With the Senators holding nine of the first 70 selections of the Entry Draft October 6, and 13 in total, GM Pierre Dorion is certainly the centre of attention.
Not only is Dorion fielding calls from fellow GM’s seeking to pry a pick or two away in search of a deal, he’s conducting talks with agents of his own team’s pending restricted and unrestricted free agents – leading up to what’s become known as Free Agent Frenzy, less than 48 hours after the Draft concludes.
Wednesday, Dorion met the media through a virtual Zoom call and a pair of radio appearances to cover topics Senators’ fans are clamouring to hear.
During his TSN1200 radio interview, Dorion said,“It’s probably the busiest I’ve been in my 10 years here. It’s long hours, but it’s something 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 are discussions with agents on potential RFA’s, potential UFA’s. It just doesn’t stop.”
On trade chatter
As noted above, the Senators hold nine of the first 70 selections in the Draft. It’s highly doubtful the team will choose all of those picks – some of which can be moved to clubs seeking to shed valuable cap space. Through trades of his own, Dorion has put his team in a position to acquire a player or players that can assist in the Senators’ long term growth.
“We got calls as soon as GM’s left the bubble. Certain teams that had lost weren’t happy about losing. There’s been lots of chatter. Obviously, we haven’t done anything so far. There’s nothing right now that has been worth it, but as we move along, we’re always looking at options, explained the Senators GM in a Zoom call. “We want to make sure we follow a plan. We don’t take any shortcuts. We don’t want to jump any steps that we should be jumping, to make sure we have some long term success here – and that’s the first and foremost. At the same time when we bring our younger players into the lineup, we want to make sure they’re well-surrounded, whether that’s through trade or free agency.”
Anders Nilsson’s injury status and state of Senators goaltending
While rumours of the club wanting to add a veteran goaltender to the roster aren’t going away, Dorion shed some light on the status of Anders Nilsson who missed the final 37 games after suffering a concussion December 16 versus the Panthers.
“(Goalie coach) Pierre Groulx is in weekly discussion with Anders. I spoke with his agent, Claude Lemieux. We think Anders will be ready to start when the season starts. He’s not been on the ice, but he feels better. Once we get him to Ottawa we will have a better indication on his recovery and his path.”
The unknown of Nilsson raises the question; will the Senators GM be proactive and acquire a replacement for the tall Swede or wait it out closer to training camp, whatever date that may be. For what it’s worth, one NHL executive told Full Press NHL, ‘It’s a weak market for goalies.” – meaning teams will be able to buy low when the timing is right.
One thing is for certain; there’s no shortage of goalies in the Senators’ organization.
A proud Dorion explained, “We feel 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 a year in the East Coast League and half a year in the American League. His numbers, his play, we went from a fourth-place team to a first-place team with Joey Daccord in our net. We feel he’s a very talented goalie. Filip Gustavsson was a highly-touted prospect. He’s had his ups and downs in the minors. We feel he’s a goalie that has a high upside. We have Kevin Mandolese who was the goaltender of the year in the Quebec League. He really came on. I could argue that he was the top junior in the second half of the season. And last year we took Mads Sogaard who will probably be returning to junior this year. He’s a six-foot-seven raw goalie. When you’re six-foot-seven and you have the skating ability and the lateral ability of a Mads Sogaard, I think he has the raw ability.”
With the free agency period opening October 9 at noon eastern, Dorion and his staff have serious decisions to ponder.
First, pending RFA’s must be sent qualifying offers by 5 pm on October 7th in order for the club to retain rights to a player. The Senators have eleven such players. While Dorion hasn’t confirmed defenseman Andreas Englund won’t receive an offer, the team’s 40th overall 2014 selection recently inked a deal to play for Vasterviks in the Allsvenskan, in his native country, Sweden.
Dorion went on to say talks are ongoing with all pending RFA’s at this time, but per policy does not speak about ongoing negotiations.
While Brady Tkachuk’s entry-level contract is set to expire after next season, it was hoped the club would extend the 21-year old’s deal prior the campaign. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made it difficult to do so for the time being.
“I think the landscape of the NHL is changing, going to be changing. I think we have to conduct our business in a very responsible manner. We know the world is changed. We understand Brady is a very important piece in our future success in our run to a Stanley Cup. We know he’s under contract for a year, but at the same time we know we have that year to negotiate a contract with him,” Dorion admitted.
Dorion also confirmed he’s touched base with agents for potential UFA’s Ron Hainsey, Matthew Peca, Scott Sabourin. However, the GM announced the team has said goodbye to fan favourites, Craig Anderson and Mark Borowiecki.
Acquired from the Avalanche for fellow goaltender Brian Elliott at the 2011 trade deadline, Anderson spent nine-plus seasons with Ottawa.
Like Borowiecki, Anderson was revered in the Ottawa community. Senators’ fans and the hockey world won’t soon forget how the 39-year old led the team to the Eastern Conference Final while taking several leaves of absence to be with his wife, Nicholle who was battling a rare form of throat cancer.
Anderson leaves as the winningest goalie (223 wins) and most-tenured in franchise history (475 games) including playoffs.
“Craig should be given so much credit. It was one of the best trades Bryan Murray made. He’s the winningest goalie in this organization. He’s the best goalie we’ve ever had, but it’s time for us to take another direction and thank him for everything he did. When we made that Conference run a few years ago, everyone knows Craig was probably our MVP. It was unfortunate we were never able to win a Cup with Craig, but Craig did many wonderful things for our organization,” added Dorion.
As for Borowiecki, the GM reaped his praise, “It looks like Mark is 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 he’s done. I don’t think you’re going to meet a better person than Mark Borowiecki – someone who has great values, a great human being. But at the same time, we have to respect a player’s wish to go to free agency. “
On the flip-side, the Senators will also seek to add a veteran or two via free agency if possible.
“I think we always need to add the right veteran to go with our younger players. We were not going to go with a team from Belleville with all young players. We going to add veterans that will solidify the progress of our young players.
For the first time in franchise history, the Senators not only hold two selections in the top ten, but they’re also in the top five – three and five to be exact. With 13 picks in total, nine in the first three rounds, the team is the darling of the Draft.
As mentioned above, GM’s are calling seeking deals for picks, but Dorion will only make trade(s) if it’s beneficial for the club long term.
In his TSN1200 hit, Dorion said the obvious, hinting one of Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle will be the Senators’ no.3 overall selection.
“I don’t think we would be misleading our fans. I think everyone knows what we’re going to do at 3 – depending what LA does, and the Rangers do at 1 and 2.”
“At 5, we’re still having great discussions, because there are so many players that are going to be impact players. Those two players are going to be cornerstones of our franchise with Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. We feel Colin White is going to get back to the player he was a few years ago. That’s what we’re really excited about. We can’t wait for the 6th (of October) to come along.”
According to amateur scouts, this particular Draft is loaded with potential star players. The Senators can’t go wrong with whomever they select at the no.5 position.
The Red Wings will pick from forwards Alexander Holtz, Anton Lundell, Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond, Marco Rossi, d-men Jamie Drysdale, Jake Sanderson, and goalie Yaroslav Askarov in the fourth position – leaving the Senators plenty of talent to choose from.
With European leagues and the KHL already underway, Senators’ scouts are getting a bonus view of many top draft-eligible players.
“We’d be foolish not have our scouts attend those games. Both Mikko Ruutu and Anders Osberg have been attending games of these players. They are both very well aware of them,” Dorion told Full Press NHL. “Sometimes it just solidifies the points that you have on our list. Nothing has changed for us with their viewings, but at the same time we wouldn’t be doing our job, gathering as much information possible as players do change over the course of a summer, but it’s just bonus coverage and we are fortunate enough to have bonus viewings on these players.”
The only downfall to the Draft, amateur scouts “who put in countless hours” are unable to attend due to cross-border and federal quarantine regulations.
Trent Mann, Senators chief amateur scout will be “manning” the Draft, while Dorion will keep contact with opposing GM’s – seeking to add to his team’s roster.
This year’s Draft definitely won’t be a normal one. It’s 2020 after all. However, it’ll be defining in charting the course for the Senators’ future.