Senators general manager Pierre Dorion jumped on TSN 1200’s TGOR this morning for a quick interview where he discussed the arbitration filings by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ryan Dzingel’s representatives, development camp and the status of contract negotiations with Viktor Stalberg.
I didn’t transcribe the full interview because Dorion and host Don Brennan talked about their tier four National Capital Baseball League exploits, but if you want to listen to the full interview, it can be heard via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On not having a lot of time off…
“No, there’s not a lot of time to play. I think pretty much since the end of the year, I think I’ve had two or three days off. I’ve worked weekends most times just because of expansion and everything going on. I hope to get away this weekend, but I’m still working on a few things here with two players filing for arbitration and still actively always looking to improve our team.”
The two players who filed for arbitration are obviously the aforementioned Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ryan Dzingel.
The deadline to file for player-elected arbitration was Wednesday, July 5th at 4:00 pm ET. Hearings for players can be scheduled from July 20th through August 4th, but it’s hard to imagine the Senators and these players not finding some common ground before the respective hearings.
On whether there’s ever a day where his phone doesn’t ring and there’s another GM on the line…
“There hasn’t been one day in the last month where I haven’t had a call. It was funny enough, yesterday I was driving my son to his soccer game and he’s 12-years old, so he knows all the players in the NHL. We were discussing a deal — not that there’s anything imminent — and he’s looking at me with big eyes saying, ‘Oh my god, you’re going to make a deal, dad.’ I said, ‘No, no. This is just the way the process goes,’ you’re always talking to counterparts and you’re trying to see what you can do to always improve the team. There haven’t been many days off. The busiest day for me was the day where we had to submit our (expansion) list. I think the phone started ringing at 7:44 (am) and it was a Western Conference GM that had phoned and I was on the phone that day until 2:58 (pm). You’re always looking to see if you can do something that day.”
Hopefully Dorion also handed out some orange slices to the kids during the soccer game.
On the two players who filed for arbitration and possibly shedding some light on the negotiations…
“Yeah, for sure. We don’t want to negotiate through the media. What do you think I should pay him? What do you think I should pay (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau?”
Considering the Senators signed Mika Zibanejad to a two-year contract in 2015 that paid him $2-million in the first year and then $3.25-million in the second year of his deal, even accounting for salary inflation, this is probably the range that the parties are going to be looking at on an extension.
At the time, Zibanejad was coming off a 20-goal and 46-point season, but Pageau did tally 19-goals and 43 points during the 2015-16 season. Of course, Pageau scored seven shorthanded and five empty-net goals that season, so considering how hard it is to replicate those numbers across future seasons, it’s important for the Senators need to recognize and acknowledge that Pageau’s goal production that season was inflated and shouldn’t safely be used as a barometer for what he is capable of moving forward.
Not that that’s a crack against Pageau, it’s just more of a reflection of the Senators’ pecking order at the centre position.
Over the past few seasons, he’s simply slotted behind players like Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard and Zibanejad and because of it, he hasn’t logged as many minutes playing with skilled players who are capable of driving possession. Instead, Pageau’s been predominantly used in a shutdown capacity where he’s asked to play regular minutes against the opposition’s best players.
Maybe Pageau can get to the elusive 20-goal threshold, but it’s not going to come without better linemates and it most certainly won’t come with Tom Pyatt flanking Pageau.
On signing Pageau to four or five years at $2M to $3M…
“If we could do that, I’ll make you a deal. Every time I talk to a GM, I’ll put on Twitter about our conversation.”
Good news everyone, Dorion’s on Twitter.
On Pageau being the kind of player that you want to lock up long-term…
“What our fans and everyone has to understand is Jean-Gabriel has three years left before he’s (an unrestricted free agent), so if we get into the fourth year, the (average annual value) and the numbers significantly go up. We’ve talked, obviously we’ve talked, and we’d rather not do a one-year deal and go through this process again next year. So we’ve talked two, three, four, five (years) and we’ve talked a variety of years, but at the same time, you have to look at what we project him to be, what he will be and try to come to an agreement with the agent. Obviously we love Jean-Gabriel Pageau, I’ve been teased that… we all know that Guy Boucher’s favourite player is Tom Pyatt, well, the GM’s favourite player is Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Well, we’ll say second, Erik Karlsson may be (number) one. We’re going to try and get something done and from there, we’ll see what happens. But, we know the importance of what Jean-Gabriel brings to our team. It might not be always as far as always points, but as far as intangibles, he definitely brings a lot of things.”
In the lead up to Dorion’s answer, Don Brennan expressed comfort in signing Pageau to an eight-year contract. That’s Jared Cowen extension territory right there.
On the difficulty of this being a difficult negotiation because the value isn’t linked to production…
“Not really because when it comes to arbitration numbers, (production numbers) pretty much rule. I think the agent knows that and we know that. It’s not to disrespect anything that Jean-Gabriel has done, but at the same time, we know the importance of him to the team. He’s a good soldier and we know where he fits in our lineup. Actually, the negotiations are going pretty good. As I stated, I think we’ll get something done before we get to arbitration, but at the same time, I say that and we’ll probably get something done with Ryan Dzingel and we won’t get something done with Pageau, so you never know how the next week or so will (go).”
Leverage the shit out of his production numbers, Dorion.
On whether he sees Pageau evolving into an offensive player…
“Well, I think anyone can evolve. I think at a certain point in your career, you are what you are. I’ve always believed players with character will always have character and players with skill will always have skill. Some skills diminish as players get older, but you always hope that he can evolve into something more than he is right now.”
Without better linemates, it’s going to be hard for Pageau to evolve. Not surprisingly, in those stretches where he’s been the most productive (like this year’s postseason), he’s played with skilled players like a Bobby Ryan.
As Derick Brassard enters the last year of his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, there’s a chance that Pageau could step into that second line centre role next season, but with Colin White in the fold, the blue-chip prospect is probably the player that the Senators are banking on filling that spot down the road.
On whether he’s talking to any of Ottawa’s impending unrestricted free agents’ representatives…
“We’ve started to talk, but nothing really imminent on that front. A few of them reached out and we just felt that at this point in time, let’s try and get Pageau and Dzingel done. Let’s put our focus on those two guys because arbitration isn’t always something that (neither party) like to go through that process. Once we are able to get through that, we’ll talk to some of the other guys.”
Those other guys include Mark Stone, Craig Anderson, Kyle Turris and most importantly, Erik Karlsson. It’s not an enviable position to be in when you have your no. 1 centre, no. 1 goaltender, best forward (apologies Senators analytics people) and franchise player all hitting the market at the same time.
On whether there’s one guy that stood out in development camp…
“Yeah, there’s no doubt that Thomas Chabot is ready to play in the NHL right now. There are things that you are certain about. We’ve seen such a big growth in maturity. I know I talked about this very briefly on July 1st… like even the coach said, ‘Look at how much he’s matured from the time he was here to the time right now.” We did it a bit on purpose. With Thomas being our seventh-best last year through camp, you could make a case one way or another, but we knew keeping him around our pro defencemen – the Karlssons, the (Borowieckis), the Cecis, the Phaneufs and Methot – all those guys would only help his development and that’s what happened. He took all the information and used it to his benefit and became as dominant of a junior player as we’ve seen in the past few years – oh, exclude (Connor) McDavid from that. If you’re looking for a specific name, a guy like Christian Jaros, really stepped up for me. I was really impressed and a lot of credit goes towards Randy Lee and Shean Donovan, Filip Chlapik was probably the guy who impressed me the most. From a guy that we weren’t sure if we were going to sign (him) and people said, ‘Oh, you always sign your second rounders.’ We made it very clear to him last year that, ‘If you continue in this manner, you won’t be signed.’ And I really think that he’s going to have a chance to play some games this year. For a 20-year old, he’s really gone a long way. I’ve got to give credit to our scouts because the four guys that they took this year – (Shane) Bowers, especially (Alex) Formenton our second rounder, he was probably the guy who impressed me the most this year (from the 2017 draft class), (Drake) Batherson and (Jordan) Hollett – were all pleasant surprises.”
The Senators are in a situation wherein they have Mark Borowiecki, Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Claesson, Ben Harpur and Chabot as left-shooting defencemen who all logged minutes for the club at some point last season.
If Chabot’s ready, it congests the picture and makes you wonder how the coaching staff will allocate minutes.
Do they replace Marc Methot with Phaneuf on the top pairing or will they keep their ineffective second pairing intact? Will Thomas Chabot get top-four minutes right away or will it take some time for him adjust to the professional game – be it on the third pairing or in the AHL to start his career? Will Claesson be a regular at the expense of a Borowiecki or will the coaching staff continue to dress the organizational favourite and rotate Claesson and Chris Wideman in and out of the lineup? Or will the organization make a move to address this congestion and use a part to address another hole on the roster?
On whether Chabot is a guy who he can envision stepping in to partner with Erik Karlsson right away…
“Well, I hope you’re right. We’ll set expectations once camp is done or has been completed. We’ll see how everyone steps in. You know, there’s certain defencemen that can play with other guys and there’s a pair that never really works. Our coach I remember told me last year that (Mark Borowiecki) and (Chris) Wideman can’t play together after one day of camp and I said, “Guy, calm down. They’ll be fine.” Of course, they ended up being a pretty solid 5-6 (pairing). When it comes to that, let’s just be careful. Let’s be careful with our expectations, but we really feel that with Chabot, (Ben) Harpur, Jaros and (Andreas) Englund, we really feel that we’ve got really good four young kids that will play whatever role they’ll play. And whenever they’re ready to take on more minutes, so be it. I think they’ll be okay.”
Of the four defensive prospects listed, only Jaros is a right-shooting defenceman and with the way that the Senators have played him up during the offseason, Chris Wideman may not want to get too comfortable in his role.
On whether Chabot needs to play with a certain type of partner or whether it matters…
“No, I think when you’re that good, people want to play with you. Now, will he be as good as he will be in two years in his first NHL game or second NHL game because he played in one, no. I think when you’re someone of Thomas’ calibre, I don’t think it matters who you play with.”
It totally matters who Chabot plays with. Going from Karlsson’s partner to playing with Ceci or Wideman would be like going from fielding eight-year contract extension offers to getting bought out by the Leafs.
On whether he anticipates Jaros being a physical presence in North America or whether he expects him to drop the gloves…
“Yeah, but he’s Slovak and I think Slovaks in nature are (tough), but I think he did as an 18, 19 and 20-year old against men in the Swedish elite league. Now it’s a totally different story here. There’s less and less fighting, so to me, at times it does come back into the game but to me, it’s just about having that physical presence, doing things quickly which he does, and playing with men. There will be an adjustment to going from the Swedish league to the American (Hockey) League to the NHL, but we feel that his game will translate very well from one to the other.”
At least Belleville will field some more drafted prospects into the fold. Last season, the only talent worth keeping tabs on were players like Francis Perron, Nick Paul, Andreas Englund and Ben Harpur. With the possibility of adding prospects like Chabot, White, Chlapik, Batherson and Jaros to the fold, as well as the sophomore campaign of a guy like Gabriel Gagne, at least there will be more compelling reasons to follow their season – even if the AHL veterans that they signed to six-figure deals are underwhelming.
On whether he is okay with the goaltending situation not only now but for the foreseeable future…
“For now we’re more than happy. I think we’re going to start the year with the tandem that we finished with. We feel that they’re one of the best one-two punches in the league, so we’re really happy about that. We know we’ve got Andrew Hammond, who’s our number three at the present time. We signed Danny Taylor to bring a bit more veteran presence to Belleville. We felt that was important and at the same time, we’ve got (Chris) Driedger and (Marcus) Hogberg that can also battle there. You know what, we might not have the highest number of quality (goaltenders), but we definitely have a lot of quantity and we can make it an internal battle and we can see who can do the best from there.”
Even though the Pageau and Dzingel filed for arbitration creating a second window for the organization to buy out contracts, the Senators unfortunately cannot buy out Andrew Hammond because his contract’s average annual value falls below the threshold set out within the NHL’s CBA.
I suppose Hammond could have provided the veteran presence in Belleville, but in signing Taylor out of the KHL, it seems pretty clear that the Senators want to cut ties with Hammond. They’ll also want to create opportunity for Driedger and Hogberg, so it will be interesting to see what becomes of Hammond. The Senators could always try to loan him to a European club or offer him around the league while picking up a portion of his salary, but it feels like the organization is loath to make moves out of principle because they carry obvious negative optics, even if it’s the prudent decision to make.
On whether there’s any potential for a significant deal or whether he’s happy with the state of the roster…
“Well, it depends. If I woke up and I feel like I’ve been up all day, maybe we’ll do something. But overall, we still went to the Conference final in game seven and we lost to the Stanley Cup champions in double-overtime. Obviously we’re close to having the same team that we had last year. I really liked the way that we finished. We (have) a bit more veteran presence than where we were when we started last year. If you look at our lineup with what we started with last year game one and where we will be I think when we start game one this year – as long as Derick (Brassard) and Erik (Karlsson) are close to playing – I think we’ll have a pretty competitive team. As you know, we’re not afraid to make trades and I’m not afraid to make trades and if we feel it improves our hockey team, Mr. Melnyk has given me the blessing (to make moves) and I think he has got faith that we’re on the right path with our team. So we’ll look at it, but you never know. Sometimes you get surprises. I think the Brassard deal started on my second day on the job. I remember phoning Jeff Gorton and we talked a bit about me working with Bryan (Murray) and him working with Glen Sather and how the transition went into another. And I asked him, ‘Who’s available on your team?’ and he told me, ‘This guy, this guy and this guy,’ and we started there. It’s funny that no one ever picked up on it because when the draft ended, we were the only two sitting at a table and no one picked up that we talked for almost 30 minutes. We went back and forth and mid-July, we found a way we could make a deal. In most cases when you make trades, Bryan Murray can attest to that, most get done fairly quickly but most of the time when there are trades of that significance, it’s over the course of a few weeks or a month.”
Beyond swapping Marc Methot with Thomas Chabot and replacing Chris Kelly with Nathan Thompson, the Senators haven’t really done much. Given their postseason run, I suppose it’s not that surprising to see the organization double down on its roster, but I really wish management was a bit more aggressive in its efforts to shake up a group that overcame some serious deficiencies in the playoffs.
On whether there’s any update on Viktor Stalberg’s free agent status…
“I think a decision will be made today or tomorrow.”
Considering the money that was thrown at Nate Thompson, I’m wondering whether the Senators have priced themselves out here or have enough budget room to fit him in. The wings already seem pretty full with MacArthur, Hoffman, Smith, Dzingel, Pyatt, Stone, Ryan, Burrows and White in the mix, so unless the Senators make a quantity for quality trade, it’s hard to see where there’s a fit.
On whether that decision will be made by him or the organization…
“Both of us. I’ll say that a decision will be made by Monday just to be on the safe side in case everyone takes the weekend off.”
Enjoy the weekend, everybody.