In his annual tradition of interviewing each of the Canadian market general managers before the opening of training camp, TSN’s Bob McKenzie has published his interview with Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
In a perfect world, I’d be able to embed the interview at the top of this post, but for whatever reason TSN frowns up sharing their property by making their videos embeddable.
Nevertheless, if you haven’t checked out the interview, you can watch it by following this link or you can read a transcription of Dorion’s comments below.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On many pundits believing that the Senators were not a playoff team last year what he saw in his club last year that made him they were…
“I think they were ready to embrace a new system and a new coach. I think the players were hungry to have success and that’s why I just felt that this team was ready to take the next step to get to the playoffs.”
The Senators obviously missed the postseason and disappointedly finished fifth in their division under Dave Cameron in 2015-16, so hearing Dorion talk about reaching the playoffs in 2016-17 in contrast is certainly a step forward. Over the last ten years however, fans have grown accustomed to the organization reaching the playoffs one year and falling out of the picture the next.
Since the team’s Stanley Cup final appearance in 2007, the team has been to the playoffs more often than not reaching the postseason six times while having missed out only four times.
For this reason, the idea of setting the postseason as a goal rings a little hollow. It’s a modest goal that the organization hasn’t really had that much trouble meeting over the past decade.
Until last season’s postseason success, it felt like this organization was stuck in that playoff bubble cycle wherein they were in the playoffs one year and fell just short the next. Competitiveness has never been a problem. Sustaining success and making an ascent up the standings that keeps the team out of the playoff bubble mix would go a long way to preserving the goodwill and faith that was built up during last season’s playoff run.
I don’t want to say that a step back would be devastating to the team’s overall picture, but it would affirm the opinions of those who believe that the Senators had outlier success last year and are due for regression this season.
On many pundits picking the Senators to fall out of the playoff picture and miss the postseason this season…
“No, I don’t believe that. I think last year in making the playoffs was not luck. I think we are as competitive of a team as we were last year. Obviously we lost a few pieces, but I think we replaced those pieces and I feel that last year was a stepping stone for us to get into the playoffs. Again this year, it won’t be easy for us to get into the playoffs, but I feel very confident in saying that the Ottawa Senators are a playoff team.”
Having a generational defenceman like Erik Karlsson carry the club isn’t luck, but the team was on right side of one-goal games despite the fact that the club had a negative goal differential, shots on goal differential and five-on-five shots differential.
Only five teams during the regular season had more one-goal wins than the Ottawa Senators and their win percentage in one-goal games (21-9-10, .525) was good enough for the league’s 11th best mark.
In the playoffs, the Senators even better compiling a 9-5 record (.643) in one-goal games.
A general manager, especially one who was nominated as the ‘Executive of the Year’, would never admit that his team’s success last season was rooted heavily in luck, but it’s easy to understand why so many are quick to write off Ottawa’s ability to replicate last year’s success.
On it being understandable as to why some may discount Ottawa’s chances this year because of the injuries and whether there’s any update on the status of Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard…
“Well, let’s start with Erik because I think he’s pretty important. With Erik, we hope that in the next 10 days or so that he starts skating. Once he starts skating, we’ll have a better idea of when he’s going to get back into our lineup. We hope that it’s October 5th, but it could be two weeks after or three weeks after. It could be within the first week of the season, so I think we’ll have a much better idea once Erik starts skating.”
In the past few years, the margins for the Senators has been pretty small, but fortunately this isn’t basketball where an injury to a generational player has a much more significant impact on a team’s success.
The Senators were able to overcome the absence Karlsson during the lockout shortened season a few years, so hopefully the team can continue to pick up some points during a small sample size of games if Karlsson needs more time to heal. That said, the margins for the Senators are small enough as it is and they’ll be hard pressed to overcome too many obstacles or endure too many hiccups during the course of the season. The Senators need all the help they can get and this means getting a healthy and productive Karlsson back into the lineup as quickly as possible.
On there being any chance that the injury could delay Karlsson’s return until November…
“I can’t foresee that happening and with Derick (Brassard), Derick’s been skating for a while. He hasn’t (faced) any contact, but he’s probably from what I can tell and what our trainers have told me – he’s in the best shape of his life. And it’s just how the shoulder will react once he starts contact drills. He will be skating during training camp, but it’s just he’ll probably have a different coloured jersey on and how the strength holds up in the shoulder. But I think once October 5th comes around, I think there’s a good chance (he’ll be ready to play). But if it goes into the second week of the (season), I think we’ll see Derick at some point in October.”
The Senators can overcome Brassard’s injury a little more easily than Karlsson’s simply because of the depth that they’ve added to their forward ranks. As we saw in the postseason, there’s more offence to unearth in Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s game when he is supported by skilled wingers who can help transition the puck more easily to the offensive zone, so he’s a good candidate to replace Brassard’s minutes early on.
Brassard’s absence could create a window for prospects like Colin White or even a Logan Brown to get an opportunity to play as the third line centre.
I suppose Zack Smith could find himself in that position with one of these younger players supporting him on the wing where they’ll have easier defensive responsibilities, but so long as it’s not Nate Thompson getting more minutes with Tom Pyatt, then it’s all good.
On what he likes about his team this year that will allow them to return to the playoffs…
“I think last year at the start of the year, there was an adjustment period for our players. Our players, our coaching staff both… all of our coaches weren’t in the NHL the previous year. So I think nothing is new for us (this year). We’ve added a few players that have come onboard. But if you look at adding Nate Thompson, he’s played under Guy Boucher’s system before. I think if you look at a guy like Johnny Oduya, he’s played (in) systems with the (New Jersey) Devils that were more structured towards the defensive (side). So I think adding those two guys, the adjustment period won’t be as long as when we started last year, so that should help us get a few more points than when we started last year. So that should help us probably get a few more points earlier in the year than the previous year.”
The Senators had it pretty rough in the early going last season what with a 7-3-0 record in their first 10 games and all.
Talking about player adjustment or coaching adjustments and moving past the infancy stage of the relationship sure makes for an interesting talking point when referencing how things could possibly improve, but the Senators had a 14-8-1 record (.630) through November last season so it’s hard to imagine the team improving from a results-based perspective early on this year.
On how last year’s unfortunate circumstances involving Craig and Nicholle Anderson helped inspire the club and whether there’s any update on Nicholle’s health…
“Nicholle’s doing good. As far as we know, everything is good right now. Cancer is a very deadly disease and it’s never… I don’t think it’s never not in your system. I’m not an expert, but I think it stays but it’s not active. So she’s doing great and Craig’s very happy with the situation. Our goaltending can only be better than it was last year because we have (Mike) Condon now from day one and at the same time, we should have Craig for all 82 games.”
At 36-years old, Craig Anderson’s numbers should eventually diminish with age, but if he can come close to replicating last season’s numbers while playing in more than 40 games next season, it will be a huge improvement to the Senators’ goaltending situation.
I write that namely because Andrew Hammond’s success is a distant memory and for the second consecutive season, Mike Condon burned out down the stretch and his numbers suffered as his number of appearances increased.
The organization seems to have a lot of faith in Condon’s ability, but he was underwhelming down the stretch and finished the season with some league average numbers.
On the expectation that Craig Anderson can now be a full-time goalie again…
“Without a doubt. Those are the expectations that he’ll be there for all 82 games. Now injuries do happen over the course of the season, but I think having that tandem really allows us to – especially with 18 or 19 back-to-back games – allows us to have a very good goaltending tandem.”
Injuries do happen and in Craig Anderson’s case, but over the course of Anderson’s six full seasons since joining the Senators, he’s only appeared in more than half his team’s games three times.
As shitty as it is to look at last year’s circumstances or the injuries that beset Anderson during the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign or the 2014-15 season, there’s a pretty obvious trend when you look at Anderson’s numbers since joining Ottawa.
When he plays fewer games, his numbers thrive.
Whether there’s any sound reason for it is open for discussion.
Maybe fewer games allow Anderson to perform at his mental and physical peak. It could be statistical variance. Who knows?
On that many back-to-backs and how he must not love his schedule…
“I hate our schedule, but that’s part of the game. Last year I thought we had a very favourable schedule and when the schedule came out this year, I wasn’t too keen or happy about it. But you know what, there’s some years that things fall more into place and this year, us and Pittsburgh have the most back-to-backs and we’re just going to have to thrive through it.”
These back-to-backs are inevitably going to test the Senators’ depth. Over the past few years, I’ve talked ad nauseum about the quality of the Senators’ defensive depth and while the forward depth has been a strength in previous years, I’m not convinced that a prospective fourth line of Alex Burrows, Nate Thompson and Tom Pyatt is good (it is relatively expensive however).
A lot of the success will fall on Mike Condon to prove that he’s closer to resembling the goaltender who’s started each of the past two seasons well as opposed to the guy who floundered down the stretch.
There’s no question that some of the Senators’ postseason success was attributable to the fact that injuries and a few trades kept some of the team’s shittiest (read: veteran character guys who ooze intangibles) players out of the lineup for extended periods of time, but now that a few players have moved on or are now healthy, the Senators’ quality of depth could be exposed again this season.
It’s a little frustrating because this is the one area that is easiest to address. Each offseason, quality depth options are available via trade or free agency, so if the Senators fall short of the playoffs because their depth wasn’t good enough, it will be a tough pill to swallow. I understand the organization wanting to give looks to internal options first or players that the coaching staff saw play in Switzerland, but it shouldn’t preclude the organization from looking at more quality options that would have been available on the open market.
On Anderson’s impending unrestricted free agent status and how the presence of Mike Condon gives the Senators some insulation…
“Condon’s a guy we have faith in, but we’re not turning the page on Craig. Hopefully I’ll have discussions with his agent over the course of training camp. Craig is someone we’d like to keep with the organization. I think Craig would like to retire as a Senator and of course, it was one of the good deals that we made. But I think the credit goes a lot to our pro scouts who advise us and the goalie coach on making the Condon deal. The reason why I got nominated for ‘Executive of the Year’ is because our players played well.”
Not to take anything away from him, but the reason why Pierre got nominated was because the vote took place during the Senators/Rangers playoff series when the Senators were set to advance to the Conference Final.
On the loss of Marc Methot and the emergence of Thomas Chabot as a prospect and whether the Senators’ defensive situation is as simple as swapping one out for the other…
“No, I think whoever our seven best defencemen are when camp ends… it might be eight if Erik is not ready to go and if Thomas (Chabot) is in those seven or eight, he’ll be on the team in whatever role the coach decides for him. I know Thomas will rise up to the opportunity. We’ve seen how he acted last year after he was sent back after a month in the NHL. He took it (as), ‘I’m going to show everyone I’m the best defenceman in junior.’ He was definitely the best defenceman in junior (hockey) and some could say he was the best defenceman outside the NHL last year. And for a guy like Thomas Chabot, we know he’s going to be a very important player for us in the near future, but setting expectations for a 20-year old defenceman – especially on defence – sometimes can be a bit dangerous. We hope he can help us, but at the same time, we’re not putting him in the Hall of Fame tomorrow.”
Interestingly the Senators brought Johnny Oduya into the fold when the team already had Dion Phaneuf, Mark Borowiecki, Thomas Chabot and Ben Harpur as players who all played games for the organization last season.
The Oduya signing seems to confirm the belief that Guy Boucher would prefer to trust a veteran than turn the reins over to a younger player. I would be shocked to see Chabot be partnered with Karlsson right away. My suspicion is that Phaneuf will get the first opportunity at those minutes.
On how Chabot took his game to another level when he was returned to junior and how soon after his draft that the organization realized that he was on a different trajectory…
“For Thomas, I think it was in the second half of the year after he was drafted. For us, he really started stepping up and really taking control of games at the junior level. For someone to do that the year after he was drafted or as an 18-year old defenceman, it shows that he can be pretty special. I think he was disappointing at development camp the previous summer and Randy Lee, our assistant GM, let him know about it and for Randy to get mad, it doesn’t happen too often. And (for) all the criticism he got, he embraced it. He said, ‘How can I be better?’ He took it as constructive criticism and that’s exactly what he did after we sent him back. He just took everything in stride. To me, he has matured as much off the ice as he has on the ice and that really tells me that we have something special.”
The Senators don’t have a lot of safely projectable growth on the parent roster beyond what Thomas Chabot and Colin White may offer. Not that I want to put a lot of pressure on these two to develop and perform at a high level, but if the Senators want to rise up the standings, it’s counting on these two heavily to develop and produce right away.
On it being very difficult for a 19-year old player to get into Guy Boucher’s lineup…
“No, it’s very hard for 19, 20 or 21-year old to get into Guy (Boucher’s lineup). I think Guy’s ideal team would be all 35-year olds and we do tease him about that. But, he’s done some pretty good (things for younger players) like if you look at a guy like Ryan Dzingel or even some of the younger guys on the team last year, he did a pretty good job with them.”
In terms of NHL experience, Dzingel’s young, but he’s an NCAA product who’s now 25 years old. He’s not exactly young by relatively NHL standards.
On what he thinks Johnny Oduya will bring to the team at this stage of his career…
“Well, I always tease people that I have two bosses: Mr. Melnyk and Erik Karlsson. Through the course of the summer, we contacted Johnny Oduya right when the free agent period started and Erik had a chance to meet with him in middle to late July when Erik was in Sweden. I know Guy had a chance to talk to Johnny on July 2nd or 3rd and he was someone that we targeted right when the free agent period started. Our pro scouts and (I) felt that he would be a good complement if we ever lost Marc Methot. And having his veteran (presence) and his leadership, he’s been through everything and we’re a team that’s trying to get through everything to get to the Stanley Cup Final. So having someone like that I think is having someone that will help. I remember one morning, Erik phoned me and I think it was 6:45 (am), he said, ‘I met with (Oduya) and I think we should sign him.’ I said, ‘Okay Erik, I think we can try and work things out.’”
Oduya’s underlying numbers were pretty terrible last season and after a trade to the Chicago Blackhawks at the deadline, those numbers only got worse.
Using HockeyAbstract.com’s player usage visual tool, it’s easy to see how Johnny Oduya was deployed last season.
The risk here is that the Senators are potentially adding a defenceman who’s on his last legs and simply cannot bring much to the table.
Dorion has already spoken of Boucher’s preference for experienced hands and it’s possible that the only checkbox Oduya hits is the one that reads ‘veteran experience’.
Looking at the visual above, Oduya was used extensively in on defensive zone draws – which can help explain some of his poor possession metrics – but, the quality of competition that he faced wasn’t particularly high either.
Last season not only represented the lowest point total in his professional career, his average of 18:16 TOI/Gm set a career low.
At this stage of his career, Oduya is probably best suited for a sheltered third pairing role instead of the big minutes that could come playing alongside Karlsson.
Of course, Erik Karlsson got the most out of Filip Kuba’s corpse on his way to the 2011-12 Norris Trophy, so I’ll never write off his talent or what he’s able to get out of it.
I’ll just question whether Oduya’s the right partner for Karlsson when there are probably better alternatives on the roster.
On whether Erik Karlsson will get an assistant general manager title…
“At times Erik’s special, but I think it shows how much he cares about winning. For Erik to play through the pain and the injuries he had during the playoffs last year, it just tells you so much about his character. And for him to call me after he met (Oduya) for coffee in Stockholm just tells me his dedication to the Ottawa Senators.”
It doesn’t matter who’s doing it, but players should be actively recruiting for their GMs all of the time.
On how Johnny Oduya may represent a more stylistically similar player to Marc Methot than Thomas Chabot and whether that could have an impact on the defensive pairings…
“That will be up to the coach. I think since I’ve been named the GM, I’ve never interfered with who was going to play (or play with whom). You hire people to do their job. I think Guy and our coaching staff have done a tremendous job over the course of the last year. And maybe he’ll put Oduya with Ceci or Phaneuf with Karlsson or maybe Phaneuf can play the right side. Maybe Phaneuf plays with Oduya as a matchup pair and Claesson plays with Ceci. Maybe Borowiecki plays with Karlsson…”
Oh man, that’s so weird. I thought I heard that Borowiecki could play with Karlsson.
Must get through the rest of Dorion’s thought.
“So there’s many things that we can do. The thing is, we know we have seven NHL defencemen, plus Thomas Chabot if we’re healthy. And I’ll even throw in Ben Harpur, so I think we’re in a pretty good position.”
In a pretty good position if Borowiecki doesn’t play with Karlsson. (Or you know, at all.)
On whether the organization anticipates Fredrik Claesson or Ben Harpur being able to step in and play top-six minutes…
“Of for sure, especially with the way that they both played in the playoffs. When you put two guys that are pretty much in their first year – Ben barely played only at the end of the year – in our lineup in tough series against Boston, the Rangers and the Penguins — who are as fast as any team in the league – and those guys do fairly well, it just shows you that those guys can play a top-six role.”
The hiring of Chabot’s assistant coach from junior by the Senators is interesting. I don’t know whether the Senators are simply rewarding Paul Boutilier for the job that he did with Chabot this year or for their relationship working with him this past year, but I wonder if his presence as an assistant coach in Belleville this year may lead to the Senators exploring the possibility of having Chabot play his way to the NHL this season by starting him with their AHL affiliate.
On the addition of Nate Thompson and how he has familiarity with Guy Boucher…
“The one thing I’ve learned as a general manager and in all my years of experience, you have to work with your coach. If you don’t work with your coach or you and your coach aren’t on the same page, it’s not going to be cohesive for team success. Of course, coaches all want Sidney Crosbys and Connor McDavids on their top lines, but it’s always where the chips may fall. But you can really work with your coaches if you can get role players that your coach likes. Especially in our situation of 18 or 19 back-to-backs where you’re going to need to play all your fourth liners, I think it can just help our team have success in tougher, grinding back-to-back games.”
Having a great working relationship with a coach is well intended and in regards to recruitment, a coach’s familiarity could assist in bringing a player into the fold or help reduce the amount of time it takes for a player to be comfortable playing within a system, but bias and familiarity can also work against an organization.
Maybe Nate Thompson is better than I believe or maybe he’s not overpaid as an NHL replacement level player, but ideally the organization overturns every stone to bring the best players into the fold and not just ones that the coaching staff has a known comfort level with.
On Clarke MacArthur’s surprise return last season and whether he will pick up from where he left or is this a more complicated situation wherein MacArthur needs to be cautious about the risks involved in playing another season…
“I think it’s a combination of both. I think Clarke played a lot on emotion last year. He was really excited to be back for a playoff run. He scored, I think, our biggest goal of the year when we beat Boston in game six, so at the same time, we have to make sure that Clarke is ready to put the time and commitment (in) and the doctors do clear him to make sure that everything’s okay. I was a bit worried at the end of the year when he said he had a bit of neck pain, but everything seems on par for the course. He’ll show up at camp when training camp comes up Friday and hopefully he can keep on playing, but I think as an organization, we have a certain duty. But more importantly, we’re always going to follow the doctors’ advice. They’re the ones that cleared him to play. We know how hard he worked to come back, but at the same time, they’re the ones that will clear him to play this year.”
That’s a pretty passive statement regarding MacArthur’s ability to play this season.
If I had to guess, it sounds like the organization already knows one way or another whether MacArthur will play this season.
McKenzie put out the above tweet earlier this afternoon and it seems weird for him to question a player’s health or whether he’ll be cleared without there being more to the story.
Some fans are even reporting that MacArthur’s house in Ottawa has been put up for sale and that via Instagram, MacArthur’s kids are now attending school in Rochester where he’s from, but neither action really guarantees much of anything.
I wonder if MacArthur simply wanted to return late last season and for the postseason to prove to himself that he could still perform. And now that he’s at peace with his performance and the team’s run, he’ll pack it in unofficially.
With three years at $4.75-million per season left on the table, there isn’t really any incentive for him to walk away from that money. But, if the doctors refuse to clear MacArthur medically, he can continue to collect the bulk of his salary through his insurance coverage. (Of course, if you’re the insurance company, I’d sure as hell be wondering how a player was able to pass his baseline tests so that he could play in the playoffs, but he can’t pass the same tests a few months later.)
Time will tell to see how things unfold.
On whether there’s a possibility that Clarke may not be ready to go to start the season or be cleared for contact right away…
“Well, he skated through the summer from what I now. We’ll just have to wait and see once he shows up in camp to make sure that everything is alright.”
On hoping for the best for Clarke MacArthur…
“In my 20 years, I don’t think I’ve met a better guy, a better pro and guy that you… you’re always happy for the team’s success, but when he scored that goal – whether you believe in destiny or not – I thought it was someone’s will to say, ‘This has worked so hard.’ It’s the second series that we’ve won since we went to the Cup Final (in 2007). We beat Montreal, that was the only time we won a playoff series since we went to the Cup against Anaheim, so I think this was a sign.”
MacArthur’s series winner just pulls at the heartstrings.
On whether Colin White fits into the lineup or whether he starts the season in the AHL…
“I was impressed with Colin White when he played our last game of the year against the Islanders. Very impressed. The plays he made, the plays he made with pace, he looked like an NHL player. Now, he didn’t get a chance to play a lot in the playoffs. I think he only played three minutes in a game, if I’m not mistaken. So at the same time, exhibition (games) will determine whether he’s an NHL player right now. But at the same time, there’s a golden opportunity if Derick Brassard can’t play for the first week or two, it may open the door for a Colin White and it might open the door for a Logan Brown to see what those guys can do, maybe even in an offensive situation role. So we’ll have to wait and see how the exhibition games go. I think the coach’s plan is to see how much Colin White can handle and if he shows us that he can handle playing those types of minutes against NHL players – especially as the training camp goes on – then we’ll have to put him on the team.”
It’s a hunch, but I feel like the Senators are going to do the same thing with Logan Brown that they did with Thomas Chabot last season. They’ll keep him around for a month before punting him to the OHL as a motivating tactic.
On having Thomas Chabot spend a month with the team last year before returning him to junior and whether there’s a chance the organization could do the same with Logan Brown this year…
“It’s a case by case scenario. I think with Thomas last year, whether he was in our top-seven defenceman or not at the start of the year, it was pretty much imposed on the coaches that he was going to stay around and see what it was like to be around the Karlssons, the Methots, the Phaneufs, the Cecis and the Borowiecki. And it was beneficial for everyone. It was beneficial for Team Canada because I think that month that he stayed with us helped him be a way better hockey player. And with Logan Brown, we’ll have to assess that situation too. If we feel that for his development, it might be Team USA that he helps which some TSN fans won’t be happy about, but at the same time, if we feel that that’s the best course of action doing something that we’ll have to do. Now they’re both different people. Thomas Chabot took it in stride. Would Logan be the same? Probably, but they’re different people. It’s how you adapt to what you are given.”
It’s worth mentioning that the knock on Brown for the past few years has pertained to his laziness and work ethic. Obviously the physical size and skill set of Brown is renowned, but the Senators need to find a way to get him to buy in and get the most out of his abilities.
On whether this is a year that Nick Paul pushes for a spot on the roster…
“Oh, we still think Nick Paul is a very good prospect. When you have his size, his shot and his ability with his range to check and to get pucks, we still feel that Nick Paul is a very solid NHL player. We’ve had teams phone me about Nick Paul. We’re not trading Nick Paul. It’s for him to step (up). I think Nick realized last year that nothing was going to be given to him. The year before, he spent a lot of time with us and last year, I think he only played in one game at the end of the year. You have to work hard at any level that you’re at and this year, he’s come into camp in the best shape that he’s ever been in and not by a little margin, by a significant margin. So he’s taken it to heart that he knows how hard you have to work to be an NHL player.”
Camp hasn’t even started yet and already Dorion has mentioned that Brassard and now Paul are in the best shape of their lives TM.
On how big of a difference it will be for the Senators to move their affiliate to Belleville…
“I’m so excited about Belleville. On my way down to Toronto, I stopped in and saw the new developments in the rink. It’s going to be fantastic.
I think our affiliation with Belleville is going to be something that helps our team. I think the proximity (will help). I think the people of Belleville are so excited to have our farm team there. I’m really looking forward to November 1st when the first game is played there, but I’m also looking forward to October 6th when (the season opens). I think we’ll field a very competitive team in Belleville. I know Randy (Lee), Kurt (Kleinendorst) and Paul Boutilier – that we’re very happy to have on board – will put a good product on the ice and I think we’ll have a very competitive American (Hockey) League team.”
Since finishing first in their division in the 2013-14 season, the Senators’ have struggled to field a competitive AHL team over the past three seasons.
The Senators finished third in their division with a .500 winning percentage in 2014-15 before stumbling to consecutive seventh-place finishes these past two years.
Beyond some ill-conceived veteran signings, the Senators have simply let their most well-regarded prospects develop on the NHL roster rather than have them spend considerable development time in the AHL.
On the perception of having a window of opportunity created by the term left on Erik Karlsson’s contract and how important it is for the organization to put a good team on the ice this season…
“I think last year was important to show our players, our fans and not just Erik Karlsson that it was important to take a step in the right direction. I think this year we have to continue taking another step and the goal is always to make the playoffs. Obviously the biggest thing that will come on July 1, 2018 will be the start of the (contract) discussions with Erik Karlsson. If I’m not mistaken, Connor McDavid took about a week to do. It could take about a month (for a Karlsson contract). But for our organization, I don’t there will be much of a panic level if Erik Karlsson is not signed by July 2nd. Of course we want to sign Erik Karlsson and of course we want him to retire as an Ottawa Senator, but at the same time, it’s also Erik Karlsson’s choice. I think we’ve seen in the past, some players have wanted to try different organizations and different teams, but in saying that, we’ll do everything in our power to sign Erik Karlsson.”
Yeah, I’m just going to skip over this answer. I don’t want to begin to think about a Karlsson-less future.
On Kyle Turris’ impending UFA status and whether the organization has opened contract talks with him…
“Yeah, we’ve had some talks. We’d even consider them healthy discussions with Kyle. The same with Craig Anderson, we’ve had some healthy (talks)…”
On whether these two prospective contracts could wind up getting done during the season…
“Ideally… at times, the agent will put timeframes on deals like those. All I know is that deals can be done at any time. The one time you probably don’t want to do an extension is during the playoffs. That’s probably the only time, but in season, you can do a deal at any time.”
It’s interesting to hear Dorion mention the agents putting timelines on things. I wonder if one of the agents involved here has put a timeline on it because their client doesn’t want to negotiate a contract during the season because they want to use it as negotiating leverage to get the ball moving.
On Cody Ceci and Mark Stone’s impending RFA status and whether any talks have commenced there…
“Yeah, those are… obviously right now, our priority is more on signing the UFAs, but over the course of the season… both of those players are eligible for salary arbitration, so if we can’t come to an understanding, they’ll both be with us and playing for us with whatever an arbitrator decides. Although, I do really enjoy going to arbitration.”
Revisionist history, but I wish the Senators locked up Stone to the kind of term the organization gave Turris when it came time to negotiate his first post-ELC deal.
On the Senators being $5-million below the cap ceiling and whether there is money available for him to spend right now or closer to the trade deadline…
“Well, we did that last year. (I told) Mr. Melnyk at the trade deadline that we could be more than a playoff team if we made a few moves and he was very supportive of that. He’s always telling me, ‘Pierre, you do what you have to do to make this hockey team as competitive as possible. At the same time, I’ve studied a lot of what other GMs have done from afar over my scouting career and being an assistant GM and sometimes you don’t throw money away. And I think every contract that we’ve done over the last few years have been pretty reasonable. I always tell players, ‘Don’t sign a contract unless you’re happy,’ and everyone that’s ever stepped into my office over the course of the last few years has always been happy to sign the contract. At the same time, we always have to be conscious about how we spend money, but if we feel we can take a step and we need to spend a few more million dollars, we will go ahead and do it.”
Going back to MacArthur for a second, if he cannot get medical clearance to play, that takes the Senators from the top half of the league payroll to the bottom-five status that fans have grown accustomed to over the past few seasons. It’s this little detail that makes me wary of MacArthur’s playing days.
On looking at the team on paper and whether he believes he could add to it before the start of the season…
“There’s always the possibility. There are no trades today. I think we’ll start with what we have right now. We might bring in a few PTOs, but at the present time, I think we’ll start with what we have. We have some blue chip prospects in Colin White… I feel Logan Brown is as good of a prospect as we have in Thomas Chabot. We owe it to those guys and we owe it to a guy like Nick Paul, Max McCormick or Chris DiDomenico to have a legit chance to start with our team. A month into the year? That might change obviously, but at this point in time, I feel very comfortable that the roster we have on paper is a playoff team.”
Again, Dorion’s never going to say anything negative about his club shortly before it breaks camp and starts the season. Maybe we can look back on this in a few months and wonder what the organization was thinking for showing preference towards its own safely projectable bottom-six depth players than look outside the organization for upgrades.
On if he had the opportunity to snap his fingers and improve one area of his team it would be…
“Can I say going between two games without an injury? I think I really am comfortable with our defence and I really am comfortable with our goaltending. I think if we could add one veteran forward that would be probably my wish. Just a little more depth. I like our top two lines and I like our bottom two lines, but you know through the season you’re going to run through injuries and we know we’ve got guys on the third or fourth line who can step up in shortened instances to maybe put on the second line. But, adding another veteran guy would be something that I’d be looking to do and I know my coach would be happy.”
If MacArthur gets medical clearance, the Senators already have 13 forwards in the mix and that’s before even thinking about including guys like Paul, McCormick or even a DiDomenico.
With Hoffman, Turris, Stone, Smith, Brassard, Ryan, Dzingel, Pageau, White, Burrows, Thompson and Pyatt already in the fold, I wonder whether this desire for another forward is simply another piece of evidence that the Senators already know MacArthur’s playing days are over.
On the other hand, Brassard may miss the start of the regular season and the organization may prefer having White play bigger minutes in Belleville rather than play sparingly with the big club.
Until we get further information on MacArthur’s health, it’s all speculation.
On whether there’s something about this team off the ice that might keep him awake at night…
“You know what, the one thing if I had one wish I would hope that Nicholle Anderson’s cancer never returns. If you ask me one thing, I think there’s more of a human side to sometimes some of us and if you told me that that would not return, not because of the hockey, hockey is secondary. I think more about life because you saw what that family had to go through last year and Craig’s got two kids. You don’t know. You never know. If there’s one thing that I think about sometimes, you hope that she has a healthy life for a long, long time.”
On whether there’s a part of him and the organization that revels in the fact that the Senators are an underdog type of team…
“I think some of our players do. I don’t get really bothered by predictions. I think we all have a job to do. We all try to build the best hockey team possible. Guy and his staff try to coach the best hockey team possible and the players try to play to the best of their ability. A lot of them did that last year and I’m more happy when the players are mad about it than me because media doesn’t bother me. You’re going to get criticized, you’re going to get questioned – that’s part of the job, especially when you’re a general manager in Canada. People question maybe the success we had last year, but I feel we’re just scratching the surface of what we can achieve. But at the same time, making the playoffs will be just as difficult as it was last year.”
People question the success because winning one-goal games hasn’t proven to be an easily repeatable statistic.
Despite the underlying metrics that put the Senators on the wrong side of the differentials, the one thing that they did really well last year was to take away the middle of the ice in the offensive zone.
The Senators may have given up a significant volume of shots, but most of the shots they allowed came from the perimeter.
Was this a function of Guy Boucher’s system or was it a fluke? Did the Senators simply have outlier success or was this some anomaly that may change this season if the Senators’ underlying metrics don’t improve?
They are important questions to ask because if the Senators regress like pundits think they will, it’s going to put a ton of pressure on the front office and coaching staff for failing to meet the expectations created by last season’s success.