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Pierre Dorion Speaks: Trade Deadline, Nick Paul’s Development, Expansion

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After his depleted Senators held off the Devils on Tuesday night in a much-needed win, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion not only held court with the local media, but he also appeared on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ where he covered a number of similar topics.

From updating the health status of key players like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman to describing how much flexibility he has in regards to what he can do on March 1st’s trade deadline, there’s some meaty substance to the interview.

If you want to watch yesterday morning’s media scrum, you can follow this link. To listen to the full audio of his TSN 1200 interview, you can scroll to the bottom of this post for the embedded media player.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On an update on Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman’s health…

“Yeah, on both guys, we’ll see how the next few days’ treatments go. It would be a bonus if either one of them played on Friday here in Carolina. If they do, we’ll be happy, but I think we’re looking more at either Sunday or Monday for both guys.”

Fucking sports.

One minute we’re coming off the high of watching the Senators rally in the third period of their Saturday night nationally televised broadcast and bury the provincial rival Maple Leafs, the next we’re reeling after watching Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and (to an exponentially lesser extent) Tommy Wingels leave last Sunday’s game versus the Jets with injuries.

I wanted to write a separate blog post detailing the injuries, shitting on the NHL’s handling of Jacob Trouba’s suspension and how the Senators may elect to address Stone and Hoffman’s absences, but I didn’t have time earlier in the week to get something out on the interwebs, so I’ll post my thoughts on these matters throughout this post instead.

As great that Hoffman and Stone reportedly won’t be out for long, Dorion also guaranteed a MacArthur return this season too. Obviously things are a bit different now considering neither player is suffering from a concussion, but hopefully neither player tries to fast-track their respective return and suffers a relapse.

On what the plan is for the trade deadline now…

“Well, I just met with a bunch of the media members here and I talked about it. I think we’re not going to do anything as far as goaltending. I think our defence is pretty solid. I had a chance to see Binghamton play on… it would have been Monday at the Air Canada Centre and I was very impressed with the play of Ben Harpur and Andreas Englund. So we know that those two guys can play games and minutes for us in case we run into injuries. I think I mentioned that I think our coaches are safe. They’ve done a tremendous job, so we’re looking. If we could add depth at the forward position, whether it’s top-12 or top-nine, it’d be the ideal situation, but it might be a tougher thing to do than to say.”

Guy Boucher’s structure and system is getting a ton of credit for turning the Senators’ fortunes around, but the biggest concern regarding the Senators’ modest success to this point in the season is how much management will overrate or regard the players on the roster because of their results-based team success. Their on-ice success could breed complacency in regards to the handling of their blue line personnel

Beyond Erik Karlsson, the blue line has been a weakness for years and the Senators’ underlying numbers leave something to be desired.

Cody Ceci, despite the increased workload, has been awful. His offensive numbers are down and his defensive metrics and WOWY’s continue to underwhelm.

Despite the power play success that Dion Phaneuf has enjoyed this season (which the excellent Matt Cane explains in a tweet here), his five-on-five play leaves something to be desired and with four more seasons beyond this one, diminished returns on his contract are present now and should be expected moving forward.

There needs to come a point when management has to ask itself whether it can expect gains in the future when it continues to dole out significant minutes to an underperforming second pairing. Hopefully Thomas Chabot will be part of the solution here, but it may be years before he asserts himself or transitions from a prospect to the kind of productive player that this team essentially needs now.

Although Mark Borowiecki and Chris Wideman have actually played quite well together this season, given Borowiecki’s career history and this pairing’s performance as being more of a reflection on the kind of season that Wideman has had, can the organization continue to bank on this duo either?

I would love to see Wideman continue his career as a Senator, but with the impending expansion draft, Wideman’s rumoured to be a player of interest to Vegas and it makes sense. He is cheap, he can move the puck efficiently, he can log power play ice time and he has exhibited a tendency to make his teammates better.

If not Wideman, the lack of desirable forwards up front could necessitate a defenceman like Marc Methot being snatched up instead. As a veteran defenceman who logs regular minutes on the top pairing alongside Erik Karlsson, maybe he’s a possibility for Vegas as well.

Regardless, the Senators are probably anticipating that they will a defenceman via expansion and by locking up Fredrik Claesson to a one-year, one-way contract, I believe it speaks to that point. (As an aside, per the expansion draft’s rules, the Senators are required to expose at least one defenceman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

It has been suggested that Claesson could he would qualify as an exposure candidate, but with 35 career games under his belt and the fact that the Senators only have 34 regular season games left on the schedule, he’ll fall short of the games played thresholds listed above.

On what the trade conversations are like now as the team gets closer to the deadline…

“Well, the conversations are very along the same lines as what they were previously. So many teams feel that they’re still in it, so so many are looking to buy. So at the same time when talking to some of my counterparts, there’s not a lot of players – whether it’s rentals or even a hockey deal – everyone wants a lot for their assets. At this point in time, you want to help your team because our players have bought in, our players are playing well, we’re showing that we’re on the right path to making the playoffs this year, so you do want to try and help the team. But at the same time, you can’t sacrifice or mortgage the whole future just to make sure that you have a player for two months or maybe it’s a year and two months.”

Considering that Carolina’s Ron Hainsey was moved today for a prospect and a second round pick, the prices for rentals has been set high. And if this is the bar that Pierre Dorion has to negotiate by, I’d prefer the Senators forego the rental market and if they really want to add, they look at moving prospects or draft picks to acquire players who have term left on their deals instead.

On how impressed he is with the buy-in on what Guy Boucher has sold the team…

“Well, I’m impressed with what Guy has done, for sure. Where I’m most impressed is where the players have bought in. They’ve bought into committing to playing in our own end, committing to blocking shots, committing to doing the little things right, but it’s also the way that the message is transmitted to them. I think our coaching staff has done a tremendous job relaying the message to our players that this is the way that you need to play to be a successful team and team to get into the playoffs.”

The Senators have helped cut down on the volume of shots per game that they’ve given up, but at even strength, the Senators are still on the wrong side of the possession game, shots on goal, goals, expected goals and scoring chances.

It’s the team’s penalty kill that has really improved from last season and helps speak to the points that Dorion is making above.

According to HockeyAnalysis.com’s numbers, the Senators have not only cut down the volume of goals, shots against and Corsi attempts that they have given up, but they are also getting more saves. Less pucks are getting through and when they do, the Senators are getting more saves.

  GA60 SA60 CA60 SV%
2015-16 9.22 59.2 102.5 .844
2016-17 5.80 47.4 100.7 .878

 

In tandem, it’s a beautiful thing that helps the Senators overcome their below average five-on-five performance.

On the suggestion that the Senators could add to their lineup internally and inexpensively by signing Colin White…

“We definitely would like to add Colin White. Now whether it’s this year or next year, we’ll just wait and see the course that this player is going to take. We’d like to sign Colin at the end of the year. We’ve made it publicly clear that those are our intentions, but at the same time, the NHL is a tough league. It’s not easy for a 19 or 20-year old to jump in the lineup, especially when the games are at their hardest and the playoff push is on. I think everyone knows that at the first part of the year, the games are hard. Then once Christmas hits, the games hit another notch and once the trade deadline hits, the game hits another notch. So we’ve got to be just a bit cautious with our approach with Colin. We’ll see how he feels at the end of the year. We’ll see where we are. We know he’s going to be a very good Ottawa Senator for many years to come, but I just want to temper expectations just a bit here and let’s give credit to the players we have in our lineup right now and let them lead the way. And if we can add someone, we’ll add someone, but if (Colin White arrives) next year, it’ll be next year.”

It’s not hard to look at the bottom of the Senators’ roster and look at the contributions that the Senators are getting from their bottom-six guys and not believe that a blue-chipper like White can’t come in and outperform some of the guys who are already here.

Granted, I haven’t seen enough of White to say that definitely, but if what’s written about his hockey IQ and skating ability is true, it’s hard not to imagine that he can bring more to the table than an underperforming Curtis Lazar or an aging Chris Neil.

I totally understand why Dorion wants to play down the expectations placed upon a player like White given that the organization has been accused of rushing its best prospects in the past, especially when White’s expected to be a big part of the future, the Senators really need him to pan out if they want to transition from a bubble team to a Stanley Cup contender. But with that being said, this whole it’s hard to bring White in now as games getting more difficult is a narrative more than anything. If the dollars or trade costs are out of whack and management believes White can outperform guys are here, they have to bring him into the fold as a cheap, internal solution.

On his meeting with Curtis Lazar’s agent JP Barry and how that meeting went…

“Teams have phoned about him, but we’re going to be careful with how we handle Curtis. It was a very productive meeting. It was about minutes played and from day one, we’ve said that the coach will decide how many minutes he’ll play. It’s up to him. It’s his job and it’s a very difficult here. He will decide who plays and how many minutes. Now Curtis started the year a bit behind the eight-ball with the mono and going down to Binghamton and maybe not being part of our squad from day one. But what’s very encouraging is I think last night was his best game of the year. I think that line of (Tommy) Wingels, (Chris) Kelly and (Curtis) Lazar was a line that played effective minutes and helped us win in a very detail-oriented game that we needed to win. I think it’s just a step in the right direction with Curtis and we’re not just going to give him away. If we feel it’s an offer that can help us in the short, medium or long-term, we’ll do it, but at the same time, we have to do what’s best for the Ottawa Senators.”

I can understand the Senators not wanting to give Lazar away because of his pedigree, the years that the organization has already invested in him, the possibility that he could thrive elsewhere or the fact that his stagnant development doesn’t really jive with the organization’s boasts about their player development system.

Dorion to his credit however, has not shied away from the possibility of moving Lazar, but he has consistently reiterated that the forward will not be moved unless he’s getting a valuable asset back.

Knowing that the team can’t afford to protect Lazar at the expense of another one of the team’s more talented alternatives for the expansion draft, Dorion’s faced with a situation wherein the Senators have to get something for Lazar soon or risk losing him for nothing at the draft.

It makes sense for the organization to listen to offers on Lazar and set the bar high. Even if it’s outlandish to believe that another organization would meet Dorion’s asking price, at least he’s letting it be known publicly that he’s willing to listen to offers on the young forward and hopefully spur interest in his player.

On whether there have been more conversations with Tom Pyatt or Mike Condon’s representatives to get them signed to contract extensions…

“I think when it comes to negotiations with those guys, right now we’ve got the trade deadline going on to March 1st and I think we’ll approach those two guys after March 1st. They’ve both been good parts of our hockey team, but they’re not parts that… they’re both parts that can be replaced. So we’re going to do what we think is fair and right for both of those players. We’d like to keep them, but at the end of the day, I think we’ve got enough depth in our organization that they can be replaced, but first and foremost, we will try to make them contract offers and try to sign them.”

Can’t emphasize enough how much I love this answer. This organization’s pattern of behaviour when it comes to player moves is to retain as many known commodities as it can, but Dorion’s right, there’s no onus on the organization to reward these players with more money or contract years when both players can be easily replaced in free agency.

Each offseason, quality depth players last until September because teams don’t have room or money on their rosters to add, and this could be an instance where the Senators can take advantage of the market to improve their depth.

On Andrew Hammond suffering another injury in Binghamton and whether he can update his status…

“No. Sorry, I just found this out late, late, late last night/early this morning. I’ve been in conversations, so I hope to know more by game-time Friday. It could be serious. It could not be serious. I just simply don’t know right now.”

The nightmare of a season continues for Andrew Hammond.

On explaining the process of what happens in communication with the organization and the Department of Player Safety regarding player injuries and the disappointment in their handling of the Mark Stone injury…

“Yeah, on that one, I think it’s over and done with. I think I said it last night on TV, I think Stephane Quintal has the hardest job in the NHL and we communicated with him that at that point in time Mark (Stone) did not have a concussion. But with concussions, you never know. Symptoms could arrive today with a concussion. Mark only had a neck sprain at that point in time and that’s what he has. He definitely has an injury and maybe it was lost in translation as far as what happened, but the league made its ruling. We respect it, we accept it and we’ve moved on. We’re all happy that Mark didn’t suffer a concussion and we hope that he can be back maybe Friday, but more realistically, Sunday or Monday.”

It doesn’t matter if he had a concussion or not. He missed the final 13-minutes of the third period in a closely contested game that the Senators had an opportunity to win and eventually miss Tuesday night’s game against the Devils because of a neck strain.

For the DoPS to reach a decision that cited the absence of injury to Stone as a factor in the two-game suspension to Jacob Trouba is a farce. Moreover, the league should seriously reconsider video replay for illegal hits to the head to ensure that it gets calls on the ice right. Trouba should have received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his actions.

On mentioning earlier that he watched the recent Binghamton game and whether any forwards like Nick Paul stood out…

“(Nick Paul) was average. Nick has to be better. I told Randy (Lee), ‘You talk to him.’ I talked to his agent and Randy talked to the kid and his agent after the game. Nick Paul has to be better. If Nick Paul wants to be an NHL player, he has to be way better than how he’s played this year. He’s probably my biggest disappointment as far as the guys in Binghamton.”

Obviously the intent here is to motivate a prospect, especially one who played a lot of games here last season, to perform better. Yet, when we’re talking about motivating a prospect who safely projects as a bottom-six forward, it’s kind of weird for an organization to resort to disparaging this kind of prospect, but here we are.

In fairness to Paul, Binghamton’s been a terrible minor league franchise for the past few seasons and it’s not like there’s a ton of talent to work with down there.

I mean, sure, Paul is probably viewed by the Senators as a pivotal piece of the shittacular Jason Spezza return, but it’s not like management or ownership have ever exhibited willingness to accept any culpability for this teams’ shortcomings either. At what point do you blame management or this team’s scouts for helping sign off on deal that was terrible at the time it was made?

On whether certain players may perform better at a higher level or in a different environment and how the organization has to balance that with players earning their promotions…

“Yeah, without a doubt. I think when you call up guys, it’s on merit. In talking with Kurt (Kleinendorst) and Randy (Lee) does a lot of talking with Kurt, when we call up players, it’s on merit: whoever has been the best guy; whoever has worked the hardest; whoever has contributed to the team helping them the most win. The other night, a guy like Francis Perron was very good. Phil Varone and Mike Blunden, that line was the line – it was three games in three nights – and those three guys, you could have never told (they were tired) because they worked hard, they made things happen and they were good. So it’s putting your time in, it’s making sure that you realize what it is to be a pro and getting yourself the most ready to be in the NHL. Nick Paul will be an NHL player. When I talk about Nick, you guys know that I’m brutally honest. Nick Paul will be an NHL player one day, but at this point in time, he’s got to be more productive and he’s got to do more.”

If Nick Paul can fetch you an asset that can help you improve your team now, he’s the kind of player the Senators have the flexibility to move.

On approaching the trade deadline and whether he has the green light from ownership to make a splash…

“I can’t speak for Mr. Melnyk, but Mr. Melnyk from day one has said, ‘Do what you have to do to get this team into the playoffs,’ and that is the mandate of the Ottawa Senators this year. So moving forward, we’re going to do whatever it takes to get this team into the playoffs, but at the same time as a GM, you’re tempted to do things right away. But at the same time, it’d be mortgaging the future and we’re not going to do things like that. If we can add pieces, we’ll definitely look to add pieces to improve our team, but I feel comfortable with the team that we have now. When we’re healthy, (I think) that we’re a playoff team. If you would have asked me, ‘If you’re going to go into a game and you don’t have your top-four wingers in (Clarke) MacArthur, (Mike) Hoffman, (Mark) Stone and (Bobby) Ryan,’ I would have said, ‘I don’t like our chances.’ But, it shows the resiliency of this hockey team and the players on this hockey team. They will battle through anything and everything to try and get us the two points every night. It says a lot about the character of this team and the way the coaches have handled everyone. We’re not going to set expectations unfairly here, but I think for us, the first step is to try and get us into the playoffs and then we’ll see, if we can get into the playoffs, what we can do from there.”

I feel like “Do what you have to do to get this team into the playoffs,” has been the mandate of the Senators since the team unexpectedly made the playoffs during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Since that time, the Senators have made a series of trades designed to improve their short-term interests, but it hasn’t worked out.

In regards to the last Devils game, you couldn’t have asked for a better matchup for Ottawa following the loss of Hoffman and Stone. Not only do the Devils average the fewest number of shots on goal (27.4 shots per game), they average the second fewest goals per game (2.27).

So even though the Senators only generated 35-percent of the shot attempts and played not to lose (25.93 CF%) in the third period, they escaped with a win in a close game that they easily could have been on the wrong side of.

On how much the expansion draft has affected trades throughout the leagues this year and how much their expansion draft mocks change…

“The mocks have varied because in one of the mocks, I was trying to get to the cap to see if Vegas would spend where the cap would be about this year and where it will be next year. I don’t have really any clear indication on that, but I was just trying to get to a certain floor. When it comes to trades, Vegas has to take a certain number of forwards, a certain number of defencemen and a certain number of goalies, so that’s the part that people don’t forget. You think about what you’re going to lose, but Vegas has to build a team. George McPhee is one of the smartest GMs in the league, so he’s going to try and build a team in the direction that he wants to go into. So trades come into play because there’s always protection issues in every trade that you make. If you’re trading depth, you’re trading guys that you could protect or not protect, so I think the trade deadline and trades this year have played a big part and some signings have played a big part into what’s going to happen (for expansion).”

Loosely translated: “Basically, I was trying to come up with a plausible scenario that sees Vegas take Bobby Ryan in the expansion draft.”

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