The 2020 NHL Draft is just weeks away, but ironically, the Ottawa Senators have refrained from dealing with the local media directly to promote their brand or the direction that a franchise has a chance to go in.
That’s not to say that excitement within the fan base isn’t palpable.
It just seems like the organization is doing as little as possible to spur more interest in their young core, the next wave of prospects or the rebrand that is set to be unveiled on October 6th in conjunction with the 2020 NHL Draft.
Irrespective of how much the organization believes the media has unfairly contributed to its maligned reputation and negative public perception, there needs to be acknowledgment of the self-inflicted harm this organization has done.
Not allowing employees to appear on the broadcast partner’s networks or dragging the feet on features like Anthony Duclair’s Hockey Diversity Alliance does nobody any favours.
There is a broad spectrum of hockey fans in this market and not everyone is going to support the organization unconditionally.
Ignoring media responsibilities is cutting off your nose to spite your face and it disenfranchises a lot of fans. Looking at the attendance figures, this may be a Canadian hockey market, but you cannot just assume that winning is going to be cure-all solution.
It didn’t work with the team’s 2017 Conference Final appearance and it is going to take some recognition that the problems run deeper than the figures that appear in the win and loss columns.
So here’s hoping general manager Pierre Dorion’s media appearances become more frequent because for the first time since June 26th, the Senators’ general manager held a media availability at 11 am yesterday and followed it up with an appearance on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’.
If you’re unfamiliar with the format of these posts, it’s pretty simple. I’ve transcribed Dorion’s two interviews below and have included my own thoughts after his comments.
If you want to listen to the two interviews, the audio is embedded within this article.
As always, my thoughts are highlighted in bold.
General Media Availability
On what the Senators’ strategy is with an abundance of picks and whether that opens the door to the possibility of a trade or two…
“Well obviously, we’re going to look at every possible scenario. There’s a lot of chatter going on right now amongst GMs. A lot of teams are building competitive teams through next year, as we are trying to do. We will look at possible trades with picks if it makes sense, but it has to make sense for us. It has to make sense in what we’re trying to do as far as our rebuild, our plan and not try to jump steps that will make us a better team in the long-term.”
Highlighting due diligence and exhausting “every possible scenario” is going to be a recurring pattern throughout these interviews.
On whether the Senators would look at need or best player available with the fifth overall pick…
“We’re going to draft the best player that is going to help us win as we move forward through this plan. We’re going to draft a player that… we have a lot of needs. We’ve finished in 30th, 31st and 30th place over the last few years so we have a lot of needs. We have a lot of prospects coming at multiple positions, but we are going to draft who we feel is going to help us win in the near future and in the long-term.”
Looking at failed rebuilds across the league over the past number of years, one of the biggest shortcomings for teams like the Sabres is that many of them have struggled to efficiently supplement their elite talent. Thanks to poor drafting and player development, the Sabres injected elite talent like Jack Eichel onto the roster without having good depth through its prospect system.
In Ottawa, that hopefully won’t be the case. The Athletic recently ran an organizational ranking feature detailing which teams had the best collection of 22 and under talent on the roster and within its farm system. Before the 2020 NHL Draft in which the Senators have two top-five selections and nine picks in the first three rounds, the organization was ranked eighth by Corey Pronman.
The Senators have depth at every position, but it is easy to make the argument that the team lacks safely projectable high-end talent in most of these positions.
With the third and fifth overall picks, that will obviously change.
I know some pundits have explained the rationale for possibly rolling the dice on the goaltender Yaroslav Askarov who is torching the KHL to start the season, but for me, this idea is too risky.
The goaltending position is historically volatile and there’s no certainty that Askarov will fulfill his upside or have that upside be significant enough to be markedly better than his relative peers who would otherwise fill Ottawa’s position.
In a league where it is easy to fill the goaltending position in a much easier and less expensive fashion (in terms of the opportunity cost wasted here), I would prefer to see the organization use their top-two picks to draft some high-end forwards while using their first-round pick and assortment of second rounders to address the blue line while hoping that one of their goaltending prospects at the professional takes a step forward and demonstrates that they can play at a number one starter’s level.
Perhaps most importantly, that Seattle expansion draft is not that far away and with it, the Senators should be provided with an opportunity to move an asset for a goaltender that an organization simply does not have room to protect.
My advice for Pierre Dorion is to be patient when it comes to looking to address the goaltending position.
On an update on Anders Nilsson’s health…
“We’ve talked. Pierre Groulx has been in weekly discussion with Anders. I’ve talked with his agent Claude Lemieux. We think Anders will be ready to start when the season starts. He has not been on the ice, but he feels better. Once we get him to Ottawa here, we’ll have a better indication on his recovery and his path. Right now, he would probably be the only player who I would still (consider) injured.”
The lack of progress with Nilsson is concerning because when Dorion last appeared on TSN 1200 in May, he indicated that the Swedish goaltender was recovering well.
“Yes, there is actually. He’s feeling great, exercising, working out. He’s in Sweden. He just needs to get back out on the ice. Once he gets back on the ice and starts stopping pucks, he’ll be back to 100-percent.” ~ Dorion on TSN 1200, May 29th, 2020.
That was five months ago.
Obviously there has to be some kind of contingency plan in place to add a veteran netminder if Nilsson’s health doesn’t improve, but hopefully this does not fuel more of the rumours that the Senators have interest in Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray.
On reports that Jake Sanderson could be paired with Jacob Bernard-Docker at North Dakota this season and whether that would make him more appealing as a draft eligible…
“Obviously, we’re very well aware of who’s being paired with what, especially when it comes to our prospects. Jake Sanderson is one of the better defencemen in this draft and there are a lot of very good defencemen at the top of this draft. He’s someone that we’ve interviewed along with a lot of other defencemen. We have a good feel for them and we’ve seen them play a lot. Wherever he may fall in the draft, we know that he is going to be a good NHL player down the road.”
It was a solid humblebrag about player utilization, but unfortunately Dorion talked around the question without ever answering whether it makes Sanderson more attractive for the Senators at the fifth position. If I had to read into his answer alone, I’m guessing the Senators go elsewhere with this pick – especially when projecting Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom and possibly even Christian Wolanin as occupying left defence roles for the foreseeable future. (Note: I know Brannstrom prefers his off-side, but management and the coaching staff seem to prefer him on his natural side.)
On the amount of trade chatter and whether teams are more engaged as they are eliminated from the postseason…
“We got calls as soon as GMs left the bubble. The next day after certain teams that had lost, you could tell that they weren’t very happy about losing, so there’s been lots of chatter. Obviously, we haven’t done anything so far or there’s nothing right now that has been worth it, but as we move along, we are always looking at our options. We want to make sure that we follow a plan, that we don’t take any shortcuts, don’t jump steps that we shouldn’t be jumping to make sure that we have long-term success here and that’s the first and foremost. At the same time, we have to make sure that when we bring our younger players into the lineup that they are well-surrounded. And whether that’s via trade or free agency, we will make sure to do that once the season starts.”
Using a team’s emotional response to a small sample size and a truly bizarre and unique set of circumstances is something that seems like the Senators should be able to take advantage of.
My hope here is that the Senators don’t waste coveted assets on good but not great players who simply won’t move the needle much.
On what will the setup be for the draft and whether he can provide an update on Craig Anderson’s status…
“Unfortunately, this will be the first time that I can remember in my over 25 years in the NHL that all our scouts won’t be there. And that’s unfortunate because our scouts have put in countless hours. We are as well-prepared for any draft that I’ve ever been a part of. Kudos goes to our scouting staff led by Trent Mann. We have a lot of picks, but we are as well-prepared as we can be. Unfortunately, our European-based scouts won’t be part of it. Our U.S.-based scouts, and it pains me to say this, not having a guy like Bob Janecyk be here in Ottawa really, I think, hurts me because he’s such a big part of our scouting staff. And at the same time, it’s only going to be the Canadian-based scouts here. What’s good here is that Trent Mann lives in the Maritimes and he’s going to be the one running the draft and I know we’re going to make a lot of good picks because of the work that our scouting staff has put in. We had extra months to prepare for this draft and what’s impressed me so much are the extra hours that our scouts have put in to prepare for this. Because we had a bit more time, earlier on I was fortunate enough to be part of a lot of these discussions and these guys are very thorough.”
I’m jumping in here. Logistically, it would be fascinating to see how the Senators are going to run their draft board knowing that key individuals will not be present in-person at the table.
The organization already has exhibited a preference selecting North American players or Europeans who either already play in North America or Sweden. Will the circumstances affecting the presence of certain scouts at the table help continue that trend?
In theory, the volume of draft picks should afford the Senators the flexibility to roll the dice on some riskier high-upside plays from outside North America, but that doesn’t really fit the team’s modus operandi. Besides the excitement of seeing who the team selects at three and five, this is one of the things I’m most looking forward to watching unfold.
“As far as Craig Anderson, not that I really want to get into the specifics with players in our organization, but we’ve let Craig know that we will not be offering him a contract. Craig should be given so much credit. It was one of the best trades that Bryan Murray ever made. He is the winningest goalie in this organization. I’ll go on the record and say he’s the most performing goalie in this organization. He’s the best goalie we’ve ever had, but it’s time for us to take another direction and we thank him for everything he did. When we made that Conference Final run a few years ago, everyone knows that Craig was probably our MVP and unfortunately that (Chris) Kunitz goal but… it was unfortunate that we were never able to win a Cup with Craig, but Craig did many wonderful things for this organization.”
Craig Anderson leaves the Senators as the franchise leader in appearances (435) and wins. He unquestionably was the goaltender with the best career as an Ottawa Senator, but the greatest stretch of goaltending that Ottawa has ever seen at the position was Dominik Hasek’s 43 games in 2006.
As far as being the team’s MVP during the 2017 Conference Final run, that honour belongs to Erik Karlsson.
Scott Wheeler highlighted this important detail in a recent piece for The Athletic:
“When Karlsson was on the ice at 5-on-5 in those playoffs, the Senators outscored their opponents 23-11. Those 23 goals for were three more than any other player in the playoffs, even though he didn’t play in the final round. Among those 23 goals, Karlsson contributed directly to 13 of them, effectively out-producing the opposition.
When he was off the ice, the Senators were outscored 25-12 by their opponents. And when it was over, so too was the illusion of success he’d single-handedly created for his team.”
On updating the situation with the rest of Ottawa’s UFAs (Hainsey, Sabourin, Borowiecki, and Peca)…
“I don’t really want to get into specifics of conversations with those players. I think on Mark Borowiecki, we’ve seen that Mark looks like he’s going to test free agent waters. Mark has been a great member of this team for many years. If he’s going to go to the free agent market, we thank him for everything that he’s done. I don’t think you’ll ever meet a better person than Mark Borowiecki. He’s someone who has great values. He’s a great human being, but at the same time, we have to respect the player’s wish. If he wants to go to free agency, we have to look at it through the negotiations with his agent, Steve Bartlett – who’s a quality human being also. We probably saw that we didn’t want to see the same things. We have a lot of good defencemen coming up, so we wish Mark the best success. We are still talking with all of the other three agents for the three other guys.”
Dorion’s interestingly portraying Borowiecki’s departure as a function of the defenceman’s desire to test free agency.
I don’t expect the general manager to acknowledge that the disrespect and mistruths the organization shared in the New Year regarding Borowiecki’s future played a contributing role, but enough people should be able to read between the lines and recognize that a player who bent over backwards for this organization felt slighted.
On whether there is any progress with Anthony Duclair or the other RFAs in contract negotiations…
“I’m just going to be general with the RFAs. We’re talking with agents and talks have picked up in the last few weeks and I think we’re just going to leave it at that. As you guys know, I don’t negotiate through the media, but we’re having productive conversations.”
Between Connor Brown and the aforementioned Duclair, these two impending RFAs have the potential to be problematic. Both are good, but not great players that the organization could overcommit to in both term and money.
On draft eligible prospects playing in games in Europe already and whether their performances can affect their draft rankings…
“Well, we’d be foolish not to have our scouts attend those games. Both Mikko Ruutu and Anders Osberg have been attending games of these players. They’re very well aware of them. Sometimes it just solidifies the points where you had them on your list. Nothing has changed for us with the reviewings, but at the same time, we wouldn’t be doing our job and gathering as much information as possible because players do change over the course of a summer. And for us, it’s just bonus coverage and we’re fortunate to have viewings of these players.”
The biggest piece of information here is that these games have not changed the Senators’ draft board. Recency bias could play a role, but the Senators have to recognize that these players have benefited from strong offseasons while others who have not been afforded the opportunity to play right away in North America have not been extended the same luxury.
On how challenging it has been to finalize the draft board and whether the draft board is finalized…
“Our draft board is pretty much finalized. We’re going to have meetings with our scouts through Zoom the weekend previous to the draft which will be on Tuesday, if I’m not mistaken – the first round. As far as… all 31 teams faced the same challenges. I think for us, this year, we were fortunate enough that instead of having 15 minutes with the players at the combines, we were able to have, even some of them, we had multiple hours with them through Zoom. We aren’t allowed to meet players in person, which is something that I know a lot of GMs picking at the top of the draft would have wished for. But, we have to respect the process. The biggest hurdle for all 31 teams is there hasn’t been a physical combine where you get to test a player’s physical strength, but all 31 teams faced that challenge. I think it penalizes us a bit more because we have 13 picks and nine picks in the first three rounds, but it’s the way the world is right now. We understand it and we respect it, but we’re going to do our best job with all the information that we were able to gather.”
Is the absence of an NHL combine really that much of a disadvantage?
I give you, exhibit A:
I'll go you one better – there's an NHL team who passed on him at that draft because his force plate results at the combine were bad. Felt he would never be an elite athlete. https://t.co/VQDCdCUOik
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) September 8, 2020
On how busy he anticipates being on the free agent market and whether the Borowiecki and Anderson departures create a certain need…
“I think you have to… first and foremost, we’re going to look internally at what we have. If a free agent does make sense, we are going to look at that possibility. Obviously, there is no discussion with this year as compared to previous years, so we will be well-prepared. We’ll have our pro scouts in at about the same time as our amateur scouts come in before the draft. We’ll have meetings about free agents. The coaching staff, DJ (Smith), Peter (MacTavish) and myself, we’ve looked at a lot of videos on a lot of possible free agents because I always believe that a coach should be involved in this process because he’s going to play those players. We’ve been doing that for the last week or so, looking at… I don’t know how many guys we’ve looked at, but we’ll be well-prepared on top of having our pro scouting staff doing an unbelievable job of identifying players that would fit in well with us. So, we’ll be prepared for every scenario if we are going to go down that route, but we’re not one of the teams that is going to derive from our plan and do a signing that would probably shock people. We’re going to give chances internally to some of our younger players that have performed so well in Belleville this year. Having one of the youngest teams, having one of the highest-scoring teams and having one of the pretty sound defensive teams, I think there are players down there that will have a chance to play for the Ottawa Senators when the 2020-21 season starts.”
It is reassuring to hear that the wealth of young prospects in Belleville who are on the cusp of being NHL regulars will be given the first opportunity to play, but it’s hard to ignore the shaking feeling that the Senators conveniently went into a rebuild to cut costs.
On whether the Senators need to add a veteran presence…
“I think we always need to add the right veterans for our younger players. But, we’re not going to go with a team of all young players. I think we’re going to look at adding a few veterans that will solidify the progress of our young players.”
I would not be surprised to see the Senators try and repeat their 2019 offseason that targeted high character veteran placeholders like Tyler Ennis and Ron Hainsey. If the Senators can continue to sign similar players to one-year deals and flip them at the deadline to boost their stockpile of assets, that would be ideal.
On Anderson leaving and the evaluation of the goaltending prospects within the system and whether they are ready to play at the NHL level…
“We feel that we have depth and quality at the goaltending position. First and foremost, Joey Daccord. We had a plan for him last year. We wanted him to spend half the year in the East Coast (Hockey) League and then come to the American (Hockey) League. His numbers and his play, we went from a fourth-place team to a first-place team with Joey Daccord in our net. We feel that he is a very talented goalie. Filip Gustavsson was a highly touted prospect. He’s had ups and downs in the minors, but we feel that he’s a goalie that has high upside. We have Kevin Mandolese that was the goaltender of the year in the (QMJHL) and really came on. I’d argue that there wasn’t a better goalie in junior in the second half of the season. And last year we took Mads Sogaard — who will probably be returning to junior this year — who’s a big 6’7” raw goalie. When you’re 6’7” and you have the skating ability or lateral ability of a Mads Sogaard and can cover as much net… he’s a bit raw, but we feel that we have four quality goaltending prospects coming up through our ranks. Three of them will most likely play pro hockey this year and one of them will be back in junior.”
The Senators are rich in depth, but the attrition rate for goaltending prospects is quite high. Understanding that, the organization has smartly avoided placing all their eggs in one basket. Although these goaltenders may not have garnered the unbridled adulation of some prospect prognosticators, most of the Senators’ goaltenders should safely project to play NHL games. With any luck, one will hopefully pan into something more.
On the moves that will need to be made in the coming weeks and how many of them will be made with a mind on the upcoming Seattle expansion draft…
“Ever since Seattle was awarded a franchise, every move you make you always think in… not that you’re doing these specific moves for expansion, but you’re doing trades, player transactions, drafting picks – all these things you’re doing for the betterment of your team. But at the same time, we’ve been looking at who we’ll have to expose, who we would to protect, all of these things we’ve been looking at for the last two years. So we’ll be well prepared when the expansion draft happens after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.”
Looking ahead to the 2021 expansion draft, the safe bet is for the Senators to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goaltender. That means that Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Christian Wolanin, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Colin White and impending UFAs Connor Brown and Anthony Duclair (assuming the Senators do not move either player) are likely to be protected leaving room for one other forward and one other defenceman to be protected.
Barring some free agent signings or trades, that leaves the last forward spot to one of Vitaly Abramov, Rudolfs Balcers or Chris Tierney while one of Nikita Zaitsev, Maxime Lajoie or Christian Jaros is eligible as the last defenceman to be protected.
On the goaltending front, the Senators will have to make a decision on Marcus Hogberg, Joey Daccord or Filip Gustavsson, but of the three, Daccord appears to have the most safely projectable upside.
On the implications of the flat cap…
“Well, obviously we know that the landscape has changed and unfortunately, the landscape has changed. For us, whether it’s a flat cap or the new trends or where the new contracts are headed, we’re well prepared for that. Not much changes. We know what we have to do. We know where our team is headed. We’re headed for long-term success and every contract that we’ll do is for us to get better and have a competitive team next year and that’s our goal.”
The most important consequence of the flat cap for the Senators is what kind of avenues it opens for the Senators to acquire contract dumps in exchange for some young assets that can complement the team’s young core or be used in a separate trade later.
By using their valuable cap space to acquire bad money and future assets, it would afford the organization the flexibility to make deals to move up in this year’s draft or use their wealth of assets to acquire some higher calibre players who will fit with the Senators’ competitive window.
On maintaining relationships with the players during the pandemic and anticipating whether there is any opportunity for a development camp or bring guys the organization drafts in…
“Obviously, the seven teams that haven’t played when the bubble started and the season resumed, we’ve had discussions with the NHLPA of a possible earlier camp and those discussions are still ongoing and we’re kept up to date by Bill Daly who is doing a great job with that. At the same time, as far as development camp, we’ll find out once the league decides what the exact protocol will be. Obviously, if the junior leagues are going on, we probably wouldn’t bring in a later round pick. We’d just let him progress in junior or Europe, so we wouldn’t take him away from his team and his development. If there was some kind of development camp, we’d probably try and tie it in with a training camp, so you wouldn’t have a development camp of five players. At the same time, you have to think about your college players. They’re in school contrary to when you have your usual development camp during the summer. You don’t want to take them away from two weeks of school if it’s going to hurt their schooling. You always have to think big picture here and how we can make sure that players don’t miss important time during their development but at the same time, bring them here.”
It sounds like there won’t be an opportunity for a development camp, which is unfortunate because it would afford the organization more time to determine whether some of this year’s draft class will be able to contribute right away or would benefit more from another season in junior or overseas.
On the possibility that some RFAs may not be qualified…
“No, I don’t think I’m going to go down that route. We’re in discussion with all of the free agents and we’ll see what course of action we’re going to take with them. At the proper time, if we do not qualify someone, we will make sure to advise everyone after we advise the player.”
I wrote about this earlier in the week, but my assumption is that the Senators will elect not to qualify Andreas Englund to give more development time to players like Erik Brannstrom, Olle Alsing, Jonathan Aspirot and Maxime Lajoie.
Dorion’s Appearance on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’
On a few words about Craig Anderson after he acknowledged that the veteran goaltender would not be tendered a contract this offseason…
“Let’s start off as a human being, everything that he and Nicholle had to go through and how they battled through it. I remember after we beat Boston that year, seeing Nicholle and seeing the look on Craig’s face when we were in the stands just talking the three of us, it’s something that I’ll probably never forget. It probably will be a chapter in my book. All the perseverance that he had to go through. I remember having to speak about Nicholle in Edmonton and addressing the media and we’re in the business of hockey, but we forget we’re more importantly in the business of life. But, Craig as a human being, him and his family, we wish them the best. Craig is definitely the best goaltender this organization has ever had. The proof is in the pudding with all the wins, how many games he kept us in when we had breakdowns, his level of compete, his level of play and we definitely wish him the best. He’s someone that really marked this franchise in a very positive manner.”
Anderson should easily be recognized as having the best Senators career amongst the goaltenders to ever play for this franchise.
It’s not a knock on Anderson that Ottawa’s goaltending isn’t that rich.
Anderson played parts of 10 seasons with the Senators, which is double the amount of seasons that the next closest goaltender has played. Ray Emery, Patrick Lalime and Robin Lehner each played five seasons with the organization.
Although Lalime’s playoff statistics are often cited as some of the most impressive in Senators history, they occurred in the dead puck era on a stacked team and Anderson’s numbers are almost on par.
Anderson also provided one of the greatest feel-good moments in franchise history occurred almost four years ago on October 31, 2016.
Following the announcement of his wife Nicholle’s cancer diagnosis, an injury to the Senators’ goaltending position put the player in a situation in which his wife encouraged him to return to the team.
In his first game back, Anderson posted a remarkable 37-save shutout in Edmonton and was recognized as the game’s first star drawing cheers from the Oilers faithful.
It was an unforgettable moment in what became a special season for the Senators that culminated with an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Final that Anderson played a large part in.
On whether he would like to see Craig Anderson be honoured at some point down the road for his career in Ottawa…
“I think we’ll have to look at that eventually. I don’t think today is the day to discuss these things. I think we have more pressing things as far as the draft and everything upcoming, but there should be a way that we should honour Craig.”
The Senators have not used their ‘Ring of Honour’ for anyone since Bryan Murray was inducted to it. The Ring would best be used to honour the contributions of founders like Cyril Leeder, Bruce Firestone, Randy Sexton or players who weren’t great enough to have their number retired. For me, Anderson would be a perfect candidate to honoured.
On Anders Nilsson’s uncertain status and whether his lasting concussion recovery could affect the organization’s offseason plans…
“I think you have to be prepared for every scenario. Obviously, Pierre Groulx is in constant contact with him. I’ve talked with the agent. We haven’t seen the player since the end of the season, so it’s difficult to attest to the situation. We think he will be ready when the season starts, but at the same time, we don’t know until we spend time with him. That is something that we’ll have to look into and the reports get better on a weekly basis, but until we spend time with him, I think it’s a bit up in the air.”
This is problematic for obvious reasons.
First and foremost, you never want to see someone struggle in their recovery from a brain injury. Secondly, if Nilsson cannot return, the Senators will likely have to jump into the goaltending market to land a veteran goaltender to take the burden off Marcus Hogberg or potentially some of the Senators’ other young goaltenders. Under such circumstances, the hope is that the Senators do not overpay in assets for a stopgap option. Finally, if the Senators address the goaltending position and Nilsson eventually returns to health, it could congest the position further and force the Senators to deal with a surplus of goaltenders later on.
On whether the Nilsson uncertainty could force the organization to find a veteran option or look in-house alternative like Joey Daccord…
“Well, obviously Joey Daccord had a great season in Belleville and part of the plan was to start him in the East Coast (Hockey) League so he would get as many starts in pro hockey and then he moved up to Belleville where I would dare to say that he was amongst the key pieces of why we were in first place and the team that we were. But at the same time, there’s a plan for everyone. We don’t want to burn a player, especially a goalie, and rush him too quick, but at the same time, if he’s earned it, we’ll definitely have to look at him. So, I think we’re going to look at all options on this front and see what’s best for the team and the goalies themselves.”
The Senators appear to be high on Joey Daccord, but letting a prospect back up Hogberg and risk getting overwhelmed at the highest level is not really consistent with what the organization has done previously. The Senators need to let Daccord, Gustavsson and Mandolese play as many games as they can and Daccord may be best served doing that for another year in Belleville.
On how active the trade chatter is at this time…
“It’s probably been the most busy I’ve been in my tenure as GM. It’s long hours, but it’s something that we all enjoy here with everything going on at the present time. We’re watching video, we’re getting ready for the draft, we’re having mock drafts, there’s discussions with agents on potential RFAs and potential UFAs… it just doesn’t stop. It’s been tremendous long hours, but I wanted to make sure to give you guys a good 15 or 20 minutes to update you on how busy we’ve been.”
Considering the Senators have one of the smallest front offices in the league, the amount of work that Dorion and his inner circle must do is probably double what some of his peers are responsible for.
On using some cap space to gain assets from other teams…
“We’re going to look at everything. I think it’s our duty as we’re rebuilding and looking at the plan to make sure that if we can make this team better that we will look at it. Cap space is something that is very useful and if we can make this team better by using our cap space, we’ll definitely look at it. But, I think the time is now to start taking the next step as a team.”
According to CapFriendly.com, the Senators have 28 skaters signed for a projected cap hit of $41.9 million leaving the team with approximately $39.6 million in projected cap space. This cap space with the flat salary cap ceiling affords the organization the opportunity to take advantage of the big market clubs who are pressed against the cap ceiling and may be willing to part with young assets to free up cap space and help preserve their window of competitiveness.
For years the organization has talked about using their cap space to do this, but to this end, they have yet to leverage their cap situation.
It’s time for the organization to put its money where its mouth is.
On whether the pandemic affects the team’s negotiations with players like Brady Tkachuk…
“I think the landscape of the NHL is changing and has been changing. I think we have to conduct our business in a very responsible manner. We know the world has changed. We understand that Brady is a very important piece in our future and in our future success and our run to a Stanley Cup. We know he’s under contract for a year, but at the same time, we know that we have that year to negotiate a contract with him.”
The pandemic may help curb inflation across the league, but whether it will a huge impact on contract values across the league so quickly remains to be seen.
The most interesting factor in the whole situation is that Brady’s brother Matthew only signed a three-year contract extension (three years, $21 million) after his entry-level deal expired.
With a ton of cap space and very few bad contracts on the books, the Senators obviously have the space and a willingness to make a long-term deal from their end. If Tkachuk’s camp balks and insists on bridge deals that brings him to unrestricted free agency in 2025, that may speak more about the player’s willingness to commit to this organization given all that has gone on in the two short years that he has been here.
On adding a veteran presence and whether the organization has a preference for a more talented option that can grow with the young core or veteran depth that can fill out the bottom of a lineup…
“It depends. It always depends on who you bring in and what role they’ll be. You’ve got to make sure at the same time that the young players are progressing and their ice time is not taken away. But, they also have to earn that ice time. Is it a veteran for one year, two years, three years? Where will they fit into the plan? Where will they fit accepting their role? Is it someone that, in the first year, is it someone that will play a certain amount of minutes and then his minutes diminish because the young players are taking over? These are all things that we always look at. When we started this rebuild and we had the five-year plan, this was something that we always planned for. Certain veterans were going to come in and have a bigger role when they come in at the start and then their roles will diminish as they go in. But, it’s always making sure that we get quality human beings.”
Somewhere outside the village of Carp, Mark Borowiecki is lighting up a cigarette.
On having a number of picks in this year’s draft and having a lot of flexibility to do things at the 2020 NHL Draft…
“For sure and a lot of GMs are envious and saying they wish they were in the spot that the Ottawa Senators are in when it comes to October 6th and 7th. It was our plan all along knowing that this was a deep draft. Now will we pick nine players in the first three rounds? I will probably say we’re more on the ‘no’ side of things more than the ‘yes’ side of things. At the same time, we’re only going to make trades and player acquisitions that make sense for us. Right now, I’m a very popular guy amongst the circle of GMs because a lot of scouts are telling them how deep this draft is. But at the same time, the nine players that we take won’t play for us in the next two years in the first three rounds. Some will take a bit longer than others and we never feel that we’re an organization that is going to rush players and put them in the lineup when they’re not ready to have success. It doesn’t do them any good and it doesn’t do us any good. But at the same time, with the depth of this trade, that’s what we’re so excited about. It’s so deep that it’s not just about three and five. It’s having nine picks in the first 70. With Arizona not having a pick at 49, I think we have nine picks in the first 70 in this draft. I can tell you one thing, with Trent Mann and our group of scouts, we’re really well-prepared for this draft and that’s the thing that probably excites me the most. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of scouts as well-prepared for a draft compared to the work that they’ve done this year.”
The Senators have a ton of picks, but if I had to wager, I’d say they leverage their surplus to try and move up in the draft with their Islanders pick or some of their second rounders.
What the Logan Brown and Mads Sogaard trades have shown is Dorion’s willingness to listen to his scouts and move assets to get the prospect that they need to have.
What I don’t really understand is this perception that the Senators have too many picks and simply do not have room for all of them.
Looking at the situation in Belleville, the Senators have a number of prospects in Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Erik Brannstrom who are on the cusp or will likely become NHL regulars this season. Although prospects like Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker will likely turn pro once their season ends in 2021, a small market organization like the Senators needs to keep the pipeline stocked to ensure that the prospect development is staggered to ensure that there is always cheap and inexpensive talent replacing the veterans who price themselves out of this market.
On the youth in Belleville and whether there have been efforts to find them temporary places to play in Europe before the start of the NHL’s 2020-21 season…
“We always want our younger players playing as much as possible, but it has to be the right fit. There are some as Lassi Thomson, Vitaly Abramov and Andreas Englund that are playing right now. I think a few more in the coming weeks might play and then we’ll see what comes about it, but I think it has to be the right fit. A player playing a limited role or just going there to buy time to skate, I don’t think it’s beneficial to anyone. I think a player has to play in a competitive environment where he can progress and his development continues. We look at every case and scenario like that and some players, not that we’ve said no to, we want to make sure that they go to a place where they’ll thrive and continue their development.”
Obviously, the theme here is that these players are European prospects and no North American prospects have committed yet to playing overseas.
On where a player comes from and whether that matters to him when considering if they should play overseas…
“Well, sometimes some players, their father played in Europe so they have some kind of historical background there. Sometimes they haven’t some of our prospects, but it’s such a good fit that it would make sense. Now, obviously it’s a more common practice for European players to play because they’ve grown up in the European system, but if it’s a good match, we’ll definitely look at it. If we feel it’s not a good match for a North American player to go over there then we probably won’t support it.”
I wonder what it would take for the Senators not to support a prospect’s options for Europe.
“No Drake, we’re not going to let you play Div III hockey in Belfast!”
On whether there’s an interest in retaining any of the players that the organization acquired near the deadline…
“(Laughing) We’re going to look at every possible scenario as far as RFAs and UFAs to make sure that they fit into our plan. There’s no point in speculating because it does nobody any good.”
I hope the Senators elect to bring back Jayce Hawryluk. I wrote this earlier in the week, but there’s enough under the hood with his production (even though the on-ice shooting percentage is unsustainable) and possession metrics to warrant an extended look at during what should be a non-playoff season.
On the 2020 NHL Draft…
“I don’t think an Ottawa Senators team has ever had two picks in the top-five and it hasn’t happened a lot over the course of the last 20 years and with being such a great draft at the top, we’re looking forward to picking at three and five. I don’t think we’d be misleading our fans if… I think everyone knows what we’re going to do at three depending on what (Los Angeles) does and the Rangers do at one and two. At five, we’re still having great discussions because there are so many players that are going to be impact players at five. Those two players are going to be cornerstones of our franchise with Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. We feel that Colin White is going to get back on-track to the player that he was a few years ago, so that’s what we’re really excited about. So, I can’t wait for (October) 6th to come along.”
Out of all Dorion’s answers in the two interviews, this was probably his biggest reveal. The Senators will take one of Tim Stützle or Quinton Byfield with the team’s third overall pick while leaving the door open to many possibilities with the number five selection.
We can all debate the merits of picking certain players over others given the different skillsets or positional needs of the organization, but the good news is that regardless of whether the Senators draft Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond, Jake Sanderson, Jamie Drysdale, Marco Rossi or Yaroslav Askarov with the fifth overall pick, whomever they choose will be a tremendous building block and asset to this organization’s ascent.
On it getting really interested for the team at five…
“But, don’t forget to talk about three. I think there are three top forwards at the top of the draft and it’s no secret here. We feel that we’re going to get one of those guys and that player could play for us as soon as the 2020-21 season starts and you’re getting a cornerstone of your franchise that your fans can identify as early as December 1st and before that. I think that’s such an opportunity and how we got that player through a massive trade of seven pieces, I think that says a lot about where we’re heading with the future of this franchise.”
Dorion seems pretty confident that whomever they select at three will be ready to step into an NHL lineup, but the possibility of drafting Byfield is intriguing to me because he’s one of the youngest players in the draft. Not only does that fuel the perception that he may continue to grow more than some of his older peers in this draft class, I wonder if his youth may work against his chances of cracking the Senators if he is selected third overall. He may be better served spending one more year in junior before he can play a significant role at the World Junior Championships for Team Canada.
On being excited to have three and five…
“I think that’s why we were so happy on draft night. I can understand peoples’ disappoint with not getting number one. When you look at the combination of our chances, I think it was 24.5 (percent) and a team that was in the play-ins could get… their combined total were 25.0 or whatever it was, but we were ecstatic because we knew we were getting three and five. That’s why we were so excited about it because we were getting one of the guys that we feel has a chance to be a superstar in this league.”
I understand the disappointment with not having the first overall selection, but it does afford Pierre the opportunity to be creative with his picks. Sitting at one, the consensus choice is already made for him despite the possibility that one of the other players in the top-five mix could very well eclipse Lafreniere’s talent later on. In picking outside the top-two, it’s almost like there’s less pressure on Dorion because he’s picking whomever is remaining. It is an enviable spot to be in because if Lafreniere or the Kings’ pick outperforms Ottawa’s picks, it was because the ping pong balls didn’t go Dorion’s way. But if the Senators’ picks eventually outperform the picks ahead of them, Dorion looks like a genius.