As the losses have racked up and his Senators’ grasp on a top-three seed in the Atlantic Division playoff picture has loosened, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion joined Steve Lloyd and Todd White on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ to discuss the Senators’ struggles and evoke confidence in their ability to clinch a playoff berth.
Dorion also touched on a number of important topics like Colin White’s contract negotiations, a prospective Thomas Chabot recall and the performance of the team’s prospects in Binghamton, so I highly recommend giving the full interview a listen using the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On taking Colin White through the contract negotiation process and how he went from an amateur tryout to making NHL debut tonight…
“Well, I’ve got to give a lot of the credit to Randy (Lee) on this one. He used a lot of creativity. Everyone knows Randy as my right-hand man and he deserves a lot of credit for thinking about possible scenarios and what would come about. So obviously when Colin was… the day after he finished his college career, we contacted his agent and they were adamant about burning the (first) year (of his entry-level contract) and we weren’t sure at that point in time if it would be the best thing to do. And then we came to a solution. Kent Hughes and Randy came to a solution and I was involved in it and I know Colin’s parents were also involved in it. We just came to the conclusion, ‘You think you can help us?’ We’re not 100-percent sure. We think he could help us also, but at the same time, let’s see if he goes to the American (Hockey) League and Colin took a big chance because he foregoes his college eligibility when he decided to sign the ATO without any promises or without anything. ‘If you’re good, if we think you can help us, well sign you to a contract and we’ll burn the year this year,’ but at the same time, it’s a benefit for the organization because he’s playing games. Or if we see that the transition to the pro game is a bit more difficult, we’ll look at getting (White) on a (contract next season). So in saying that, with his three games and I saw two of the three – I saw one on my iPad on Saturday night, most of it, and I saw the game in person there on Friday – and comments from Randy and comments from Kurt Kleinendorst were all that Colin could definitely help us. So we just got the deal done late Saturday night and got all the paperwork signed just in time before 5:00 (pm) yesterday, so the contract will be approved and in place tonight. Coach Boucher watched some clips, talked to him and he just felt that it was the right thing to do to put him in the lineup tonight.”
To their credit, the Senators played their hand well. They didn’t hand White anything (including a paycheck until he signed his ELC) and by allowing him to play and prove himself over a small sample size in Binghamton. With one goal and three points in his first three AHL games, the organization can simply use that kind of production as evidence that the promotion was justified.
Obviously fans really need to keep their expectations in check. They shouldn’t be expecting top-six production or performance because apparently he’ll start on a line with Tommy Wingels and Chris Kelly – the NHL equivalent of playing in an offensive black hole.
Per Corsica.Hockey’s ‘With Or Without You’ tool, at five-on-five, when Wingels and Kelly are on the ice together, the Senators post the following numbers:
Best of luck to you, Colin White.
Given his age and skill set, the hope is that White doesn’t get stuck playing in a fourth line capacity where the opportunity will be limited.
Ideally, he’s put in a situation wherein he demonstrates that he can be better than some of the veterans who currently congest the team’s bottom-six. Granted, when I’ve played up how there’s essentially no risk in playing White and trying to determine whether or not he’s an upgrade over a few underachieving players, I never anticipated it being Ryan Dzingel who would come out of the lineup to make room for White.
Dzingel hasn’t produced lately, but according to Corsica.Hockey, he is second on the team in five-on-five individual scoring chances. In other words, we can all bemoan the lack of results lately, but the process still seems to be fine. He’s getting his chances, but he’s still been a tad unlucky. Coupled with the fact that he exhibits a tendency to make the players around him better, he not only generates scoring chances, but he’s one of the team’s most productive players relative to his ice time.
He’s not a defensive liability and the team needs some scoring help, so why the hell is he relegated to the press box when there are much shittier alternatives riding on the laurels of veteran playoff experience and character?
On the Senators not promising White anything and how he had to prove himself in Binghamton first before getting a chance at the NHL level…
“Yeah, exactly. At the same time, he gets to play pro games at the American (Hockey) League level with our system, so his entry into our lineup will be way easier than if he hadn’t played any games. We play a totally different system than Boston College play or the U.S. junior team play, so these three games really gave him a chance to adapt himself to what we do try to do on the ice. So that’s (where) having a great relationship between Guy (Boucher) and Kurt (Kleinendorst) has really helped all the players that we’ve been able to call up because they understand exactly where the F1 has to be, where the F2 has to be, where the F3 has to be, how the left-side defenceman pinches and the right-side retrieves the puck. All these little things (help).”
*Looks up list of call ups to see what kind of impact they’ve had this season.
Before tonight’s game, 10 players were recalled from Binghamton this season and together, they combined to play a total of 106 regular season games. Of these ten players, only Fredrik Claesson was able to register more than a point. Subtracting the 10 points and 28 games Claesson has recorded, the rest of the Binghamton recalls put up just one point in 78 NHL regular season contests and that point belonged to Curtis Lazar who’s no longer with the club.
On what he expects from Colin White in his debut…
“Yeah, he’s Gandhi. Let’s make that clear. Colin’s a good player. Colin’s going to bring energy, he’s going to bring speed, he’s going to bring determination and he’s going to bring drive. Those are the things (he’s going to bring). At this point in time, he’s playing on a line with Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels. The one good thing that was good about him, he won a lot of draws when he was in Binghamton. That’s an added bonus, but again, winning draws against college guys or American (Hockey) League guys is a different story than winning draws against NHL players. So I think that’s who he’s going to play with. He’s going to bring those elements to the table and he’ll bring some energy. We all know at this point in time in the year, every team could use a sparkplug of energy. I give a lot of credit to Guy (Boucher), he’s got faith in putting him in there and Colin’s a very astute hockey player. He’s got a lot of hockey sense and when you’ve got those elements, he can adjust pretty quickly as he showed from his jump from college to the AHL.”
One thing to keep an eye on: Kelly has struggled on the draw this year. Maybe White starts eating into Kelly’s faceoff opportunities.
On Ben Harpur’s game and his development this season…
“To me and to the whole organization and our management group, the biggest improvement in any player in Binghamton this year has been Ben Harpur. I think he’s gone from someone that at times was in and out of the lineup last year to becoming a regular contributor to becoming one of the best all-around defencemen in the American (Hockey) League. With him in the lineup, I don’t see a big drop on our backend. There’s always a time and place to call someone up. He showed us some good things when he came up the first time and he showed us some good things last year, but I think his game has even gone up. It hasn’t gone up a notch, it’s gone up two notches for me from where he was at the start of the year. So, he’s way more engaged physically. He’s big, he’s rangy, he can make a nice pass and he’s got some poise. The thing where he’s improved the most is his level of compete. Last Wednesday when we were there, he fought twice. Randy (Lee) went down and told him, ‘Don’t fight anymore. You’re too good of a player to be fighting right now,’ and that’s something that I’m not sure if he would have done last year – to engage that much physically. So when you’re a big guy, you’re 6’6”, you can move well, you can move the puck and then you bring that element of physicality in the lineup, it’s definitely something that I think our fans will be excited to see and we’re proud of how he’s developed so far.”
Harpur sounds like the kind of big and toolsy defenceman that general managers and scouts dream on. Despite his size and ability, the point totals have been relatively underwhelming at each level of hockey that he’s played at. In junior, he was never a very productive player and despite some significant gains in his numbers in Binghamton from last season (two goals and six points in 47 games) to this season (two goals and 27 points in 63 games), the numbers are still relatively modest and don’t really inspire confidence for what he can bring at the NHL level.
The Senators are probably banking on the notion that they will lose a defenceman to Las Vegas through the expansion draft, with prospects like Andreas Englund and Thomas Chabot likely vying for spots next season, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Harpur is needed to play a ton of games in Ottawa.
On whether there are any injury updates to Cody Ceci, Zack Smith and Erik Karlsson…
“On Cody and Zack, I won’t expect either one to be back until the regular season is done unless a miracle happens with either one of them. But, I doubt that either one of them will be back for this week. On Erik Karlsson, we’re day-to-day. Obviously he’s not here today.”
Aside from the unfortunate circumstances dealt to Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson this season, the Senators had been relatively fortunate when it came to injuries this season. To have all these players be felled so late in the season where every game carries huge implications on the Eastern Conference playoff picture is brutal.
On Marc Methot’s health and a timeline for his return…
“Marc’s got something going on. I think he’s got tests to do tomorrow and we’ll be able to update probably on Wednesday or Thursday. It’s complicated with Marc. It’s the finger and there’s tissue and there’s appointments and then you’ve got to wait a day to make sure the blood’s flowing and all these things. I don’t want to tell you it could be tomorrow or Wednesday when it ends up being Thursday or Friday, but at some point in time this week, we should have an update on Marc.”
Wishing Methot nothing but the best. That severed finger looked gruesome.
On whether doctors were able to save the tip of Methot’s finger…
“At this point in time, I believe so, but you know what, if I was a doctor, I could talk about things, but I’m not. I have my hands full being a general manager of a hockey team, so we’ll just leave it at that and then we’ll have an update later in the week.”
On whether there’s anything to disclose on Clarke MacArthur…
“No, there’s not really much to disclose on Clarke. As I’ve said before, everything will be left in the doctors’ hands. We know he’s skated, he’s worked hard and at some point in time, he will take the baseline test. I don’t want to create any false allusions or false hope on Clarke. I think the human (element) comes before the game hockey in Clarke’s case and I think it’s best that we just leave it at that.”
Considering how Dorion had a few interviews earlier in the season in which he guaranteed that MacArthur would play again this season, it’s nice to see him be a little more guarded with his comments.
On whether this is the time of year when contract negotiations with RFAs or UFAs are shelved…
“With my mood lately? It’s probably smart for an agent not to contact me.”
Four straight losses will do that to a GM.
On Marcus Hogberg signing an ATO and entry-level contract…
“Well, Marcus has really had a tremendous season this year. He’s really taken a step as the key guy in Linkoping. With goalies, we all know they develop at a later age and we just felt that at this point in time, it was the right time for Marcus to see North American shooters, guys crashing the crease a bit more than the European game and we hope that Marcus can develop into a good NHL goalie. We have that faith in him, but it’s not going to be done overnight. There’s a few things that he’s got to work on, as with every other goalie who comes from Europe, but I think we have a lot of faith in Marcus to develop into someone we can rely on in the future.”
It was nice knowing you, Matt O’Connor.
On whether there are any other prospects in Binghamton whose development he is excited about…
“Randy (Lee) might be the best person (to talk to about this) even though I think I’ve seen (Binghamton) over 10 times and another added 10 times on my iPad. Guys that I’ve been impressed with? I’ve always been impressed with, for the most part, with Phil Varone. I know he’s not a prospect, but he’s played some great hockey for us this year. Other guys that have impressed me at the forward position? Obviously Francis Perron is as skilled and can shoot the puck as good as anyone in our organization, but it’s learning to play the game away from the puck and learning to have the poise and using his offensive assets as best he can at the pro level. Gabriel Gagne has really come on strong. He’s been up and down between the American (Hockey) League and the East Coast (Hockey) League. People might worry about his points, but I don’t worry as much about his points because I know he’s (indistinguishable answer). He needs to (learn) about the strength of the game and the pace of the game. We know that both Francis and Gabriel have to spend some time with us this summer. Nick Paul has played better of late which is encouraging. I think he’s someone that will challenge for a spot on our team next year. We have some good quality, character guys like Michael Blunden, who’s had a really strong season for us as far as leadership, character and paying the price. And probably Andreas Englund is someone else that we can say… you know, he’s hit a bump in the road, they’re not used to playing as many games as they are playing right now, but overall, he’s had a very good and productive season in his first year for us in the American (Hockey) League.”
Nothing gets the blood pumping or gets fans hopeful for the future like a general manager playing up Mike Blunden’s intangibles.
Joking aside, it’s not surprising to see Dorion talk up Perron, Gagne and Englund. Aside from the prospects he’s already talked about – White and Harpur – there simply isn’t much to get excited about down in Binghamton. This organization needs an infusion of young and talented depth in the worst way.
On whether he has seen something beyond the injuries that is concerning to him about the team’s performance of late…
“No, obviously we’re always going to talk about our injuries. We’re going into the game tonight without our top-three defencemen and that’s not an easy thing. But to me, that’s not an excuse. I think a lot of our players are learning to win together. It’s a process. We were going to hit a bump in the road and we’re probably in our toughest stretch of the season, but this is a group that has faced a lot of adversity. This is a group that likes each other, wants to play for each other and I have a lot of faith that we’re going to come up on top tonight. To me, I’ve never been a guy that really panics and I don’t see any panic on our players’ faces and I don’t see much panic on our coaching staff’s demeanour. Are there a few things? Yeah, I wish we could score a few more goals. I wish our special teams were not in the funk that they’re in right now, but overall, we’ve just got to get back to the way we were playing and maybe tighten up more defensively with the personnel we have. At the end of the day, I think everything will sort itself out.”
After the Lightning’s win last night, the Senators essentially have to win two of their remaining five games to create a situation wherein it forces the Lightning to run the table to reach the postseason. The predicament facing the Senators is that they not only need to clinch a playoff spot, they need to get enough points to avoid a wild card seed and a matchup versus the heavily favoured Washington Capitals. If the Senators can win a few games and finish second or third in the Atlantic Division, their path to the Eastern Conference final becomes significantly easier.
On there being any collegiate free agents out there that the team is kicking tires on or whether there were any collegiate free agents that the team liked who have signed with another club recently…
“Yeah, we were in on a few. There was one forward that we were really high on and unfortunately, that didn’t turn out. There was a junior (overage) free agent that we were really high on and that didn’t turn out. We don’t like to go… a lot of teams like to go after 50 guys and they settle on someone else and we’re still on a few that will probably end up staying (in school) at the end of the day. We made a few calls and the one guy that we were really on, I think we were one of the finalists, but at the end of the day, he decided to go somewhere else.”
The Senators were rumoured to be pursuing Northeastern forward Zach Aston-Reese. Aston-Reese tallied 31 goals and 63-points in 38 games and he ultimately signed with the defending Stanley Cup champions. Considering the Penguins’ on-ice success and their ability to help transition these players (ie. Conor Sheary) into their lineup, who could blame him for wanting to go there?
I’m not too sure who Dorion was referring to regarding the overage CHL free agent that the Senators really liked, but I had seen the organization linked to Gatineau Olympiques forward Zach MacEwan. MacEwan, along with another CHL overage free agent in Darren Raddysh, eventually signed with the Vancouver Canucks.
On whether the Senators have thought about calling up Thomas Chabot as an emergency recall on defence…
“Okay, I’m going to answer you truthfully because that’s the way I am. Obviously when Cody (Ceci) went down, I asked both Randy (Lee) and Allison (Vaughan) to check with the league (and ask), ‘What would be our possibility of calling up Thomas Chabot?’ Now, if I’m a bit off on this rule, you can phone Randy Lee and he’d explain to you everything afterwards because he’s the one that spoke to the league. The exact rule is, we had eight defencemen on our roster at 3:00 pm of the trade deadline. So for us, we would need four injuries because then you would fall into an emergency status. On your second emergency status, then at that point in time, you can recall Thomas Chabot. Every possibility, when it comes to these things, we always look at every possibility and everyone that is under contract that can come and help us. In theory, if we just look at it, one of our other guys would have to go down and then we would have four guys, so then we would have four healthy bodies. We’d be in a second emergency and then we could call up Thomas Chabot. I don’t think the Saint John Sea Dogs would like us a lot, but…”
I’ll finish that thought for you, Pierre. “But, the Sea Dogs probably shouldn’t have received Thomas Chabot back this season in the first place. They should consider themselves to be so lucky.”
On Thomas Chabot’s season…
“You know what, he’s having a good year. I think he did well in the World Juniors. He was the MVP of the World Juniors. People think sometimes that we do things and maybe it was a bit on purpose to keep him around and show him how the pro guys do things and have him come on a long road trip. I think it was the best thing for his development to see on a daily basis what Erik Karlsson does, what Dion Phaneuf does, what a Mark Borowiecki does as far as work ethic… all these guys and what they do, how they prepare, how they train even in season and I think all it’s done is make him… you know, I talked to you earlier about Ben Harpur hitting (another) notch. Well, Thomas Chabot is not the same guy who left Ottawa after he played. He’s gone one, two or three notches above. To be the best defenceman at the World Juniors and arguably the best defenceman outside the NHL right now, he’s gone a long ways from playing seven minutes against Arizona earlier in the year.”
Way to quell the fans’ expectations, Pierre.
Okay, so this is the same organization that once made the same claims about David Rundblad and Mikael Wikstrand, but yeah, it’s great to dream on Chabot’s potential.
I mean, I don’t envy a player who has to live up to the expectations placed on him after statements like this are made, but here’s hoping Chabot pans out and finally allows the organization to break away from the dreadful second pairing of Phaneuf and Ceci.