Senators general manager Pierre Dorion appeared on TSN 1200’s ‘TGOR’ Monday morning as part of the organization’s annual preseason media tour.
The other day I took a look at his comments and those made by the Senators’ new COO, Nicolas Ruszkowski, during their appearance on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, which you can read here.
The format is straightforward. I’ve embedded the audio of the entire interview at the bottom of this post, but a full transcripton of Dorion’s comments can be read below.
As always, I’ve included my thoughts in bold.
On why Dorion failed to make appearances on the radio station last season…
“I think from our side of things, we knew that our season wasn’t going very well and we just felt that it was probably the right thing to not pile on with our lack of success. For that, I think, myself as a second-year GM, I learned a lot from it. I think you have to let your fans know what is going on through your head as a hockey operations group and we definitely learned from it. I can tell you whether it’s good or bad, I think we have a lot of passionate fans and we have to inform. We have to inform them of the route we are taking. I know this isn’t the popular choice as far as a rebuild, but at the same time, us being available – not on a daily basis but on a more frequent basis – is definitely something that we have to do.”
It’s interesting to hear Dorion speak on this point because at last spring’s town hall sessions, the organization made a concerted effort to blame the media for their portrayal of the news and the developments that occurred during the course of the season. Terry Marcotte, in particular, was singled out for breaking news the Senators were looking to leverage Karlsson’s availability in an effort to dump the remaining term and dollars left on Bobby Ryan’s contract.
The Senators finished with one of the worst records in the NHL last season, so it’s not really surprising for the team to receive criticism in the press or on social media– especially since a lot of the damage was self-inflicted.
As Mike Kelly illustrated in a piece today and a number of individuals have pointed out over the last two years, there have been a number of easily identifiable indicators illustrating that last year’s success and Eastern Conference Final appearance may have been a high water mark, but it wasn’t truly indicative of the team’s talent level.
This team painted itself into a corner by making easily avoidable mistakes that were principally driven by the owner’s desire to make the more competitive, sell more tickets and maximize the revenue streams.
Fans can absolutely get behind the premise of a rebuild, but I think where the struggle will be is the organization convincing fans that they have the wherewithal to actually build a sustainable winner.
It’s hard to ignore the nagging suspicion that the owner, who admitted that he cut the front office to the bone and threatened to do the same with the players if attendance didn’t improve, is onboard with a massive shift in philosophy simply because the team sees it as the path to contention. Maybe it’s more than coincidence that the team is cutting back payroll with an escalating cap, Melnyk’s designs of seeing things through to LeBreton’s redevelopment and a work stoppage possibly being around the corner. The concern is that this rebuild is simply a disguise for the organization to cut costs everywhere, lower the expectations of this fan base and allow Melnyk to bank as much revenue as he can.
On how hard it was to trade Erik Karlsson and why they did it…
“I thought we were going to talk about (Daniel) Carlsson, the kicker who missed the two field goals yesterday. You know what, these decisions aren’t taken lightly. We drafted Erik Karlsson as a 5’10”, 157 lb. defenceman a long time ago – over 10 years ago – and this was not a decision that was taken lightly. But for the benefit of our organization, it’s something that we felt we had to do in a rebuild.”
The idea of trading Erik Karlsson to help the rebuild makes sense if Karlsson was moved for a return that included some high-upside return that the organization could actually build around as a foundational piece. With six assets, the Senators acquired quantity, but they failed to acquire safely projectable upside. The two prospects they acquired are considered mid-tier prospects and the two draft picks they acquired are nice, but may not necessarily translate into the kind of high-end prospects that this organization desperately needs at a juncture where the team doesn’t own its 2019 first rounder.
Chris Tierney may be an alright depth player who can slide into the top-six now that Jean-Gabriel Pageau is out for the foreseeable future with an Achilles injury, but when the team is projected to be bad, who gets excited over adding depth players to the parent NHL roster?
DeMelo was an unrestricted free agent that the Senators could have signed for literally just money two months ago.
Maybe some fans want to see some assets that can play right away, but if they’re not of the high-upside variety, who really cares? It’s not like this team has struggled to draft or develop third liners or depth defencemen.
On whether this is a quantity over quality trade and whether there was ever an opportunity to get more quality…
“No, obviously we try to get quality pieces. We feel we’ve gotten the quality pieces in a guy like Chris Tierney, a guy like Josh Norris and hopefully down the road in a guy like Rudolfs Balcers. Also, we think the first rounder, whomever it might be in 2019 or 2020, will be a quality piece down the road. Obviously there have been names thrown around… when we tried to acquire Matt Duchene, we told them that there were five guys that were off the table. You can figure out who they are – Chabot, White, Brown, Batherson and Formenton. In their case, there really was one younger player off the table. I won’t say his name, but it was a non-starter for them. And when discussing with other teams, it was a similar case. A lot of teams had maybe one or two non-starters. For the fact, what was difficult is we gave permission to some teams to talk to Erik about a contract extension and at that point in time, Erik didn’t seem that he was interested in talking to a number of teams about a contract situation. It almost became that this was a rental type of deal with a possibility if they ever signed him that we got other pieces in the deal and that’s how he we tried to build this deal with a lot of teams.”
The assumption is that the player Dorion is referring to is Timo Meier. Considering the “character” questions that hampered Ryan Merkley’s draft value, there’s not a chance the Senators would consider bringing him into the fold.
It’s not a surprise to see Dorion throw the Karlsson camp under the bus for not helping the Senators out by agreeing to negotiate with interested teams. The Senators were never going to come out ahead in a hockey deal or in terms of the optics. By hanging the poor return on Karlsson’s unwillingness to negotiate, Dorion’s essentially trying to relieve the organization from blame. Fans will see through this.
On whether it bothers Dorion that there could be a lot of misinformation out there in regards to returns and how it could make him look bad if a rumoured return is not fetched…
“Without a doubt it’s frustrating because you know if ever a certain name would be put on the table, you wouldn’t hesitate to make a deal. There would be no doubt from our side of things, but the lack of sometimes credible information that’s put out there and that’s (the world) where we live in – the social media world that’s expanded from where it was two or three years ago to where it is now. It becomes frustrating because people say, ‘Well, you got to do this and do this,’ well obviously it’s not always the case. So it’s frustrating, but we feel we’re really happy with this return. Watching Chris Tierney yesterday make four or five great, underrated hockey sense plays… his chemistry two days ago with Stone and Tkachuk – first time playing together. The intention is for them to play as a line on Wednesday when we play the Leafs, but that could change as the game goes on, but we’re really happy with Chris Tierney in our future lineup for the next three years. We control… he’s got two years (left) on his contract and then an extra RFA year being a July 1st birthday. So we’re really happy with that return. We’re really happy with a guy like Josh Norris who was a big part of the World Junior team last year and a big part of Michigan. (He’s) a high character player and the way that the game is going, a great skater and a (guy with) a great shot. We’re happy that when he’s in our lineup, he’s someone who’s going to be able to help us win. We’re happy with the return on Ruldofs Balcers. He was their best prospect on their farm team. We feel that we got their best prospect outside the NHL as far as in the junior ranks or amateur ranks in Josh Norris and we feel we got their best prospect (off) their farm team. And at the same time, we feel we got two players that are going to help us win this year in Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo. And on top of that, you add a first and a second (round pick). We think San Jose is going to make the playoffs this year, but it’s a high second. If they miss the playoffs, it could be a (lottery) pick. So we’re happy with this return and if they sign (Karlsson), we get another pick. So all these pieces put together, we’re really happy with the return. Sometimes… it’s unfortunate that Josh Norris is not at his peak because then maybe fans would be more excited, but watch Josh Norris play for the World Junior team – for the American team – this year. Our scouts saw him in the summer and they felt he took a huge step. Not just a little step, but a huge step and whether he’s a second or third line guy or whether he’s a seventh forward or a fourth forward, we feel comfortable he’ll be a good player for us.”
The saddest part of the offseason isn’t that Erik Karlsson got traded, it’s that Dorion’s referencing a few subtle plays in training camp to play up Tierney’s value. Tierney’s a fine player, but in a rebuild, he’s exactly the kind of asset that the Senators should be looking to inflate his value and flip to maximize his value. Obviously with Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the shelf, the Senators will have the opportunity to play Tierney with some decent forwards and on special teams. With any good fortune, his offensive numbers will be boosted and management could procure more assets that could help the Senators’ rebuild efforts.
The Senators did not get a Norris Trophy winner in exchange for Erik Karlsson, but they did get a Norris.
Stop me if you have heard this before, but Josh Norris is just the latest in a laundry list of prospects that the Senators have who has two-way upside. Like a number of the Senators’ other forwards like Alex Formenton and Colin White, there are concerns that the offence may not play up at the highest level to allow him to play in a top-six role.
There’s nothing wrong with drafting or developing good third line players, but for the Senators’ rebuild to ultimately be successful and take a lot of the pressure off of management, the Senators will need to procure some elite prospects to build around.
On whether the team’s other impending UFAs will be moved out in the name of a rebuild…
“We’ve identified core veteran players that we’d like to keep as part of the rebuild. You just can’t put a bunch of kids in a rebuild or else it’ll be a total failure because a lot of the kids or good prospects can’t just be put in the lineup without a good surrounding cast. So obviously a lot of the pending UFAs, if you look at Stone, Duchene, Dzingel, Wideman or Paajarvi (?), whatever role they might be moving forward, of course we’d like to keep them. I think everyone knew that we had this big task that we had to do in trading Erik Karlsson, but at the same time, we know that we have to keep some veteran guys. We were close on a very long-term contract with Mark Stone. Very close and it didn’t turn out, but we knew that we had from January on until the end of the (season) to try and sign him and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
The pitfalls of a rebuild are more difficult under the current CBA. Not only do players test unrestricted earlier than ever before, players coming off entry-level contracts make more money faster than they ever have, meaning there is a lot of pressure on management groups to not only identify who they want to move forward with, but ensure that these players are supported properly with the right mix of players. Teams that overpay for past performance and intangibles or teams that misidentify core players are destined for problems.
For a team with limited resources like the Senators, it’s imperative that the team finds way to help mitigate these problems. No teams or executives have unblemished records, but the Senators simply have to do a better job of identifying and recognizing problems before they start. The impulsive tendencies of their owner have helped lead to personnel decisions that were easily identifiable and ignored all the inherent risks and because of it, management and ownership are complicit for putting this team in an unenviable position. But, rather than accept responsibility for it, the organization is placing the blame on the Karlsson contract negotiations at Erik’s doorstep.
Now without Karlsson in tow, it’s easy to look at the situations of Mark Stone and Matt Duchene and wonder why they would ever want to stay here under the current circumstances. After the bitter departures of likeable veterans like Karlsson and Turris, who have helped shine a light on how much influence ownership has on the hockey operations decisions, why would they want to stay?
On Mark Stone being wide open to the idea of signing a long-term extension…
“Mark Stone? Mark Stone is wide open to it. I’d rather you hear it from him than from me. I think that’s more accurate and fair. I’ll speak on behalf of the Ottawa Senators’ hockey operations (department) and we’ll let Mark Stone speak on his behalf.”
Keep in mind that management had encouraging words at this time last year about a contract extension for Kyle Turris. Now with Karlsson having moved on, it’s easy to wonder why Stone would want to stay if everyone with any high-end skill is headed out the door. By the time the team’s competitive again, Stone will be leaving his prime.
Obviously the one thing going for the Senators is that they may be able leverage the captaincy or the fact that this is the only organization that Stone has known, but it’ll be interesting to see how Stone sees his future now that Karlsson is in San Jose.
On while Stone cannot sign until January 1st, the Senators can negotiate terms of the contract with him before that…
“It’s a fine line. I’ve spoken to Bill Daly a few times on specific rules, but to the best of my knowledge, we can talk.”
You can talk, but you can’t publicly talk about the terms. That’s why this spring’s promise to present a contract offer to Karlsson on July 1st when others like Drew Doughty were having their deals leaked well in advance of that date was a farce – a bare-minimum effort designed to placate season ticket holders who simply wanted the Senators to make an offer.
On the concern from fans that the Ottawa Senators moved Karlsson, its future stars will eventually follow a similar path…
“Oh, without a doubt there’s a commitment for us to try and keep these star players here long-term. There’s no doubt that we know that we have to keep… and that was the plan in the rebuild – to try and keep the players that want to be here and that want to be a part of this. We could tell that in our negotiations with Erik Karlsson that that wasn’t going to happen with his case. And we hope that it can happen in the cases of other pending UFAs.”
Misconstruing Karlsson’s disinterest in enduring a rebuild when it seems quite obvious that it was linked to his refusal to continue playing for the Senators provided Eugene Melnyk continued to own it.
An anonymous quote by a former Senators player in Wayne Scanlan’s latest article for Sportsnet (congrats on the new gig!) illustrates this point.
One former Senator said privately, “there was zero chance Karl was going to sign here as long as Melnyk still owned the team.”
I totally understand Dorion for wanting to shift the conversation and the distort the facts in an effort to protect his boss, but I think the rumours and reports of Melnyk’s influence are so well recognized across all sects of the fan base – from staunch supporters to even the most casual of fans – that it’s hard to take Dorion’s comments seriously.
On whether these situations could resolve themselves sooner rather than later…
“Oh, I think everything takes a while. Contract negotiations all take a while as long as both parties are willing to negotiate, it will take a while.”
What’s interesting to me is that the Senators are willing to talk about how it will take a while to negotiate, but the same risks apply to all of Ottawa’s impending unrestricted free agents. An injury could ruin their respective season and ensure the team either gets a lesser return or no return at all depending on the severity of it.
On whether there’s concern that with each day that passes, players are one day closer to UFA…
“No, to me, it’s quite the opposite. It gives you until June 25th – when the interview period (when competitors are permitted to talk to free agents – that you have the ball in your court and you can do as much as you can to try and sign these players.”
So it’s a good thing to move Karlsson before he possibly suffers an injury, but when it comes to the other impending UFAs, going right up until next year’s free agency period is a good thing? Alright then.
On viewing Ryan Dzingel as a buy-low candidate and whether there’s the risk he could break out as a scorer and command more money…
“When you lead your team goal-scoring, you’re going to get paid too. So give credit where credit is too. If you want to phone Don Meehan today and use that angle in the negotiations, go ahead. (Laughing) I don’t think it will give us too much traction.”
Rebuilds may not be fun for fans, but if you’re interested in asset management and extracting value for players who may not necessarily be here in a year, spitballing ways to get the most of certain players makes for interesting rosterbation fodder. Should the Senators balance their lineup and create more depth through their lineup or should they stack their impending UFAs – Dzingel, Duchene and Stone – on the top line where they can hopefully tear it up?
On what he has seen from Brady Tkachuk on and off the ice…
“Well obviously the whole package is pretty spectacular. I think when you see someone that’s 6’3” and skates as well as Brady, has good hands, is so strong in his puck protection and he really snaps the puck. As we saw in the rookie tournament, he let one go from about the top of the circles and he hit the crossbar and the goalie didn’t even move. What’s so special about Brady are the intangibles and how he acts. He’s already a pro at 19 years old. He turned 19 yesterday and I said, ‘That goal was the greatest birthday gift you ever had,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ So he was pretty excited, but it’s everything that he does. It’s all how he handles himself. How he’s one of the first ones to the rink and how he prepares. Not many 19 year olds now prepare the way Brady Tkachuk prepares in their first training camp, so we’re excited to have him aboard. We’ve got to see what camp brings and hopefully he’ll start the season with us. There are going to be some bumps in the road with Brady, but I think when we make the long-term investment in him, I think we’ll see lots of dividends pay off as far as him helping us to win.”
Brady Tkachuk is unquestionably going to be a really popular player here in Ottawa, but the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his draft placement is that he will have his career contrasted not only with the prospects around him, but he will also have the Senators’ forfeited 2019 first round pick hanging over his head too.
On seeing the camaraderie that veterans already have with Brady Tkachuk and whether that was something he anticipated and identified as a difference-maker when it came to draft him…
“Yes, it was a difficult decision because there were a lot of good players, especially when you’re picking so close to the top of the draft. But, we just felt for what we needed to have as far as our culture, our leadership, the character and the accountability, getting a guy like Brady Tkachuk was only going to help that. And it was only going to help that if we could get him signed. We had long conversations with his family advisors at the time and there were some questions about if he was going to sign this year, but we felt after development camp that there was no doubt that he was ready to start his pro career and hopefully start it in the NHL. We just felt that it was the right decision for him. When a player is that mature as a person that when they’ll face adversity, they’ll be able to battle through it and that was one of the things that we told ourselves.”
This past weekend I attended 2018 Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference at Carleton University where on one of the panels, Boston University’s Katie Yates spoke about her experiences as the analytics consultant for their hockey program. When the floor was opened up for questions, I asked her about whether she believed Brady Tkachuk was ready for the NHL or whether his development would be best served by spending another year in school.
In her opinion as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time around the player and studying his game, she believed that he would be better served spending one more year at Boston University. Take that for what it’s worth and ultimately, maybe it’s inconsequential to his long-term projection as a player whether or not he spends a year there or not.
Obviously the failed development of a first round pick like Curtis Lazar will weigh heavily on the minds of Senators fans. There were question marks regarding his offensive upside and maybe extended development time in junior or the American Hockey League would have helped his puck-carrying abilities and confidence levels.
When a player’s upside is not reached, it’s easy to turn around and conclude that he should have spent more time marinating in the lower levels of the organization since no prospect ever has their development stalled by spending too much time in the minors. With that said however, it’s certainly reductive because it assumes that scouts and prognosticators never erred when it came to projecting his upside. Maybe Lazar simply lacked the inherent offensive skills to ever develop into more than a fourth line forward.
I think when it comes to Tkachuk, the puck-protection skills and playmaking skills are there to go with the outstanding intangibles, it’s just a matter of wondering how good of an offensive player he can be.
When it comes to Tkachuk’s development, maybe the Senators believe he’s poised enough and mature enough to handle the big stage, but my reservations simply stem from the fact that the Senators are in a situation where they may have to jettison their remaining stars because of their respective contract situations. Even right now with the Karlsson fallout still hanging over the organization, there’s still some palpable excitement because it’s a new season and there’s some freshness to seeing new prospects showcase themselves in camp and during the exhibition games, but what happens once the season starts and the losing and uncertainty affects the atmosphere surrounding the team. Is this the kind of thing that you want to expose your best young players to when there are certainly other developmental routes that Tkachuk can take – whether it’s in the American Hockey League or in the OHL with the London Knights.
On whether there was a guarantee of NHL games for Tkachuk to sign that contract…
“No. Everything has got to be here. They know that we’re going to do what’s best for him. I wouldn’t call them the Royal Family of USA Hockey, but they come from a pretty good family, so they’re pretty knowledgeable people with Keith, his mom Chantal and his brother Matt. They’re all pretty knowledgeable hockey people and they know that what we’re going to decide will be best for Brady.”
At the very least, my expectation is that Tkachuk gets into at least nine NHL games to start the season.
On hockey pundits predicting that this is going to be a lean year and how the organization balances exposing its young prospects with a losing or negative environment…
“Yes, that’s something that we always have to be careful of and we’ve talked about it about putting young prospects into the NHL when they are ready to contribute and when they are ready to have success. We kind of did it with Colin White last year. The coach wanted him up here and I kept telling Guy, ‘No, he’s got to play his 50 games or so in the American (Hockey) League, play on the first line, power play, penalty killing and handling the puck for his development.’ And we weren’t going anywhere last year and it’s going to be the same thing this year. We’re going to be very careful on how we insert our young kids and younger prospects into the lineup. It’s always got to be in a good situation. If we’re losing more than winning, but we still see some progression, a good team attitude and a good team vibe then it’s alright to have young kids there. But, if it’s the opposite situation where there’s a lot of negativity as you’re discussing, then we’re going to be very careful with how we do things.”
This is a great answer from Dorion, but with Tkachuk as one of the few marketable players on this team who should be around for the foreseeable future, I wonder if this is a factor that could affect the decision-making as well.
On whether Christian Jaros could push for a spot this season…
“That’s a good question because he’s been, of all the young defencemen in camp, he’s been the most impressive. Just the way he’s played and handled himself, moved the puck and had the head up, used his big body to contain, there hasn’t been many mistakes from Chris Jaros through the first three days of training camp. Obviously he played the one game at rookie camp, but that was more a message to the Colin Whites, Chlapik, Jaros and Wolanin that even though we have you in spots, nothing is given. But, when you respond that well with your play at a top level for three days in a row, it opens some eyes. Christian Jaros has really opened some eyes at this training camp.”
Injuries occur all the time and as a right-shooting defenceman, the loss of Karlsson means that the only person standing between Jaros and an extended opportunity to play is the newly acquired Dylan DeMelo. It’s unfortunate that injuries limited Jaros to 44 games in the AHL last season because that may give him greater standing in the organization’s eyes for being ready to contribute right away, but if DeMelo falters or either Wideman or Ceci get hurt, Jaros will be awaiting the recall.
On Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton and Logan Brown and what the expectations are for them…
“Well, I think Alex Formenton has really displayed his elite speed and he’s displayed a better finishing touch. He’s displayed better puck protection. Everything that he needed to improve, he’s shown. Just the way he’s scored some goals in camp, you’ve seen a maturity in his skill level. As far as puck protection, he can be the fastest guy on earth, but if you can’t protect the puck in tight spaces or open ice, you’re not going to be useful. So there’s definitely progression there and he’s gotten stronger. He’s made a big impression. Batherson’s skill level, we had an internal discussion who has the highest skill level in all of the players in camp and Drake Batherson’s name came up a lot. That tells you a lot about his ability, his hockey sense and his hands are top, top end. As far as Logan Brown, Logan probably had his best day yesterday. I know in the second half he played with Tkachuk and Stone and he showed good sequences, but he’s got to be more consistent. But, that’s okay, not everyone is going to be perfect through their first year as a real pro player. We’ll see what (it) brings with Logan through the exhibition games, but we’re really excited about all three. We know all three… I’ll go on the record and say we think that all three will be top-six forwards when they reach their maturity point. Now, it depends on the players when they reach it, but I think we feel comfortable in saying that statement.”
If the decision and willingness to stick to a lengthy rebuild is sincere, it’s going to take some time for the organization to accrue the elite talent it needs to take marked steps forward. With that said, even without their 2019 first round pick, the Senators have assembled a solid group of prospects that should complement the ones it will draft over next four years.
On using Chabot and Ceci to absorb some of Karlsson’s minutes and whether they are ready for a top pairing role…
“I think it’s a combination of two things. Obviously Thomas Chabot is going into his second year in the NHL on a full-time basis or close to it because he did play about a month in the minors last year. And with Cody Ceci, we have always felt that he’s ready to take a step as far as more ice time. Cody always has the toughest job (laughing) as far as anyone on our defence corps because he was always on the pair that played against the other team’s top lines for most of the games and that’s never a really rewarding thing. But, we’re big fans of Cody Ceci. (Laughing) I know he gets bashed, but I’ll say it on the record, in my 20-something years in the NHL, there’s not a player who’s played that plays with more pain or more injuries than Cody Ceci. You want him to be part of your team. You want him to (serve as an) example. He’s as great of a teammate as we’ve ever had on the Ottawa Senators, so we feel that those two players are ready to take a chunk (of the ice time). But at the same time, it’s going to be done more by committee. I think Chris Wideman and (Mark Borowiecki) can take on more minutes. We think (Dylan) De Melo is a solid third pair guy. Whatever the pairs are… Guy (Boucher) changed it three on me yesterday and he goes, ‘I’m thinking about this. I’m thinking about this.’ I said, ‘Guy, you’re the coach. I’m sure you’re going to make (the pairings good).’ We hope Ben Harpur can take a step forward. We hope what we saw from Christian Wolanin was just a good forecast of what we can expect if he makes the team this year. A guy like Christian Jaros we think is there or very close to being there, so it doesn’t need to be one guy takes all of Erik Karlsson’s ice time. I think we have enough depth that we feel comfortable that that can be spread out through the group on defence.”
Earlier in this piece I mentioned the kinds of discussions that management and the coaching staff should be having in regards to maximizing the returns it can get if certain players indicate that they are hesitant to sign contract extensions. With Cody Ceci, I’m always taken aback by the lengths that this front office is willing to go to defend the player.
Dorion is right when he says that Ceci frequently gets the toughest matchups, but throughout his career, even when he was getting insulated in bottom-pairing minutes, Ceci has never thrived or proven that his play warranted more and more responsibility. In a similar vein, it’s no secret that the partners that he’s had over the course of his Senators career have performed at a higher level when they are moved off his pairing.
The level of statistical evidence is overwhelming when it comes to ruling on Ceci’s overall worth, but even from an eye test perspective, his tools have never translated into results and his play and decision-making within the defensive zone have glaringly left something to be desired. Ceci may be a great guy and a fantastic teammate, but as frequent observer, I don’t believe he has the hockey IQ to ever thrive in the roles that the Senators have used him in. Without knowing what the market currently bears for a player like Ceci, the best value he might provide to the team this season could come in the form of a trade return.
And speaking of development, if the intent is to use Ceci with Chabot, that’s enough to make me concerned for Chabot’s growth and development. Chabot’s a talented player and maybe he can shoulder or mask some of the inefficiencies in Ceci’s game, but if he can’t and spends most of his shifts stuck defending within the Senators’ end, that will be a huge problem.
On where the team is in their search for an assistant general manager…
“Either today or tomorrow we’ll make the announcement. I think the ‘T’s’ were crossed and the ‘I’s’ were dotted as early as this morning.”
The Senators hired Peter MacTavish, who according to the official press release worked for CAA for the past 15 years and worked as a lawyer for Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP.
Why is that important?
Norton Rose Fulbright is a law firm that frequently had dealings with Biovail and Valeant. Two companies that Eugene Melnyk had ties to.
Maybe it’s nothing or maybe it’s something if you’re the kind of person who worries about the possibility of “yes-men” being placed in front office roles.
On what responsibilities the new assistant general manager have and how that will help him out…
“Well, having a good assistant GM is what every NHL GM dreams about. I think the position might change a bit. We’re looking for someone that can really help us with contracts. We’re looking for someone that has a good base of hockey knowledge. We’re looking at someone that really has some kind of hockey experience, but being a good negotiator will be something that we’re also looking at. There’s a lot on a GM’s plate.”
Without knowing if another AGM will be hired to help Dorion out on the hockey advisory side of things, the press release I referred to earlier outlined that MacTavish will principally be responsible for “contracts, salary arbitration and managerial support of hockey operations, both in Ottawa and with the Belleville Senators.”
On whether the new assistant GM is someone that will have previous assistant GM experience, scouting experience or NHL experience…
“Hockey experience and other lines of work experience.”
On why fans should trust management to rebuild the hockey team…
“I think people should trust us the more they see the rebuild plan going forward. Right now, we totally get it and trust me, no one gets it more than me. I’m from Ottawa. I love Ottawa. Yesterday I was the first one to face the music. I went out on the platform at the Canadian Tire Centre and anyone who wanted to talk to me, I went out there and shook their hands. For the most part, everyone was really nice and I had to explain a few things to people. At the same time, when you trade a player of Erik Karlsson’s calibre, people aren’t going to be happy. All we can tell you is that… alright, I’ll say (inaudible)… under Bryan Murray, I was very fortunate to do a lot of contract negotiations. As general manager, I’ve done a lot of contract negotiations. When there’s so little talk when you’re trying to negotiate with a player, you know that you’re not going to get a contract done. So we felt that it was the right thing to do after we offered him not a hometown discount contract. Trust me, it was as legit of a contract offer (as possible) that it was time to probably move Erik to have as successful a rebuild as possible. We didn’t want to take the chance of what happened to Jean-Gabriel Pageau on Thursday where he cut his Achilles heel and we would have got nothing for Erik Karlsson. This way, it helps us have the best and most successful rebuild possible. All we can tell our fans is that we have a plan in place. We’re going to follow it. We’re going to implement young kids and it’s going to be exciting hockey to watch. It’s not fun right now because we traded a superstar away, but we know that this was the right thing to do for the future organizational success. It’s not the most fun or the most popular thing to say, but I’ve got to be honest and it’s me because I’m the head of hockey operations and I presented this plan to Mr. Melnyk in February and we wanted to keep core veteran players around if they wanted to be part of the rebuild. Sometimes you can tell by some actions that some guys don’t want to be here and at the same time, it’s just… understand that we got tired of making the playoffs one year and not making the playoffs (the next). We want to be a Cup contending team. You know three years ago when we made the playoffs, it was the greatest run by any goaltender in the history of the game in Andrew Hammond. So if we don’t make that run, we’re not in the playoffs for the lockout, we make the playoffs in the year of the lockout and a year ago, so we just want to do things right and we want our fans to embrace it. It’s not easy to embrace. It’s not. At the same time, trust us that we know that we’re doing the right thing.”
Dorion’s comments towards the end resonate with me a little because it’s easy to look the Senators’ patterns over the past few years and realize how badly they bungled the 2011 rebuild. You don’t even need the benefit of revisionist history to recognize how easily avoidable many of the Senators’ mistakes were. Aside from the suspicion that the Senators could change course as quickly as they changed course following the Duchene trade, the problem that I have is that many of the team’s actions last season just don’t speak to a team that decided in February to rebuild.
On whether there was ever a counter from Karlsson’s camp after the team made a contract offer on July 1st…
“I want to be respectful through this process, but I can tell you from someone who’s done a lot of contracts, there was none or very little discussion.”
What I struggle with is that if the Senators decided to rebuild in February and were permitted to talk contract with Karlsson leading up to July 1st before they could their formal offer, why play up the fact that they would make an offer on July 1st? Surely, they would have had some kind of understanding of Karlsson’s intentions for wanting to stay or negotiate terms before then? And if Karlsson was that unwilling to talk terms, why wouldn’t the organization set its own drop date for negotiations before the trade deadline so that it could maximize the return by giving teams two prospective playoff runs and an extended window of negotiation to talk contract? To me, at its base level, everything just sounds like spin and this rebuild seems designed to lower expectations, explain the decision to cut payroll and put an uncertain timeline on when fans can expect this group to be competitive again.
On formulating and presenting the plan to rebuild and whether that ever included Erik Karlsson since the general manager promised fans that he would present him with a contract offer in July…
“The rebuild included core veteran pieces. If we made him an offer on July 1st — and not what’s being reported, I can assure you that – and then from there, when you don’t hear back from there, you knew it was the right thing to do. You knew that we couldn’t be in a situation where another superstar walked away from his team and they got nothing. We weren’t going to do that if we were in a rebuild. I know it’s not the most popular thing to say, but you always know and I’ll speak on that personally. I’ve done so many contract negotiations over the last five years that you know when you’re going to get to somewhere. We weren’t going to get anywhere here.”
And if the way this owner and organization operates continues, the fear is that they won’t get anywhere in the future either.