shifts to Erik Karlsson and the adjustments he makes to his game.

On guarding against putting too much stock in such a small sample size of tournament games…

“That’s a bit of a loaded question, but a good question. But, you have to be careful. It’s the whole year of work. It’s not just one tournament. You want to see guys peak when it matters the most, but you always have to be careful. Players… Sidney Crosby can have two or three bad games, so guys in the Memorial Cup could have two or three bad games, so you have to be a bit leery in your whole evaluation. We had our meetings last week and we had really productive six days of meetings and we just feel like you take the whole body of work. Now we’ll make a few adjustments on a few draft eligible guys who are here, but for the most part, we won’t make too many big changes.”

On having the master list in place and making some last minute tweaks…

“Very much so. Very much so. We always, in the seven years that we’ve been in Ottawa under Bryan, we’ve always had to pretty much plan what we want to do at the draft. We always try to draft the best player available. Some years we’ve keyed on more forwards than defencemen. Other years we’ve keyed on more defencemen than forwards. We’ve taken a few goalies. We only have five picks. Everyone knows it’s not the deepest of drafts, but we have a pretty good idea or plan going forward.”

That the Senators were willing to flip two draft picks in a rebuilding year for the opportunity to expose Ales Hemsky to Ottawa and hopefully provide the organization with a better opportunity to re-sign him, tells you all you really need to know about the quality of the draft. The organization believes the value of what ultimately (likely?) could be 20 games worth of Ales Hemsky outweighs whatever value the organization could have had with their picks.

On whether there’s an opportunity to acquire more picks and whether they’ve planned to acquire some…

“We have, but you have every scout telling their general manager or assistant general manager that they’d like to get picks, so it’s tough to acquire picks at this point and time of the year. But, if we can improve the number of picks, we will definitely try so.”

On where things stand with pending UFAs and whether there are any contract talks with Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek…

“Yes, there have been. I know for a fact and (it’s) more of a Bryan Murray question, but I know Bryan Murray has had discussions with Jiri Crha – who’s Ales Hemsky’s agent – and I know Bryan has had discussions with Allan Walsh – who is Milan Michalek’s agent – so both of those players, we’ve had talks with them. The number has to fit. The number has to make sense. The number of years has to make sense, but they’re both players who have performed well for us – you know, Milan in the years that he’s been with us and Ales, you know what, I thought he was a really good deal. He was the player that was traded that had the most points from the trade deadline on, so he was a good addition to our team. We’d like to keep both if we could, but they have to accept where they fit in in our scheme of things money-wise.”

Everyone from the players to management keeps saying the right things about the possibility that these players will be back, but in reality, everything comes down to money and term.

When the market opens on July 1st and bad contracts are handed out a rate that exceeds the number of photographs that appear on social media of Boston Bruins players at parties following the end of their playoff season, it feels safe to assume that it won’t take much for a budget conscious team like the Senators to be priced out of the market. 

Even if the Senators qualify their four RFAs, promote Lazar and ink Lehner to a reasonable deal ($2.0-2.5M per annum), the Senators are looking at a payroll of $48M for having 21 guys on the roster. With the new television revenue, fans will expect there to be plenty of financial revenue available for them to compete for free agents like Hemsky, but if the Senators don’t have the financial flexibility or willingness to go the extra mile with Hemsky, what was the point in acquiring him in the first place? (Note: as Twitter follower @ryanoco17 noted, Hemsky’s presence did help boost Spezza’s offensive numbers, which in theory, should help boost his trade value. It’s a valid point.) 

On the RFAs – Hoffman, Gryba, Lehner, Da Costa — getting locked up before the draft…

“I’ve had talks with all four of those guys’ agents as recently as yesterday and I think we’d like to get something done sooner than later, but sometimes agents like to drag (talks) on, but they’re four guys who hopefully by draft time, we’ll have locked up. But if it’s a day before camp, it’s no big deal. It’s all negotiation tactics and trying to do the best, but I’m telling Bryan every day that I’m talking to these guys, but I think all four will have certain types of contracts.”

It only makes sense for the organization to qualify each of these players to retain their rights, so it’s not surprising to hear that the organization is talking contract with each party. The only player whose status ever would have been questioned at one point last season was Hoffman, but considering the organization elected not to put him on waivers for the purpose of returning him to Binghamton for their playoff run, it’s obvious that they don’t want to lose the player without netting an asset in return (or maybe they think he could be a full-time player for their team next season).

On Stephane Da Costa’s leverage and whether the organization is looking to sign him…

“For sure we’re looking to sign him. We think (he’s) a part of our future. He showed in spurts that he’s a good NHL player, so we’d like to keep him. It has to make sense for both parties. It’s no secret that the KHL is offering him big money and it’s going to be up to (him) if he wants to pursue his NHL dream or not. I think we’ve made a very fair offer. Bryan feels that way and I feel that way. I think his agent feels that it’s a fair offer and we’ll just see where we go from there.”

Depending upon what kind of assets a Spezza trade nets the organization, should it retain Hoffman and promote Lazar, that would essentially leave Da Costa and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to fight for a spot on the roster. Da Costa’s skill-set and physical characteristics are hardly representative of the kind of player who fills out a bottom six role, so he strikes me as a trade candidate or someone who will simply up and leave for a lucrative KHL offer.  

On whether the offer is a one-way offer…

“No, I’m not going to divulge that. I’d like to be fair towards Wade Arnott and (Da Costa) and I don’t want Bryan to slap my hand.”

On Robin Lehner and how many scenarios are on the table…

“There are a few different scenarios. We’ve made two types of offers to Robin without getting too much into details and they came back with three types of offers and we’re just still discussing. It’s not going to be a contract that’s done tomorrow, it’s something that will be done a bit (note: Pierre Dorion’s phone gets a call coming in.) Sorry about that, I think that’s Gryba’s agent phoning me – how ironic. So I think there are many scenarios. We’re looking at everything and I think we’re looking at something that works best for us and something that works best for Robin. He has (arbitration) rights next year and five years of restricted free agency, so we’ve looked at many scenarios and we want to make sure that it works for both sides. It’s one thing when you deal with agents that you can’t – (inaudible name) tells me that I’m not allowed to get mad at him or insult him, so we have to work together to try and make a contract work as best (as it can) for both parties.”

I’m thinking the two Senators scenarios are: 1) a two-year bridge deal worth $2.0-2.5M per annum; or 2) a four or five-year deal worth $3.5-4.0M. 

On the impending 2015 impending UFAs and the conversations taking place before July 1st

“I think on July 1st, we’ll be busy and that’s as much as I’m going to say about it. With the CBA, unless you’re willing to lend me $250,000, I don’t think I should comment on it.”

Fantastic. With Senators news being quiet of late, I like this kind of foreshadowing.