In a perfect world, the Ottawa Senators would be using their lottery pick at this week’s NHL Draft as a cornerstone to a rebuild.
In reality, the Senators are still turning the corner from a late 2017 push that had them trade away that pick to acquire centre Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche. At the 2019 trade deadline, with the Senators now deep in sell mode, Duchene was traded to Columbus, with Ottawa recouping a first-round pick for this draft, albeit the 19th overall selection that belonged to the Blue Jackets. Colorado owns Ottawa’s fourth-overall pick.
That begs the question: Do the Senators try to move up in Friday’s draft from 19th? They do have future assets at their disposal – namely seven selections in the first three rounds of the 2020 draft, including three second-round picks in 2020 and three more second rounders in 2021 (the last pick coming via the Erik Karlsson signing with San Jose). For finishing 31st, the Senators also have the first pick of the second round in 2019, a No. 32 overall selection that other teams covet, GM Pierre Dorion said.
Over the next three drafts, Ottawa has an astounding 28 picks, including four first-round selections and eight in the second round.
Dorion said his phone has been lighting up for two reasons: Ottawa’s cap space and its draft assets.
“There have been multiple discussions, more about moving up than moving down, because we have pick 32 and 44,” Dorion said before leaving for the Vancouver draft, noting the two selections in the top half of the second round.
If Ottawa does hang on to its 19th overall selection, Dorion told Sportsnet.ca he would likely target a “top six or seven forward,” or a top four defenceman with that pick. Given the Senators goaltending depth, they won’t be looking at a high goalie pick.
“I know it’s a boring line, selecting the best player available, but we will pick the best player to help our team,” Dorion said. “Not necessarily to play this season — in an ideal world he can play for us maybe next year or definitely two years from now.”
According to Dorion, a former scout who took over as GM from Bryan Murray in 2016, he has never been involved in so many GM discussions prior to a draft, which he expects to be “volatile” with movement.
Dorion said he gets excited at the prospect of having six second-round picks in the next two drafts after Vancouver. Amateur scouts like to know their long year of work can bear fruit with draft picks. But as a GM, Dorion also has to consider the possibility of moving picks and assets for good players.
Cap space + draft assets + prospects = flexibility.
“It gives us the opportunity to do a lot of good things for this organization,” Dorion said.
Down the road, the Sens have to prove they can pay the players they acquire.
With a projected cap hit under $50 million, the Senators have the kind of space a rival GM might envy, or exploit. In fact, Ottawa might have to take on a bad contract to reach the projected salary floor of about $61 million.
Dorion said he’s not opposed to taking on a veteran in the late stages of a big deal, but would only do so if he feels that player can help the Senators.
Either through trade or free agency, Dorion would like to add a couple of veterans to complement young stars like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Colin White.
“We want to make sure we grow and develop as a team,” Dorion said. “We want to make sure any player we would acquire would help us grow as a team, whether it’s a veteran guy who might be on the last two or three years of his contract . . . or a 28 year old who can still help us for another three years if he’s under contract. I think you’ve got to look at all situations and scenarios.”
Dorion said he’s looking for “character” people who can still play.
What would be the perfect draft for the Senators? To pick up a quality centre and a defenceman capable of stepping into this roster over the next two seasons. If that means moving up in the draft with a trade to secure a player, or moving existing prospects or a future pick, amen.
Dorion said his scouts have a list of about 18 players the team views as ideal for Ottawa. He’s certain Ottawa will get one of the 18, either because they move up or because other teams go off the board with picks.
All in all, the Senators are a team that could make a splash on the West Coast, before, during and after the draft.
“These next 13 to 20 days are very crucial for our growth and at the same time showing commitment to our fans that we’re heading in the right direction,” Dorion said.
Duclair signs one-year deal: One of the more intriguing late-season additions for Ottawa was speedy winger Anthony Duclair, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Ryan Dzingel trade. A former 50-goal scorer for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Duclair spent much of last season in John Tortorella’s dog house for lax defensive play, picking up 11 goals and eight assists in 53 games with Columbus. With the Senators, Duclair scored eight times and produced 14 points in 21 games. That earned him at least one more chance for a longer look. In a low-risk move, the Senators signed the 23-year-old pending RFA to a one-year contract worth $1.65 million. Dorion hinted Duclair will be a project for new head coach D.J. Smith.
Ceci next?: Talks between Dorion and other pending RFAs, Cody Ceci and Colin White, are progressing. Dorion has decided not to offer a contract for pending UFA Magnus Paajarvi. He hasn’t made his mind up on two other UFAs, forwards Oscar Lindberg and Brian Gibbons.
Two more coaches coming: Smith will be interviewing potential assistant coaches in Vancouver and Dorion said the staff should be complete by July 1. With Jack Capuano already hired as associate coach in charge of defence and the penalty kill, two additional hires are expected: One to look after the forwards and power play, plus an ‘eye-in-the-sky’ coach.
Senators 2019 picks
Round 1: 19 (from CLB)
Round 2: 32, 44 (from FLA)
Round 3: 83 (from PIT)
Round 4: 94
Round 5: 125
Round 7: 187