Totally late on this because of some extenuating circumstances, but Senators general manager Pierre Dorion joined Ian Mendes and Shawn Simpson on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ two days ago to talk about the Senators’ playoff series victory over the Bruins and cue up the series against the Rangers.
To listen to the full interview, scroll to the bottom of the post for the embed audio.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On the uncoordinated high-five/hug celebration with Eugene Melnyk following the Senators’ series clinching victory over the Bruins…
“I don’t think you rehearse those moments, but I think both Mr. Melnyk and I were very proud of the hockey team and what we had accomplished and we know that if we ever got to game seven that you’ve got a 50-percent chance of winning it and one team would have been not playing after Wednesday. I think there was jubilation and we just got caught in the moment. I remember when the puck went in, I kind of like said, ‘Did that puck actually go in?’ I think it was the first thought that crossed my mind and you think about who scored it and how great it is for our organization but also for Clarke (MacArthur) personally to get that clinching goal in a series in overtime. I think it was just a great moment for our organization.”
Between this and his Herb Tarlek suit jackets, Pierre Dorion is a unique figure in Senators history. I don’t think he’s quite at the John Muckler throwing water bottles or Bryan Murray nervously moving about in the press box level yet, but he’s getting there.
On how difficult it is to watch his team perform when there is so much on the line he is the one responsible for shaping the roster…
“Well, I’ve learned through the years that as much as it’s difficult, you’ve got to try and stay even-keeled. In yesterday’s game, again probably, I would say too much. I just felt that if we got to overtime, it would be our best chance to win. It was the one time in the series where I felt we were really on our heels and I think it was the magnitude of what was at stake. But overall, I try to stay even-keel in those moments and even though we were down 1-0, I felt our first period was good. Overall, maybe we didn’t score on many power plays, but I felt we still controlled the play a lot. This team doesn’t always make it easy, but it’s very resilient and it found a way to win.”
Guy Boucher’s conservative 1-3-1 system probably worked in Boston’s favour and helped them keep games close despite some key injuries to their blue line, but with six one-goal games and four of those games requiring overtime in a series that could have gone either way, kudos to Dorion for staying even-keeled. I haven’t been this stressed out watching hockey since Mark Borowiecki lost a skate blade and I wondered whether he’d ever make it off the ice.
On how important it was for the franchise to win a round in the playoffs…
“It’s energized a lot of people. The city, the fans at the airport when we landed yesterday and the building – like, I’ve never heard the building like that. I don’t remember ever hearing it like that through the first three games that we had here. Our players (are) coming up to me said, ‘Wow, I never thought our building could get this loud.’ I think it’s great for our organization. It’s great for our players. I think we’ve taken a step forward as a team and you know, we’ve got a tough series ahead of us and it’s not going to be easy. The Bruins were tough and I think the Rangers are going to be even tougher. It’s the first team to win four games and maybe yesterday we realized that the toughest game to win in any series is the fourth game and we found a way to do it.”
In fairness to Dorion however, he joined the Senators in July of 2007 after spending his previous 11 seasons in the league with the New York Rangers (2) and Montreal Canadiens (9). He wasn’t around when the team was a Cup contender from the early 2000’s through their 2007 Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The loudest game that I can recall ever being at was during game six of the 1997-1998 playoffs when the Igor Kravchuk scored an empty net goal to help the Senators knock off the New Jersey Devils for the franchise’s first-ever playoff series victory.
I remember standing beside my brother and trying to communicate with him. I was yelling at him, but he couldn’t make out a single word that I said.
My dad was outside in the car in one of those bays on Palladium Drive near Gate 3 waiting to pick us up from the game and he claimed that he could hear the crowd roar from inside the car.
On trading Mika Zibanejad to the Rangers for Derick Brassard and how the outcome of this series will impact the assessment of that trade…
“Well, I don’t think that one series makes a trade. I think you look at the whole picture and everything that comes with making a trade. I think when we made this trade, we talked about you know in the exit interviews, a lot of players felt that when our younger players got to a certain maturity level or where they attain their maximum potential, they felt — a lot of players on this team (believed) we’d be a better team. Randy (Lee), myself, Daniel (Alfredsson), Bryan (Murray) and I’ll include Guy (Boucher) in this conversation as well, we all felt that we needed to get a bit more experience and take that next level to achieve (reaching) the playoffs and if we got to the playoffs, there was a history there with Derick (Brassard) where he was a big-time playoff performer. Whatever happens in this series I don’t think will dictate whether it was a good trade one way or the other way. I think Derick has played some great hockey of late. Of all people (Ian Mendes), I know you’re big into analytics and it’s not the analytics people telling me because (our main analytics guy) gets abused a lot from me when he tells me that (Mark) Borowiecki is no good,’ and I say, ‘Well, you go into the corner with him and you’ll find out how good he is and how difficult he is to play against.’ How Derick has played some solid hockey from the start of the year to now, they felt and we have our own internal rating and they felt through he was responsible for zone entries, zone exits, first on pucks — the things that we rate that (contributed to their belief that Brassard) performed the best. So I think you’ve got to take all these things into (consideration when evaluating) the trade.”
Okay, there’s a lot going on here.
One series doesn’t make a trade, but I think from an Ottawa perspective, you have to measure this trade by how Brassard and the Senators fare in the short-term, including this postseason.
To Brassard’s credit, he’s playing the best hockey of his season right now and it’s helping quiet the critics who panned his numbers that you’d find on the back of his hockey card.
Although his production left something to be desired, Brassard’s underlying numbers warranted some better luck than he had this season, but now it’s like the pendulum has gone to the other extreme and luck has swung his way.
Right now, the Senators are getting the best that Brassard has to offer and they have to take advantage of it because who knows when they’ll get this easy of a road to the Eastern Conference Final.
Even though Brassard offers the Senators cost certainty and he represents a cheap second line centre, if the Senators can’t take advantage and simply tread water over the next few seasons and fail to evolve from their annual playoff bubble reality, people won’t look back fondly at Brassard’s playoff performance now. His deal will be questioned or panned not because of his performance, but because it involved valuable young assets being sent out the other way for a short-term upgrade when the resources could have been allocated better to acquire a more talented player.
Would the Senators have fared any differently had they had Mika Zibanejad this season than Derick Brassard?
I can’t confidently say that it would have made that much of a difference considering where Ottawa finished in the standings, but with the trade market being spurred by expansion and seeing some of the names being bandied about in trade rumours, you can’t blame fans for believing that Zibanejad may have been more valuable to the Senators as a trade commodity heading into this offseason.
These are the kinds of things that weigh on the general manager’s mind when he’s venturing into the trade market, but it would be nice if the Senators could shed their tendency to mortgage significant opportunity costs to acquire veteran players who have struggled to make this team significantly better.
On another note, it’s inane to believe that Brassard was the team’s best forward considering Mark Stone’s underlying numbers mirror his linemate Brassard’s and Stone’s point production rate stats blow Brassard’s out of the water, but the concern from what Dorion is saying is three-fold:
- The numbers express confirmation bias in that the organization strictly relishes or emphasize the numbers that they want to know or hear about.
- Contrasted with the Borowiecki situation wherein their analysts are rightfully telling Dorion that Borowiecki is not good, the organization is dismissing good intel for conventional belief.
- Although it’s great that Dorion is not surrounded by yes men in the front office, it sounds like the analysis and opinions of these individuals does not carry a ton of weight.
On Brassard’s season and whether he had confidence that he could step and be productive in the postseason…
“Yes. It’s a very simple answer, yes. When you see someone and there’s a history of someone who’s performed well in the playoffs, you’ll know that they’ll come through for you. The credit doesn’t go to me and the credit doesn’t go to Guy (Boucher). The credit goes to Derick. He’s the one that elevated his game to ensure that we would win this playoff round. He deserves the credit. He knows what it means for this organization to win a round in the playoffs. He stepped up and he deserves a lot of credit.”
When you’re faced with the realization that the Senators have been mired in this ‘in one year and out the other’ situation when it comes to the postseason, it is way more fun when the team can actually win a round.
Now with that said, irrespective of the team’s success, it is imperative that this success doesn’t muddy management’s ability to objectively assess itself and its players. Like Binghamton’s Calder Cup run in 2011, success or how many playoff rounds the Senators go this year does not portend future success. Circumstances rarely replicate themselves over seasons and I would hate for management to look at this roster and romanticize how this current group is trending. These short-term results shouldn’t overshadow some addressable and easily identifiable shortcomings, but I’m hopeful that this postseason has shed more light on these areas – especially with bad players fortuitously missing games because of injury – so that this organization can address them and continue to move improve.
On how much does winning a series bring this group together…
“Well, I think winning a round really brings this group together. You go through such a tough series. I think Dion (Phaneuf) told me on the plane yesterday and I hope I’m not losing his trust, he goes, ‘In all my playoff series rounds, this is the toughest one I’ve ever been through.’ When you go through a war, the 20-some guys in that room know that everyone has each other’s back, it can only help you grow as an organization. These players care a lot about each other. That’s the one thing about this team: they’re all good guys and they’re fun to be around. It’s not often I’ll go into the dressing room, but I just wanted to soak in Guy’s post-game speech yesterday because it was great. You saw how happy the guys were. They know the job’s not done and it’s going to be an extremely tough series against the Rangers, but at the same time, they wanted to soak in what they’ve accomplished as a group.”
After 902 regular season games, Dion Phaneuf has finally reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time.
I’m not surprised that he believed this was the toughest series he’s had to endure however.
He did spend most of it defending within his own end. The puck possession numbers were not kind to him and his partner, Cody Ceci, in the first round.
On whether winning the Bruins series solidifies his decision to hire Guy Boucher instead of Bruce Boudreau this past summer…
“Well, I always felt Guy was the right guy. I wouldn’t say from the first interview, but there were, as I mentioned, we interviewed nine people and most of them were outstanding. You can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. You can’t worry about who you didn’t hire. You just worry about the person you hired and you work well together. I talked about it in the press conference earlier today: Guy and I have a great relationship. We talk a lot to each other. Maybe at times we talk too much, at times we’re both emotional and everyone knows we’re fairly emotional people, but we have a great respect for each other. Guy gave me one of the nicest compliments. About a few weeks ago, he goes, ‘Pierre, you let me coach this year. You let me coach to the best ability that I could.’ And we’ve talked about personnel decisions, but to me, I don’t think it’s the GM’s job unless you feel it’s the need to talk about the specifics or micromanage and that way the coach can coach with a clear mind. That’s what I’ve always believed in.”
On what it’s meant to have Marc Crawford around as an assistant coach…
“I think his relationship with Guy is very good. He understands where he is and that he’s the number two on the staff and Guy will go to him for advice. Marc has coached Olympic teams, he’s won a Cup and has been in the war of the playoffs, so I think that Guy will always ask for his input and he’s been a great sounding board for Guy. He’s really helped his team a lot, Marc.”
Considering Ottawa’s on-ice success, I wonder whether Crawford will use this experience as a springboard to land an NHL head coaching gig this summer. It certainly feels like this is what he was angling for.
On whether we should take it as a good sign that Erik Karlsson was forthright and willing to divulge information on the hairline fractures in his heel…
“I think the fact that he disclosed it just says that he’s almost fully healed. I was being a bit facetious this morning when I said that they were micro-hairline fractures. They were hairline fractures. He had two of them, but I think they are almost fully, completely healed and people could see his skate and where the injury was. So I think at the same time, for the fact that Erik disclosed this, I think it shows a lot about his character because to play through the pain that he went through – just to get us into the playoffs playing those two games against Detroit – says a lot about the person. He’s as special of a hockey player as we’ve ever seen. He’s the best defenceman on the planet and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. But at the same time, to play through the pain that he played and to lead our team the way he led our team… you know, that goal. Is the series is a different series if he doesn’t make that play on the (Derick) Brassard (game-tying) goal in the second game? Maybe. We don’t know, but I think we’re fortunate in Ottawa. We have something very special in Erik Karlsson.”
You could never run out of superlatives describing Erik Karlsson’s play. It’s just utterly depressing that it took one series against Boston for the rest of North America to notice how good his all-around game is.
On Bobby Ryan’s playoff production and whether it’s a matter of confidence…
“Confidence and I think sometimes the weight of the world is lifted off of you. And I talked to Bobby just before the last game. I said, ‘Bobby, I think you’re cleared to play. Do you want to play in New York?’ It was out of respect that I talked to him and we talked and we just felt that if he could score a goal there, and I think he did, it would just lift the weight of the world off of his shoulders. In the playoffs, he’s been amazing. I talked about it in my press conference. The abuse he took from (Zdeno) Chara, that’s not a lot of fun. When you get cross-checked, leveled, slashed and cross-checked again, and you’re going up against one of the strongest men on earth, and you take the abuse, I think it says a lot about Bob and how he’s played and been able to score big goals for us. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s played through a lot of injuries through his time in Ottawa and it’s great to see someone succeed and be part of our team’s success with his performance.”
It is “great to see someone succeed and be part of our team’s success with his performance” because not only is it helping the team’s success, it’s also helping rebuild whatever value was once attached to his name. If the Senators have any hopes of shedding Ryan’s albatross of a contract, and his postseason’s numbers may not even help them here, it’s if he keeps producing.
On what he would say to fans who keep believing that Colin White deserves to play in the postseason…
“Well, I always leave those (lineup) decisions to Guy. That’s the one thing this year: I always left the decisions to Guy. I said, ‘It’s your choice who you play and who you don’t play.’ At times he’ll ask me, ‘What did you think of that guy last game?’ and obviously Guy got a chance to see Colin in two games and he was impressed by him. But these are the playoffs. These are men. These are guys that have been through the wars for many years. Colin White is going to be a fantastic player for this organization. We saw a glimpse of it in Detroit and I thought his game in New York was outstanding, but at the same time, let’s not make him out to be something he’s not right now. Let’s be patient. I always say with prospects, ‘It’s not a 100-metre race, it’s a marathon,’ and at the same time, you want him to have success. You don’t want to put him in a position where he fails. At times with prospects, you have to think of the bigger picture and right now, the only picture I’m thinking about is the New York Rangers. But if the coach feels that he’s got 12 other guys that are better than him, I think we have to respect that. And if you look at if his choice was (between) maybe between Tommy Wingels, Chris Kelly and maybe Colin White or Chris Neil, I think the coach made a pretty good decision inserting Tommy Wingels into the lineup. I thought he was one of our best forwards and the energy, the drive and he drew one penalty that I think led to one power play goal. I think that showed a lot about a veteran player. As much as we at times think we’re good, Ian, I don’t think you’re as good now as you were on your first broadcast. Maybe you think you were, but I think you’re better now. As good as you can be now, I think we have to let people gain experience and there might come a time and place where the coach says, ‘You know what, I need to put (Colin White) in now,’ and we’ll respect that decision. But, let’s just be patient. A lot of guys have worked hard this year that deserve to play and if at a certain point in time coach Guy feels that he deserves to play, he’ll put him in the lineup.”
It’s not like the bar for Colin White to clear has been set particularly high. Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels don’t offer much in terms of production or underlying puck possession numbers, but it’s been quite some time since White has played meaningful hockey. It’d be one thing if the Senators kept using him regularly after he signed his entry-level contract, but it no longer matters that he has excellent hockey IQ and has a two-way element to his game, the coaching staff seems to prefer a veteran presence.