After his Ottawa Senators were eliminated in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final, general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach Guy Boucher met with the local journos for their end of the year media availability.
For the sake of my sanity and to spare a hell of lot of work, I only transcribed the answers of the 40-plus minute availability that that were directed to Dorion. For what it’s worth, Boucher has some really interesting answers and the whole thing is worth a listen. You can listen to its entirety by using the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
“First of all, I’d like to thank you guys, the media. For the most part, you’ve been a great group of guys to work with, so thank you. And girls, sorry, I apologize Lisa (Wallace). We have to thank our fans. I think this was one of the greatest runs in Ottawa Senators franchise history and without our fans, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now. More importantly, I think the most important group in all this is we have to thank the players. I think if not for them and how much they cared and much they sacrificed, we would not be where we got to today in the Eastern Conference Final, winning two rounds, having home-ice advantage for two series – which hadn’t been done in a while. And probably the two people that I want to thank the most are first the guy to my left, Guy Boucher – I think he did a tremendous job this year and I don’t think we’d be where we are without Guy’s coaching ability, communication and everything – and I’d like to thank Mr. Melnyk for giving me this great opportunity to be the GM of my home team and having this great run.
I’m jumping in here. It’s a shock, just a huge shock, to see PR Dorion kick things off by thanking everyone under the sun.
Not surprisingly, he followed it up by not only pointing out some of his team’s accomplishments but adding their historical context as well.
Carry on, Pierre.
“It was a great year. I think we went through a lot. I think the organization took a huge step forward. I think and we all think in our management group that this big step is a step for this direction to have success in the future.
Although it’s true that this team’s postseason success is great experience for its roster – ie. just having Colin White not only around the team, but get into games in limited roles is great for his development — there’s a certain inherent amount of risk believing that this year’s postseason success is a sign of things to come or that this team will continue to develop in a linear fashion.
“We think, both Guy and I, we were supposed to have player meetings from 12:15 to 4:45 on Saturday. We ended up being here until 7:00 pm, so it was great to get the insight from our players and how they felt. I think every one of those meetings was productive. A few were a bit tough, but for the most part, they were really good and before we go to questions, I’ll just run off injuries because I said I’d talk to you about that after each round. Obviously, be patient here because there’s a lot.
“First of all, Erik Karlsson played on a bad ankle. It wasn’t just two cracks (in his heal), but he also had muscle issues in there. For him to play at the level that he did this year is quite something spectacular. Mark Borowiecki had a high-ankle sprain. He admitted he pushed himself too hard in his rehab – which is the reason that he wasn’t ready. We always thought he’d be ready, but he would have been available for game one if we ever got to the Stanley Cup Final. Alex Burrows had a high-ankle sprain. He was probably one of the most disappointed players because he felt that we were a team that could go far. Cody Ceci, I think, had his finger broken 17 times. I’m not sure exactly how many times, but it got broken during the year. It got broken during the playoffs against the Rangers and it was put back into place through a break and it broke again. He had the need to freeze it before every game. He played through a lot of pain. Zack Smith played through tremendous pain. His rib and abdominal muscles were pulled. Viktor Stalberg played through tremendous pain. Everyone who’s had rib issues that you have a hard time breathing. Chris Neil played with a significant sprained hand. Dion Phaneuf played with a really bad wrist. Craig Anderson’s back was in terrible shape during the Rangers series – which we managed to win, so that says a lot about his character playing through the pain that he had to go through. Tom Pyatt never got to be to 100-percent. It wasn’t the concussion. Even though he suffered what is an ankle (injury), it wouldn’t allow him to skate to the best of his ability. Derick Brassard had a really bad shoulder and he played through a lot of pain. Freddy Claesson had a bad back and he was in and out. Obviously we all know about Marc Methot’s finger. It never quite healed to 100-percent through the playoffs. It’s in the (healing) process right now. Also, Mark Stone never really got back to 100-percent with his leg injury and finally, Ryan Dzingel in the last game, hurt his wrist. That’s one of the reasons why he couldn’t go back out after scoring probably the biggest goal of his career.
Okay, so it’s kind of weird that the general manager would run off a list of injuries like it’s some kind of badge of honour.
Don’t get me wrong, I know why he did it.
He’s doing the media that cover this team a plus-one, but he’s also putting this information out there because he reads the news and analysis of his team. Throughout the postseason, the common refrain was that the Senators’ success wasn’t predicated on innate talent level, but was a function of the injuries sustained by their opponents.
There’s no question that the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins were beset by injuries, especially to their blue lines, but that doesn’t mean the Senators shouldn’t get credit for winning two rounds or pushing the Penguins to the brink. Nor should it mean that fans should appreciate their run any less because the Senators took advantage of their situation.
If anything, these circumstances should just add to fuel to the assertion that the Senators should have a more critical eye when assessing their own club and its personnel. Ideally, this experience has made management more self-aware regarding its roster’s shortcomings and makes Dorion eager to address the deadweight and upgrade the positions of need.
“So I know you guys have a lot of questions. I’m going to get one out of the way very quickly. Expansion: Craig Anderson will be the goalie we protect. No ‘ands’, ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it. When it comes to the rest of the questions for expansion, we’re having our meetings. Our pro scouts are here. We’re having meetings with the coaches later on today. The management group is going to get together at the end of the week and we’ll have a better idea because there’s a lot of discussions and a lot of things going on as far as expansion. But, the one thing that I’m going to be very clear on: Craig Anderson will be the goalie that we protect.”
It’s pretty funny that Erik Karlsson, arguably one of the three best players on the planet, wasn’t singled out here, but I understand why he wasn’t.
Anderson was mentioned specifically because he is the only goaltender that the Senators have to protect, whereas, if Dorion came out and singled out Karlsson on defence, it not only puts the other defencemen on a lower pedestal, it helps fuel speculation while also potentially creates unnecessary as the other blue liners question why they didn’t warrant being singled out as protection-worthy either.
On looking at the list of UFAs and RFAs the team has and whether any decisions have been made on any of those players…
“No, I told every agent through the playoffs that probably a few days after we were done that we’d start conversations again and had discussions with many RFAs. Well, RFA’s we’ve got three in (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau, (Ryan) Dzingel and (Jyrki) Jokipakka and then UFAs, we’ve got quite a few. When we met with the players, I said that I’d reach out to every one of their agents and we can talk. I will meet personally with Chris Neil and Chris Kelly in the next few weeks to find out what their plans are and then if they’re in relation with our plans, we’ll go from there.”
Chris Neil is already on the record as stating that he believes he is able to continue playing, but it remains to be seen whether the Senators share an interest in seeing him return for another season.
Neil frequently became a healthy scratch under Boucher and there’s no question that the age of players who don’t offer much beyond dropping the gloves is coming to a close.
The fact that Neil received a ton of praise for helping shift the momentum in the Rangers series could be influencing his feelings of a return, but the reality of Neil’s situation is that he may be better suited to helping the organization in another capacity.
Personally, I think he’d be fantastically suited for a community ambassador role, but knowing his feelings on advanced stats and their rise to prominence in the NHL, just keep him away from the front office or a coaching role.
On Chris Driedger and Matt O’Connor being RFAs and whether he was factoring them into his last answer…
“Yeah, I was just talking about the NHL guys.”
Literally and figuratively.
On whether the Senators need anything specific to get to the next level…
“Well, I would have liked one more goal. Do we need anything more? I think we’re headed in the right direction. We can always improve. I really like our goaltending. If we can’t sign (Mike) Condon, maybe (Andrew) Hammond is back as the back-up. We need to make those discussions on defence. We feel really comfortable with where we are. We probably have one of the best defencemen outside the NHL who’s going to look for a spot next year in Thomas Chabot. I’m really impressed by how Ben Harpur played. Up front, I know we got a bit older, but I liked the direction we took. I like that everyone knew their roles. We’re happy about the additions. We’re going to try and sign some guys who could possibly be UFAs. Obviously it’d be great to add a player of the calibre of Sidney Crosby, but that’s impossible to do. We can always get better. I don’t think we’re looking for anything specific. I think we got some good additions. I like the way Colin White played when he came, but I know there’s some guys in Binghamton – in the Nick Pauls and Max McCormick, if he comes back – that would have a chance to be on this team next year. We’ll look into free agency. I know our pro scouts have been here for the last few days and we’ll look through that. We always look through trades. If we can always improve this team, we will.”
Some fans will scoff at the mention of Hammond, but they may be ignoring a few things here: 1) when healthy, Hammond’s been better than Condon; and 2) by publicly acknowledging that Hammond’s still in the mix and under contract for the next season, he’s putting leverage on Condon knowing that he wants to return.
In a way, it’s similar to how he talked about Colin White in the passage above. He’s happy with the way he performed, but he has to know that a role on the parent roster simply isn’t going to be given to him.
Considering how many of their previous first round picks had quick ascensions to the NHL and with many blaming their stalled development to this factor, the Senators may be more cautious with their handling of White. By mentioning a Nick Paul or a Max McCormick in the same breath, Dorion is simply trying to inspire their blue chip prospect to have a great offseason.
On contrasting the exit meetings with players last year versus this year…
“Well, they were different. Last year it was Randy (Lee) and myself and this year, it was Guy (Boucher) and myself. Guy and I have a pretty good relationship, but I felt that the players needed to know that we’re pretty much on the same page. I think I’ve let Guy coach the whole year his way. It’s important. You hire someone to coach, you let them coach. Guy came to me with a shopping list and I think I pretty much got everything he wanted and I think that’s one of the reasons (why we had success). We worked well together. I understood his system and (how to go) about (bringing in players to augment it). But the biggest difference? Last year a lot of guys said we could be good in a few years and in some ways, that frustrated me a bit. And this year, a few guys said we were one goal (away from the Stanley Cup Final) and let’s not do too many changes here. They felt, a few players here and I’m not going to name them this year, felt that this was the greatest group of guys. A few players that were here in the past said it was the biggest culture change that we’ve ever had and I think that was part of the success. But, they took it upon themselves to change, so you’ve got to give them credit. To me, I think Guy’s an outstanding coach and I’m an okay GM, but the players are the ones that really make the difference and if you don’t give them credit… They deserve it. They’re the ones who play through all these injuries that I talked to you about. I know one player, I’m not going to name his name, but he was crying in agony and pain in between periods, but he wanted to go back out there. So that tells you how much they care. There was not a big difference. I can speak for myself and we talked for about 10 to 15 minutes after we left and we talked a few minutes between, but it was interesting to get (the players’) perspective. How there was a buy-in from most guys. Guys found it difficult at first with the system change, but it was a system that really helped us propel and have success. They were good meetings. I was happy. I left here and I was happy.”
I’m going to write about this a bit in the 2016-17 Senators eulogy, but the fear I have is that the Senators will double-down on the current roster without doing much to address a few of its easily identifiable and significant shortcomings. It doesn’t really sit well that the players are expressing their preference for the status quo to Dorion, but this is a big offseason for the Senators and I’m hopeful that they’ll work hard and aggressively exhaust the market looking for ways to improve this team.
On generally speaking whether any opinions of a player or players changed during the course of the postseason…
“Without a doubt. I think you have to look at the whole picture, the whole year, the entirety of it to make your decisions. I think you have to also look at what happened in the past, but also what the players’ can bring in the future. I’ve got a busy week here this week. We want to get everything done as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to talk to George McPhee during the playoffs. I reached out to him after we got eliminated and said I just wanted to talk to him if there was a trade scenario that could maybe happen. I’m not going to tell him who we’re going to expose or not. I just told you about one player that I want to be clear on, but there’s many scenarios to be had and I think once we get all together – today it’s the coaches, tomorrow it’s the pro scouts, later on it will be the management group – but at the end of the day, I know it falls upon my shoulders to make the best decisions for the organization. Whether it’s the decisions we make, they’ll be explained very clear before and after the expansion draft and we’ll just go about it. We’re going to lose a player, that’s part of the deal. Las Vegas paid a lot of money to get into this league and that’s part of the deal. Are you mad about it? No, it’s part of the deal. You just accept it and you move on. We’ve got enough depth that I don’t see any big radical changes coming to this team next year.”
Despite leading all Senators forwards in postseason scoring with 15 points in 19 games, Bobby Ryan’s performance does not overshadow the fact that his contract is excessive in both term and dollars. Hell, when a player jokes about his lack of concern for the expansion draft because of the unlikelihood he’s selected thanks to his contract’s annual average value, it’s a bad sign.
The same can be said about Dion Phaneuf, but in Phaneuf’s case, the Senators have to ask him to waive his no-movement clause. Although the dollars committed to depreciate each season over the course of the next four seasons, Phaneuf’s declining performance and his $7.0-million per season cap hit are pretty unenticing for a Las Vegas team that will be looking to add as much talent and as many tradeable contracts as it can.
Barring some unforeseen situation wherein the Senators shadily ask Phaneuf to waive his NMC and then barter draft picks and or prospects to Las Vegas to convince them to take him off their hands, he’s not going anywhere.
Phaneuf could put the Senators in an unfortunate spot if he refuses to waive his NMC, but there’s literally no downside for him to waive.
Selling Phaneuf on the idea should be pretty straightforward. The Senators are trying to put their best roster on the ice and by protecting three other defencemen which doesn’t include Phaneuf, this helps their situation.
And even in the event that Phaneuf was claimed, I doubt he’d be offended by the opportunity to go back out west and be the face of a club in a new NHL market where his actress wife would be closer to Los Angeles.
On Mike Condon wanting to remain in Ottawa…
“I’m going to talk to his agent at some point in time this week for sure. It’s up to him. If he doesn’t like our offer, he can just say no. We’d like to bring him back and he wants to come back, but I’ve been around for a long time and when talks are going nowhere and they haven’t been going so good this far…”
On whether he can make side deals with Las Vegas not to take another one of his players…
Conversely, the Senators could work out a side deal to ensure that Las Vegas drafts the specific player that the Senators would prefer to lose.
On whether he’d approach Dion Phaneuf about waiving his NMC to allow the organization to expose him and protect another one of his defencemen in the draft…
“It’s something that we’re going to talk internally (about) in the next few weeks. We know we have quite a few good defencemen and if we ever end up losing a defenceman, we know we have guys that can come in and replace them. I’m not sure. I’m not sure yet. There’s a lot of things and a lot of discussions to be had. If ever we were to go in that direction, I think I should let Dion know first.”
I’m going to work on an expansion draft blog in the next few days. Keep an eye out for it.
On the trade deadline acquisitions being pure rentals or whether there’s any interest in bringing them back…
“All three forwards, those three guys (in addition to) Chris Neil and Chris Kelly, two guys that I want to (talk to) in person, the other three guys I told that I’d talk to their agents to see where they’re at and if they want to come back. Some of them may not want to come back. Maybe Tom Pyatt does not want to come back. Maybe Viktor Stalberg and maybe (Tommy) Wingels don’t want to come back. They indicated that they wanted to come back, but it’s easy to say that to someone when you’re meeting them in person. So we’re going to explore that. I think first of all, I want to get the coaches involved and get their opinion. Then I’m going to talk to our pro scouts and then I’m going to talk to our management group. At the end of the day, we’ll come up with a good game plan. Ideally, they can’t all be back. It’s just a numbers thing. We have to look at who fits best (regarding) our needs, our mock roster, where we need to go as far as a group and not take a step backwards.”
The idea of this group not taking a step backwards puts an interesting dynamic on this offseason, if the Senators fail to live up to the expectations that they’ve created for themselves through their playoff run, it’s going to put a ton of heat on management to determine the right course of action for its offseason.
On whether any players need offseason surgery…
“Nope, as far as we know today. I talked to Gerry (Townend) this morning so I could make sure that I gave you all the proper information, but as far as we know concerning the players, today no one needs surgery.”
Awesome news, if true.
On getting more details regarding Mark Stone’s leg injury…
“It’s a contusion – leg contusion. Obviously he wasn’t skating to the best of his ability, but even when he came back, it just took time. Nothing serious. He’ll be 100-percent in one month’s time.”
Stone was alright during the postseason, but he certainly didn’t perform at a level that resembled his best either. It doesn’t need to be said, but the injury obviously played a role.
On Clarke MacArthur’s expressing some doubt that he may return next season…
“No, through the playoffs… not that I talk a lot with the players, that’s Guy’s job. I think I only addressed the team three times all year – I addressed them at the start of the year, I addressed them when we had the supper with their wives and I was very impressed and then I addressed them at the end of the year. I don’t really talk to the players. I’m around, but Clarke is someone that I made sure to talk to, to see how he was feeling because above everything, his life is more important than anything. All through the playoffs he was healthy and he felt great. He said his neck hurt him a bit at the end and we just want to make sure that everything’s okay, but he’s coming back. He can’t be exposed for expansion purposes because you need to play 40 games this year or 70 in the last two years, so he can’t be a player we expose even though he’s under contract, so he’s back with us.”
Dorion’s explanation of why MacArthur was precluded from expansion exposure raised some confusion in the hockey community.
The confusion stems from the fact that the Senators must meet the criteria of not protecting a minimum of two forwards who must have played in 40 games this season or 70 games over the last two years, but this criteria does not preclude Las Vegas from selecting a player who does not meet this criteria and is not protected by the Senators.
In other words, the Senators could protect Brassard, Stone, Turris, Hoffman, Smith, Pageau and Dzingel leaving Ryan and Burrows as the two forwards under contract who meet the games played thresholds outlined above. In this situation, the Senators are still meeting the criteria, but Las Vegas could then take MacArthur because he wasn’t protected.
On Craig Anderson entering the last year of his contract and whether he is looking to sign him to an extension shortly…
“We can’t talk until July 1st, unless you want to pay the fine and I can tell you my ideas.”
Anderson just turned 36 and as a goalie who’s missed a number of games over the past few years, the Senators will have to look to bring in a successor over the next year or two. Ideally, a player like a Marcus Hogberg can elevate his game and become a factor, but the Senators may have to look at the draft or outside the organization to address this position.
On whether the Senators can hold on making a significant personnel change because it is so difficult to make the postseason…
“No, and I understand your question. It’s a good point and question because obviously we’re going to have to be patient. Last year when I took over in our management group, I said we’re going to have to make changes to get into the playoffs. As much as it’s tempting and it’s fun to talk about trades, this year I think we have more regular and better players coming back this year under contract compared to where we were last year. I think Bryan (Murray) left us a really good team. I think we felt that we needed to improve, including his input, to getting better. We feel that we’re there now. I think being (named a GM of the Year finalist) is a reflection upon everyone’s work. Sometimes you get credited. You know, the voting was done after two rounds of the playoffs and we were one of the four teams remaining. I think if the Jack Adams voting was done at the same time, Guy would have been one of the finalists. I don’t know if I ever fleeced anyone on a deal. After I shook his hand and told him that it was tough that we lost, I thanked (Jim Rutherford) for trading us Mike Condon because I said, ‘I don’t know if we would have been here (without it).’ It was something good. I think a lot of credit has to go to Pierre Groulx in that trade. At the end of the day, you’re the one that always pulls the trigger, but Pierre was pretty adamant that he felt Condon could help us. And our pro scouts too, all three of them that had seen him play, felt that he could help us. So it’s not just about me, it’s about the whole group of people and I’m very well surrounded here. Everyone knows that hiring Guy was a great move. I know others in this room wanted other people, but I’m not going to look at you. But overall, we’ve had a great relationship and the fact that we have such a good relationship and we’ve become really good friends, we’ve only gotten mad at each other probably three times all year – I think I counted. We had a long talk one night in a hotel until 3:30 in the morning. Do you remember that one? The other two times were just little things. I didn’t like his suit jacket. I’d leave him little notes on his desk. For the most part, we’ve had a really good relationship and I think it’s something that I’ve learned – and I’m not going to hide the fact that I learned it (from Bryan Murray) and I think Bryan talked about having a good relationship between coach and GM was important. Every organization that I’ve ever seen that has success, I heard David (Poile) and Peter (Laviolette) talk about it during their press conference – the Nashville guys – how good their relationship is and how much they communicate. Sometimes I feel bad because I don’t communicate as much with the assistant coaches, but I think as the GM, you really have to talk and be on the same page with your coach. I remember Serge Savard telling me that. ‘It’s really about your coach.’ It was just like a casual conversation and I think a lot of the reasons why I got nominated are in a big part Guy and it’s also got a lot to do with how the players performed.”
I understand the pressure in not wanting to make moves for the sake of it. Each trade proposal needs to be vetted appropriate amount of information and analysis, but I’d hate to see the Senators romanticize this playoff run and the results believing that their situation can replicate itself across subsequent seasons, especially as most of their best young players come off their inexpensive first or second contracts. If there’s a time to be aggressive and creative with their personnel, it’s this offseason when this playoff run can help artificially raise the value of each and every one of the Senators’ players.
On how much thought goes into having one of the best players in the world and how he needs to not only try and win while Erik Karlsson is in his prime but also create an environment that Karlsson would like to return to when he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2019…
“That’s a long time away. I hope I’m still here in 2019. I think as far as making it an attractive environment, I think we’ve done that. I’d rather him speak about that than me. I think we’ve done a lot of things that not only Erik but all the players are happy here – just little things like we expanded our gym. It was something that we needed to be done. Our players’ lounge (was improved). One player off of Team Canada came to me when they were here and said, ‘I didn’t know anything about Ottawa. I didn’t know how good your players’ lounge is, how good your food is in the players’ loung pregame.’ Post-game, we’ve got to work on that. If Aramark is listening to me, we have to talk about that post-game (meal). How good their dressing room is, our facility is, our tubs… I think little things matter. Just to give you an example, two years ago Randy (Lee) and I went and measured parking spots for the players so their trucks could fit in, so we expanded them. It’s the little things that matter I think at the end of the day. I think our wives’ lounge treats them well. I think our wives when they get here, they’re treated well. I think Jordan Silver is one of the best in the league as far as making sure that the players’ services are taken care of. Allison (Vaughan) is available to talk to all of them. I think our doctors… you can phone Dr. Chow, Dr. Aubry, Dr. Henry or Dr. Cregan anytime. (You can call them) at three in the morning and they’ll be at your house if your kid is sick. We do a lot of things, I think, well here. We are always going to keep on trying to do things better. Just like little things like the plane when we land, the customs (agents) come right on the plane and I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying (that)…”
Someone needs to Photoshop me a picture of Dorion and Lee measuring parking spots.
Edit: Thanks @BringBackLee
You would imagine that there would be a Senators intern out there who could have handled this, but envisioning Dorion and Lee doing this is hilarious and hopefully true. You can’t measure heart, but you can definitely measure how much space a player needs to park his F-250 comfortably.
On another note, whether it is players hugging Dorion at the trade deadline after the Alex Burrows trade or players on Team Canada coming up to him to praise the Senators’ facilities, for a guy who allegedly tries to leave the interactions to the players and the coaching staff, Dorion sure likes to report on his interactions with players when the situation fits and good spin comes from it.
On the need to load up now to win with Karlsson in his prime…
“I think we’re going to try and do everything to be better than we were this year, but it’s always easier said than done. As much as we could probably trade Chabot for a lot of good players, but probably the players that we could get for him, probably the impact wouldn’t be as good as some of the players that we already have here. Sometimes you always think the grass is greener on the other side, but sometimes people don’t respect what you have here. I think that’s something as far as Erik during the course of the playoffs. I said it after… I don’t know which round we won, but people don’t realize how good Erik is. I said it before the playoffs started and to me, and I’ve been praising Erik for I don’t know how many years, how I thought he is the best defencemen in the game if not one of the best players in the game. He’s finally now getting the credit he deserves, but it’s tough to add pieces when you’re one-goal away from getting to the finals. So I think we’re on the right path, but a lot of the things we did this year were little changes that helped us in a big way and I think that’s the path to keep on going (down).”
I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the Senators trade blue chip players like Chabot or White away because the Senators simply lack the kind of prospect depth every organization needs to bring cheap and efficient production into the lineup, but there may be opportunities to creatively look for upgrades.