Before leaving for Las Vegas for the NHL Awards and the upcoming expansion draft, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion had a local media availability to cover a variety of topics. There was a ton of Sens-related news that broke Wednesday: Chris Neil will move on from the only NHL organization he’s known to continue his career; Erik Karlsson successfully underwent surgery to repair tendons in his left foot; and Matt O’Connor (gasp!) would not be qualified as a restricted free agent.
The availability ran for approximately 15 minutes and it’s all been transcribed below. If you wish to listen to the audio, you can do so by scrolling down to the embedded media player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On Chris Neil and the Senators mutually deciding to go in different directions…
“We should discuss or address the Chris Neil situation. As it was reported yesterday, both Randy Lee and myself met with Chris Neil on Monday… Tuesday, pardon (me). It was reported Monday, but it was Tuesday. We talked with Chris. We talked to him about his potential future in this organization as far as playing next year. Both (we) and Chris felt that that’s probably not a role that he would like and we decided mutually that it was probably best that we wouldn’t offer a contract to Chris for next year. First and foremost, the three toughest things that I’ve probably had to do in this organization: one was definitely speak on behalf of the Anderson family in late October, that was probably the toughest thing; I’d probably have to tell you that when we fired Dave Cameron, that was probably the second toughest thing; and I’d have to say that the conversation with Chris Neil was in my top-three toughest things that I’ve had to do as a general manager here. I have the utmost respect for Chris Neil. If we look as recently as the Rangers series in the past year, I don’t think we win that series without him. Chris, to me, represents everything that a lot of people would ever want us to be. His character, his leadership, his grit, what he’s ready to sacrifice and what he’s ready to do for his teammates (will be missed). I think Chris’ ability to take on way bigger and stronger guys and fight for his teammates is something that will never be forgotten on this team and in this organization. I think him and (his wife) Caitlyn are wonderful people. I’ve had the chance to serve on the Sens Foundation board with Caitlyn and we wish him the best of luck moving forward. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Chris Neil.”
Like Chris Phillips, Chris Neil was always one of those players that I just assumed would become a legacy player and spend his entire career playing for the Ottawa Senators.
It’s probably not the ending that Neil envisioned, but moving on for both parties is something that was absolutely necessary.
As I wrote the other day, injuries and ineffectiveness playing within Guy Boucher’s system pushed Neil to the fringe and when the organization went out towards the NHL trade deadline and picked up players like Tommy Wingels, Viktor Stalberg and Alex Burrows at the behest of Boucher, the writing was on the wall. The Senators wanted better bottom-six depth and the obviously felt that Neil wasn’t playing at a high enough level to be part of the solution.
On why he wasn’t a fit anymore…
“Well, I think with how this team evolved this year, his role as we saw, his role probably diminished and we talk about a potential similar role next year and Chris still feels that he can probably play more minutes than he was given here and we have to respect that. One thing about Chris Neil: he’s going to try to prove everyone wrong in this organization. And that’s okay because he’s such a great person to be around and after that, when you look up ‘character’ in the dictionary – if it was an Ottawa Senators dictionary – Chris Neil would be right beside it. So there were no hard feelings. It was mutual for both sides that this probably wouldn’t work out moving forward for next year and we shook hands. It was a really good conversation.”
For years, especially in the Murray era, there were times when Neil could have been moved at the trade deadline when the Senators were out of the playoff picture, but whether it was a lack of interest or not, the Senators always held onto Neil and then re-signed him to contract extensions. It always seemed like the organization valued his intangibles more than anything, so to see both parties move on now, it just seems weird.
I’m not complaining mind you, I wish the two parties went separate ways years ago, but the Senators’ loyalty fueled my belief that Neil would be a career Senator. To see it end like this just so he can get one more season under his belt, feels odd.
On having two days to get the expansion draft protection list submitted to the league and how close he is to having the final draft of it done…
“Feel pretty good. We’ve been preparing for this for over a year, so we’ve looked at every possible scenario. We haven’t had a surprise yet. We’re still looking at possibly going 7-3-1 or 8-1 and we’re not going to show our cards. I think when it comes to expansion, we have a good idea of what we’re going to do and unless we make some trades (between) now until Saturday at 3:00 (pm ET) is the trade freeze. I think I’ve talked to 23 out of my 30 counterparts in the last three days, so there’s a lot of chatter. But, as we see there, I don’t think there’s been a deal done except for… I think the Wild traded (Tyler) Graovac to Washington – former (Ottawa) 67 – so I don’t think there’s been much done, but I know there’s a lot of discussions between GMs.”
There’s no fucking way the Senators will elect to protect fewer skaters so that they can protect all the defencemen they want.
Although there’s definitely something to be said about how defencemen typically have more inherent value than forwards – especially if you’re negotiating a trade with Peter Chiarelli – but in Ottawa’s case, I would be hesitant to expose a player like Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Derick Brassard simply because you’re worried about losing a replaceable defenceman like a Cody Ceci or hell, even a Marc Methot.
On being disappointed if Dion Phaneuf elects not to waive his no-movement clause…
“No. No, I think we’re going about it all the wrong way about this in what I read and what I see. I think with Dion, Dion loves it here. He feels this team is headed in the right direction. He wants to be a part of it. He’s brought great leadership and great character. I think if you talk to Erik Karlsson, he’ll be the first to tell you that Dion has helped him a lot. I’m not going to deny the fact that we had discussions with Dion and his agents. I don’t think we should really elaborate on any of those discussions, but no, I think we always have to explore all options. If it would have been a forward, I think we would have asked any forward if they would have a (NMC and ask) if they were willing to move (their NMC) no matter who it is. I will give you a bit of breaking news as far as expansion today: we will be protecting Erik Karlsson, no matter (that he had) surgery.”
Since reports leaked that the Senators had asked Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-movement clause and subsequent reports suggest that he is unwilling to do so, trade chatter around him has certainly picked up.
From Pierre LeBrun mentioning that a number of teams have called on Dion to revealing some of the teams that he will accept a trade to, I’m kind of taken aback by how quickly we’ve gone from Dion’s refusal to waive to the possibility of him being moved. Granted, the Senators have a history of pushing information through the media in hopes of spurring the market and generating interest, so it’s probably fair to assume that’s what is happening now.
There’s no secret that the Senators are looking to dump salary. The team is already paying 18 skaters approximately $65.5-million and the team has to re-sign Pageau and Dzingel. They need to cut salary and getting out from under Phaneuf’s contract, even though he’s arguably better than some of the alternatives being mentioned as candidates for Las Vegas – Ceci, Wideman, Methot – would be a coup for the organization.
He had a decent season for the Senators, but it’s easy to recognize that he’s a declining asset offering diminished returns. Moving him might open a hole on the blue line, but with the presence of a Fredrik Claesson and a Thomas Chabot, maybe that hole could be filled internally.
The only downside to a Phaneuf deal in my mind is that it would probably force the Senators to double-down on a top-three that includes Methot and Ceci. It would be the same situation that necessitated the Phaneuf trade in the first place, but the move would give the Senators some desperately needed financial flexibility.
There’s value in that.
On what Phaneuf’s prospective refusal to waive could force him to do…
“It forces us that we’re in a situation where we felt that this could happen and is it a trade? It’s a possibility, but trades are way easier to talk about than to do. At the end of the day, Las Vegas is paying a lot of money to come into this league and be part of this great product that we put on the ice. They’re going to get someone from our team and from day one, we’ve been ready to accept that. I don’t think if we wouldn’t explore all of our options and do all of our due diligence and look at what we (could find) in the trade market… but at the same time, if you make a trade with a team, you risk the fact of losing another asset, so maybe just accept that you’re going to lose one asset. They can’t take two players. I’ve read the rules a lot of times. They cannot take two players. They can only take one player and maybe as an organization, we lose that player and we move forward. Whatever the position, I feel our depth is very good – whether it’s on defence with some of the kids we have coming in (Thomas) Chabot, in (Ben) Harpur who played in the playoffs. Randy (Lee) and Shean Donovan were really excited about Christian Jaros. I’m a bit more excited about Andreas Englund, so I know on the back end we’ve got some good guys and up front, Colin White played in the playoffs for us and he played a game at the end of the year. We feel comfortable with what we’ve got as far as depth. We’ve got Logan Brown and we’ve got a lot of good assets.”
For whatever reason, maybe it is recency bias or the feelings created by the extended playoff run, but the Senators really like their top-four. I would never run out superlatives describing Erik Karlsson, but it’s impossible to ignore how often the second-pairing was caved in by the opposition. Whether it was during the regular season or in the playoffs, the numbers were abysmal.
I understand the logic that says if the Senators trade one of Ceci, Methot or Phaneuf, it wouldn’t preclude Las Vegas from claiming another one of their defencemen in the expansion draft – thereby creating two holes – but this scenario wouldn’t preclude the Senators from filling these holes either.
Methot could be replaced by a Claesson or a Phaneuf. Phaneuf could be replaced by a Claesson or a Chabot. Ceci could be replaced by a mannequin that has a stick glued to its hands… I mean a free agent. Ceci could be replaced by a free agent and a name like Cody Franson could be cheap and of value to the Senators.
Hell, I could live with a blue line consisting of:
Not only would it be cheaper and create some payroll flexibility to address other roster spots, it may even be better than what we experienced last season.
On whether Las Vegas has tipped its hand as far as which player they would like to select…
“No, I’ve talked to George (McPhee). I’m not going to deny the fact that I’ve talked to George a few times in the past few weeks and why would they (tip their hand)? I think if you’re a good poker player, why would you show your cards? When it comes to expansion, you can’t say much. If any of you want to come to Vegas, I’ll be there and we can talk. I think I have to do a media availability on the day before (the expansion draft) and I might have a better idea because our list will be submitted by then, but they have not tipped their hand nor should they.”
But if you show your cards transparently through guys like Pierre LeBrun, it’s cooooool.
On having tough conversations and whether it was a tough decision to ask Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-movement clause…
“No, usually when a general manager phones, the player answers the phone. That’s always been my case, so no. We talked. Dion’s a pro. He’s been around the league for many years. I think when I took this job last year, I said one of the best exit interviews we had last year was with Dion Phaneuf. He’s been around and someone who’s been the captain of the (Maple) Leafs. He’s been through a lot and he’s played only in Canadian markets, so he understands the game. It was a man-to-man conversation and it was a good conversation. It was explained very well to him our request and why we were making this request. It wasn’t the fact that we felt that he was our fourth-best defenceman, it was the fact that we’d like to keep our top-four together and at (his) age and salary, the likelihood of maybe Vegas not taking (him) is a possibility, but who knows? I don’t know, maybe Las Vegas would have taken him, but at the same time, my respect for Dion hasn’t changed. It’s still the same. I still think he’s a big part of this team and the fact that he wants to be here tells me a lot about him.”
I don’t blame Dion Phaneuf for refusing to waive, but how do you think guys like Methot and Ceci feel right now knowing that this decision probably impacts their respective futures in Ottawa?
On possessing the 28th pick in the first round of the NHL Draft and whether he would be willing to move the pick in a trade…
“I haven’t picked 28 too many times in my career, so we’ll see, for sure. I’ve had discussions with other GMs about moving up or moving down. We don’t have a lot of picks, so if we go to 28 and we could get two picks in the second (round) to make a total of three picks that might be something we look at. If we feel that there’s someone who’s still there at… I don’t know, I’m going you the number 20 (overall selection) — and we feel that we maybe have to give up our second (rounder) and we’re getting an asset that we never thought we’d get, then we might look at that. You guys saw what we did last year. We weren’t afraid to give a third round pick up to pick Logan Brown and it could be the same situation this year. But, we don’t have as many picks, so we’ll really have to think it through. I’ve got to say that Trent Mann – in his first year as chief scout – I sat in a bit of the meetings. We were in the playoffs, so it was a bit more difficult (to participate), but he had a chance to come back and we went through the list – especially the top-50 with a lot of attention and detail. I feel really good about what this (amateur scouting) staff has done this year.”
I’ve seen some discussions concerning the possibility that the Senators grab a goaltender with one of their early picks, but these kinds of draft picks carry considerable value.
As Travis Yost articulated in an excellent article in 2016, teams and their scouts have struggled to assess amateur goaltenders efficiently.
“I attribute a good portion of the blame to frequent changes in positional development, poor statistical measurements and generally poor scouting. But again, whatever theory you subscribe to, it doesn’t change reality: We as a hockey community, from general managers to fans, have done an exceedingly poor job at differentiating between skill sets of NHL-bound goalies.”
The Senators’ farm system is generally regarded as being a middle of the pack to a lower-third system, so with the Senators set to graduate some of their best blue chippers to the parent level, the system is going to be that much thinner. They’re not really in a position where they can afford to turn a first rounder into a goalie whose future outlook carries such a high degree volatility. It’s difficult enough to find a good skater at that level, but I just don’t believe it makes sense for the Senators to take on that degree of risk.
On how big of an impact the expansion draft can have on his plans for July 1st…
“It depends. Maybe George (McPhee) and I can work out a trade before then and maybe we don’t lose anyone. Maybe it turns out to be a prospect or a pick… I think July 1st… most of our core is here, so I can’t see us being overly active, but things change so quickly that you don’t want to set anything in stone.”
Come on, Cody Franson.
On whether the Senators can get a good prospect at 28…
“Yes, without a doubt. Going through the draft, I didn’t scout as much as I wanted to. I think with everything going on here and all the trades that we were trying to make. (It’s) probably me watching more NHL than probably any other league this year that at 28, I know we’re going to get a good player.”
Standard speak at this time of year.
On which restricted free agents the Senators will not give qualifying offers to…
“Matt O’Connor, Ryan Rupert, Jyrki Jokipakka and did I forget someone? I don’t think I did.”
No surprises here.
On whether he’s had any discussions with Chris Kelly…
“Yes, we met with Chris Kelly also on Tuesday. We indicated to Chris Kelly that a contract will not be offered leading up to July 1st. We’re not completely turning the page on Chris Kelly. If I can say anything about Chris Kelly, our biggest addition this year was Chris Kelly. As far as changing our culture in the room, leadership, character, accountability, I think Chris brought all those intangibles that we were looking for. We told him that this might only be a one-year thing, but on Chris, we’re not completely turning the page because as we saw, we signed him a bit later in the summer last year and it could be the same situation (this year). Not that I want to send some doubt, but we don’t know how (Derick) Brassard (will recover and return from injury). Brassard’s four to five months (from) when he got operated (on) and having Chris around might not be the worst thing.”
I’m trying to think of something less palatable than Brassard missing time and the Senators keeping Kelly in the fold simply because he’s a known commodity who offers some intangibles. Surely there are going to be better alternatives on the open market and hopefully the Senators find one, **cough, cough** Derek Ryan **cough, cough** who could help.
On how concerned he is about the surgeries to Karlsson and Brassard and how they could affect the team early in the season…
“Well, I texted with Erik and the surgery was successful. It went very well. It was exactly what they expected it to be, so on that front, we’re very hopeful that Erik will be able to play when the season starts. He doesn’t even like exhibition games, so it turns out perfect for him.”
I wish someone followed this up with a question concerning how interrelated these tendon injuries are to the Achilles injury he suffered to the same foot a few years ago.
On whether the organization discussed a role for Chris Neil once his playing days are over…
“I just told Chris that at this point in time, ‘You still want to play and if you play one, two, three or however long he wants to play after that…’ I think as an organization, we should always have the door open for Chris Neil.”
I think having Chris Neil serve in a community ambassador role once his playing days are over would be fantastic.
On whether there have been any contract discussions with the impending unrestricted free agents…
“Condon, Pyatt, Stalberg, Wingels’ agents I’ve all had discussions with in the last few weeks. Everything is progressing probably better than expected, but no one wants to sign right now. I think I have an idea why and I think it has a lot to do with expansion because I told all of them that, ‘None of you will be protected if you were to sign.’ They’re waiting and I’m hoping to continue conversations with all four of them.”
If I had to rank these players on the importance of signing, it’d probably be Condon, Stalberg, Pyatt and Wingels. For me, it’s not truly imperative that the organization bring all or any of these players back into the fold. I certainly wouldn’t overpay any of them in money or term, but I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing any of them come back either – provided that the role and cost is appropriate (ie. keep Pyatt buried on the fourth line and away from the skill guys and Pageau).
On contracts progressing with Jean-Gabriel Pageau…
“With Pageau, Craig (Oster) and I… he’s planning to be in Vegas. The last time Craig and I got to Vegas, we were able to (get contracts done with) Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad, so I have a lot of faith. Brian Morris won’t like this, but over a craps table, we’ll be able to get a deal done (with Pageau).”
Neither Stone nor Zibanejad received long-term deals, so maybe that forecasts a two or three year pact for Pageau. Dorion has expressed a comfort in signing Pageau to a longer-term deal in the past, but considering how the Senators have used Pageau in a shutdown role and how poorly the Senators have augmented him with offensive skilled wingers or guys who can help drive possession since Erik Condra left, it may be best to sign Pageau to a short-term deal than risk overpaying him over the long haul.
On who is going to play a Chris Neil type role now that he is gone…
“It’s something that we’re going to have look for. Internally, I feel we have a guy like Michael Blunden. Even though he played just a game for us, he played that role in Binghamton. He’s still able to provide some quality minutes down there. I think that’s one of the reasons we looked at him signing (for) two years if things didn’t go well with Chris Neil. If not, we’ll have to look (for external solutions) on July 1st.”
Michael Blunden? Wut.