Prior to the start of his team’s first round playoff series versus the Boston Bruins, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion held a media availability where he discussed his team’s chances and the path that led to his team’s playoff appearance.
The full media availability can be heard by using the embedded media player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On there being any updates on his injured players…
“Yes, three injured players. (Erik) Karlsson will practice tomorrow and will play Wednesday. Marc Methot, we all saw the footage. He had a cramp and he was being bag-skated. He will practice tomorrow and there’s a very good chance he plays on Wednesday. Zack Smith could have played on the weekend (but he) will play Wednesday.”
I mentioned this in my first round preview piece, but the health of the Senators ideally gives the coaching staff the flexibility, depth and opportunity to create lines that can hopefully mitigate some of the edge the Bruins have in the possession game.
On whether he likes the matchup versus Boston…
“Well, Boston’s a very good hockey team. They’ve had a really good stretch lately. We’re going to have to be at our best to have any chance at winning the series. They’ve got players who have won the Cup on that team. I think changing their coach gave them a spark, so I know we have a record of 4-0 against them in the regular season, but nothing carries over. Every team starts with (an) 0-0 (record) and the first team to win four games (moves on).”
I don’t know if their coaching change gave them a spark, so much as the team’s shooting percentage regressed towards league average and the team finally started burying its chances. Maybe the players might have been gripping their sticks a little tight, but it’s not like Bruce Cassidy is encouraging his players to find the back of the net better than his predecessor.
On his moves at the deadline and the payoff…
“Well, I’m happy with the way the coaches played all of those guys. I think at the trade deadline, the two deals that we made, getting (Alex) Burrows… if you look at what Burrows has done, he scores the goal in Detroit. He scores the goal in Boston and he’s scored big goals. He’s played great of late, he’s a tremendous leader and he makes people accountable in that room. I know you’re not supposed to go back on the past and I’m not supposed to read what anyone says, but I had a few friends that sent me stuff that was said when we traded for Burrows and I think it was one of the best deals that we made all year. In getting Stalberg, who’s played great for us and blocked shots… I forget what game it was, but he blocked a shot that I thought would have been a goal and it was a one-goal game. Those two guys have been important pieces. Stalberg’s won a Cup and Burrows is a warrior. Having those two pieces, I think, for playoff just improves our team.”
In a vacuum, getting Burrows for a playoff run without touching the parent roster looks good. It looks even better when the team reaches the postseason – which gives Burrows the platform many believe he excels on – and Burrows has the opportunity to help the team win now.
The thing is, in sports, you can rarely look through deals in a vacuum.
A proper evaluation of the deal needs time to elapse and in time, Jonathan Dahlen could transition from a prospect to a productive NHL player.
Even if Dahlen’s development stalls and he never fulfills the projections placed on him, at the time of the deal, he was a desirable asset. Meaning, that even if the Senators wanted to move him, his utility as a desirable prospect likely meant that the Senators could have used him more efficiently this summer to address a greater area of need than a 36-year old pest who projects to fill a bottom-six role for the rest of his career.
The only way this deal looks good is if the Senators win moving forward and considering their underlying numbers and there isn’t a ton of untapped upside left on the parent roster. If the Senators aren’t considered a legitimate contender now and the team has operated for the last few years putting an emphasis on winning now, maybe it’s fair to wonder whether this was the best use of a young asset – especially since this summer’s trade market is expected to be better than in recent years.
On whether he’s concerned about team’s lack of goal-scoring ability down the stretch…
“No, because every game gets tighter down the stretch. I think if you look at the whole league, there were (fewer) goals being scored at the end (of the regular season). To me, there’s no concern at all. I like the way we’re playing. I know we had a bit of a rough patch, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be the best thing for us because it showed us that we had to work for every win that we needed to get. No, I think scoring goals will be important, but scoring goals is by going to the net and our players know that. Our coaches know that, so I think we’re in a really good frame of mind. I’m going to be personal bit once, but it was a year ago today that I felt that this team was a playoff team. We’re in the playoffs. Time to make some noise.”
The Senators should be in a really good frame of mind. They have home-ice advantage and injuries on the Bruins’ blue line, coupled with Ottawa’s return to health have lined up to give the Senators a reasonably good chance of advancing to the second round. I’m getting ahead of myself, but by avoiding the wild card seed and a series versus the Washington Capitals, the Senators have essentially given themselves the easiest path to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
On his mental frame of mind because of the Senators string of recent success versus the Bruins…
“I’m in a great mental frame right now. Well, we only played (Boston) four times this year, but again, I think that has nothing to do with it. They’re a really good hockey team. They played us without Brad Marchand last time we were in. I think every game has been, again if I’m wrong, I think a one or two goal differential, so it could have (gone) either way. I have a lot of respect for a lot of players on that team. They’ve got one of the best wingers, if not one of the best players in Marchand. They’ve got (Zdeno) Chara, they’ve got (Tuukka) Rask and they’ve got (David) Pastrnak – who’s scored a bunch of goals this year – they’re a good hockey team. We should not go in there (taking them lightly) because they are a very good hockey team.”
Their special teams play is exceptional and their underlying numbers are scary. The Bruins are going to be a tough out, but hey, hopefully the injuries to Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug allow the Senators to put the Bruins behind the eight-ball. In order to win this series, they have to take advantage and win some of these early games.
On how the goal from the outset was to make the playoffs and whether the season should be considered a success simply because the team has now accomplished that goal…
“I think, yes. Our first goal was to make the playoffs and now our second goal is to win a round.”
Considering he was given a mandate by the owner to reach the playoffs, Dorion did what he was asked to do. Do I agree with the owner’s mandate? Absolutely not, but that’s easy for me to say because I don’t have to worry about what kind of impact a few playoff gates will have on my bottom line.
On whether his expectations have changed now that the team is in the postseason…
“Well, my only expectations and sometimes I’m too honest with you guys and I get myself in trouble… I told Guy (Boucher) about a month ago, we were in Boston… the first time we beat Boston, he asked me, ‘Pierre, what are your expectations?’ I said, ‘Guy, since this team went to the Cup Finals (in 2007), we’ve never had home-ice advantage for one series.’ So I’m telling you right now, this was not our last game in Boston but before, we were just outside the elevator and I said, ‘You guys would really like us to have home-ice advantage.’ I think for our fans and for this organization it would be a step in the right direction and he delivered. And the players delivered more importantly, but they didn’t know that I told that to Guy.”
When Ottawa’s margin for error is less than that of the top teams, they need any edge(s) that they can get.
On how far this team is capable of going…
“Let’s take it game-by-game. Let’s win one game and then we’ll see where we go winning the second game. Hopefully we can win a third game and if all goes well, hopefully we can give the Bruins a run for their money, but it’s going to be tough. The Boston Bruins are a good team. They’ve got many elements and many players that were on their Cup team, so we can’t take them lightly.”
No bulletin board material here. I like it.
On whether there’s a sense of parity in the Eastern Conference and whether it creates this idea that any team can win it…
“Yeah, I think we finished… they were 95 (points) and we were 98 (points). I always said, ‘Let’s just get into the playoffs and hopefully we can make some noise,’ and that’s what the players have accomplished this year led by Erik Karlsson – who I still think is the MVP in the league. I know he won’t win it, but I still think if you take Erik Karlsson off this team, we’re not where we are right now. Of course there’s parity in the East. There are eight teams (in the playoffs) and I think the two teams that missed out were one-point behind – the (New York) Islanders and Tampa (Bay Lightning) – were one-point behind the last place team – which were Boston and Toronto that were tied with 95 (points) – so of course there’s parity. I think the playoffs are a whole new ballgame, so that’s why our record in Boston doesn’t mean that much.”
It’s still kind of crazy to think that with Erik Karlsson being in Norris form, both of Ottawa’s goaltenders playing incredibly well for the duration of the season and all of Ottawa’s best young forwards being on cheap and efficient deals that this team still struggled to clinch a playoff spot until the final week of the season in an underwhelming Eastern Conference.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the Senators being in the postseason. As a perennial bubble team, it’s better to be in than just on the outside looking in, but man, it’s going to be hard for the Senators to take that next step forward as an organization.
On what he would define as “making noise in the playoffs”…
“Play to the best of our ability and hopefully give Boston a run for its money.”
And if Brad Marchand gets flattened once or twice by Mark Borowiecki, I’ll take that too.
On how the organization manages its assets now that everyone is healthy…
“I think right now, the coach has decided who plays all year and he’ll decide who plays (now). I think we know we can get an injury or two or three or four after game one. So for us, our goal was to make the playoffs and once we got to the playoffs, have as many assets and players as we could have. Guy’s done a great job managing that this year and I think we’ll have nine defencemen and a bunch of forwards. We’ll carry three goalies throughout the playoffs and that’s how we’re going to go about it. Craig Anderson’s okay. Matt O’Connor will be staying with us the whole time. (Anderson) is starting game one unless Guy decides otherwise.”
Anderson is starting game one unless Guy decides otherwise? Lolz.
On acquiring players who’ve been to the Cup Final in Burrows, Brassard, Wingels and Stalberg and whether that played a part in bringing them into the fold…
“It does because you want guys that have gone through the grind of the playoffs. We all know experience means something and all those guys had experience. Every time we looked at acquiring a player, someone who’s been through the war of the playoffs, it means something. Our ultimate goal, whether it’s now or in five years, is to bring a Cup to Ottawa. And to have guys that have been through wars, it means a lot to this organization.”
I’d still prefer it if the organization used its prospects and young assets to acquire talent over intangibles (or ideally, both), but hopefully this mix can “make some noise”. If not for the fact that I’d like to see the Senators win a series for the first time in quite some time, but because I’m getting tired of the organization emphasizing character.
On what the role for Bobby Ryan will be moving forward…
“Well, Bobby’s played great. I know he hasn’t scored, but ever since he’s been back from injury, I think he’s played great. I think coach and I are on the same page, as we’re on the same page for most things. When we have little arguments, we keep it for ourselves, but coach and I are on the same page and I think Bobby’s played great. He scored yesterday and I was happy. Bobby really wanted to play yesterday and after his injury, we felt it was the best thing to get his legs so that his first game back wouldn’t be the first playoff game where we all know the intensity gets cranked up a notch or two. So no, I think he’s going to be someone that contributes a lot to our success and sometimes in the playoffs, it’s not about points but getting good ice time and making good use of that ice time. Of course, that’s in Guy’s hands and we know it’s in very capable hands, but I think Bobby’s going to be someone that we rely upon in our playoff run here.”
Bobby’s played better of late, but has been a bit snake-bitten around the net. Hopefully he gets some bounces against the Boston and has something to build off moving forward. “Coming in hot” feels like a long time ago and many are already starting to wonder when he can leave.
On attendance being in a lull and using the playoffs as a mechanism to reinvigorate the fans…
“Yeah, it’d be great if we could have a lot of our fans come and support us. We feel, both Guy and I, our management group, the coaching staff and the players, we feel that we put a very good product on the ice this year. We feel that we’re in most games. We feel we have probably the most dynamic player in the NHL playing for us, so for our fans to come out and cheer him on, you’ll see quite a show or quite a spectacle of what we’re able to do as far as the Ottawa Senators. We took a new direction this year. Guy’s systems are different. We all know that. To me, there was an adjustment to finding out what kind of player could play within Guy’s system and that’s where guys like (Viktor) Stalberg, (Alex) Burrows and (Tommy) Wingels (came in). We knew those guys could succeed and Guy and I were always on the same page when it came to trading for players. Sometimes it can be more defensive, but there’s great counterattack to his systems and it’s very entertaining hockey. And I think if our fans do come out for a playoff game, they’re going to see something special.”
Very entertaining hockey?
They’re getting some wins, sure, but this style of hockey is something that not even PR Dorion can spin.
On how rewarding it is for Dorion to see his decisions have helped lead the team back to the postseason…
“I think personally you’re happy. The first goal was to make the playoffs. You know what I did? I kept every playoff prediction that I could at the start of the year. They’re in a folder in my office – (not) many people thought we’d be in the playoffs. I think that’s a credit to our players and that’s a credit to Guy and his coaching staff. We’re happy with where we are right now. We’re playing hockey. A year ago, Bryan (Murray) resigned. The day after, we let most of the coaching staff go. It was not a good day for the organization. Where we’ve gone from a year ago to now, we’re headed in the right direction. Now winning the Cup? It would have to be the ideal perfect scenario, but we’re in a position where we’re with 15 other and we’ve got a chance to win that Cup. It’s exciting! I’m driving in today and people are honking and waving at me and you feel special. You’ve helped to do something, but it’s not just me, it’s the coaching staff, it’s the players, it’s Randy Lee, it’s Bryan Murray, it’s Daniel Alfredsson, sometimes it’s Bruce (Garrioch) when he writes something good. So it’s good and you know what? I think we’re going to have a health roster on Wednesday. That’s the other positive about everything that we’re doing.”
Wonder if the same people honking and waving were the same people who hugged him in the dressing room after the Burrows trade.
On not having the luxury of having a healthy roster…
“In two years, we’ve never had a fully healthy roster. It will be the first time. If (Marc Methot) can play, I think we’ve got a good chance at a (healthy) roster, but we know we’re not going to be fully healthy through the whole playoffs. That’s not going to happen. I think we’re all smart enough to know that that’s not going to happen.”
The return to health is great and it’s great to see Chris Kelly come out of the lineup, but I feel for guys like Ryan Dzingel and Fredrik Claesson. Their respective performances this season surpass those of some of their peers and it’d be nice if they were rewarded for it, especially because both players are expected to have a future with the club.
On what kind of advantage a healthy roster is to start the playoffs…
“It’s a tremendous advantage. You know there’s an internal competition (for players to get into the lineup). The coach can do whatever he wants. Against a certain team he might have a certain lineup, against another team, he might have another lineup, so I think it’s a great advantage for us. You know, it was the ability that Mr. Melnyk gave us to go out and get some players at the trade deadline has really paid dividends. Imagine where we would be right now if we didn’t have all the trades that we made. Would we have made the playoffs? It was only four points between us making it and not making it, but those are a big four points.”
Melnyk green lit the opportunity to add salary, but what about all the money he saved because of insurance picking up the bulk of Clarke MacArthur’s salary?
On his first big trade in acquiring Derick Brassard…
“Well, I think my first big trade was Logan Brown for a first and a third (round pick) when we switched picks and gave up a third. But, Derick Brassard? In five years from now, we might say that was our first big trade. But, Derick Brassard for Mika (Zibanejad), we were really happy with the trade. We have our own in-house analytics department – it’s two people, but we still call it a department – and when you look at the analytics and how we evaluate our players with analytics, Derick has been our best forward this year. Obviously a lot of people look at point production, but I look at overall play and Derick has exceeded expectations. We said it when we made the deal. I remember at the exit interviews, everyone said, ‘When Mika’s going to be good, when Ceci’s going to be good and when all these young guys get to be to a level, we’ll be a really good team,’ and our thoughts were, ‘Why can’t we be good right now? Why can’t we try to make the playoffs right now? Why can’t we try to win a round or two in the playoffs?’ And that’s where I think Derick has helped us.”
I’ll get into this after the next answer.
On what goes into the analytics that makes Brassard the best…
“I’m not going to go into it. Ask Guy. Guy will answer it, but for me, analytics has always been a tool. Today’s not about analytics, but we have a certain formula where we… first on puck and things that are important for us that maybe the analytics community doesn’t use as much where we feel the importance and the value in it – making sure you’re the guy responsible for getting the puck out of your own end, making sure that you make a play when you enter the zone. Guy’s big on first on pucks. Relentless. Every morning when I come in, he’s first on GM about getting a player here or getting a player there, so all these things that we feel, (Brassard)’s been our best forward as far as how we configure our analytics. Now other guys have produced. Mark Stone is a tremendous player and Kyle Turris has scored as big goals as we’ve seen all year, so it’s good to have a lot of good forwards. It’s good to have a lot of good defencemen. It’s good to have two good goalies.”
I don’t understand how the Senators could possibly have Brassard rated as their top forward when Mark Stone continues to exist.
Both players have exceptional underlying numbers this season and conveniently, the two spent most of their season playing on the same line, but when Stone ranks at the top of the possession metrics with Brassard and significantly outproduces him at even strength and on the power play, well, that makes me wonder whether there’s an issue with the Senators’ in-house analytics or how they use them.
It’s entirely possible that Dorion was playing up Brassard’s season because his point production was relatively underwhelming and that many were critical of the deal because the team gave up a comparable, younger player in Mika Zibanejad AND a valuable second round pick for some cost certainty.
If he is playing up Brassard because he’s defensive about his trade, that’s understandable, but when he makes a statement that is patently false and easy to pick apart, Dorion needs to realize that these kind of remarks make fans lose confidence in the process.
Not only is the analytics department thin in terms of man-power, Dorion presents them as giving questionable analysis or over-emphasizing metrics that the organization itself, rightly or wrongly, deems important.