OTTAWA — Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said recently that the hockey operations side needs to “get their act together” in the next six months.
In his post-season address to the media, general manager Pierre Dorion didn’t dispute what his boss was laying down.
“I totally agree with that,” Dorion said, in a relaxed, wide-ranging, 30-minute session with Ottawa media. “I’d even put it – the next year is pivotal to our organization.”
Dorion vowed the 31st-place, rebuilding Senators would contend for a playoff spot next season, make the playoffs the year after that and be a Stanley Cup contender in three seasons. For folks scoring at home.
“And those are words from the GM,” Dorion said. “It has to be like that. Maybe I’m too positive, too blunt, but I really believe in these statements.”
Calling this Phase 2 of the rebuild, Dorion said he feels the worst is behind the Senators and better days are ahead, in the immediate future with what he feels will be the strongest development camp the club has known, and a cache of draft picks, prospects and “young superstars” in his lineup next season.
“No one cares more about this team than probably me,” said the pride of Orleans, Ont., in Ottawa’s east end.
“I am from here. I grew up here. I love this place. I want to see this team succeed and I know with what we’ve done over the last 12 months – I know it’s not the sexiest thing to see – but I know we’ve acquired so many good pieces, with picks, prospects and the young superstars we have I know we’re going to be a good team.”
At times, Dorion’s natural enthusiasm has gotten him in trouble. For example, when he traded fan favourite Mark Stone at the deadline, he called it his greatest day as a GM. Tuesday, he offered a mea culpa for that.
“I know that I alienated some fans when I said my proudest day as a general manager was when we traded Mark Stone,” Dorion said. “I probably have to apologize for that. I think the scout in me was talking too much and I have to remember I’m the general manager here.”
It was Dorion’s excitement over getting teenage defenceman Erik Brannstrom in the trade that had him gushing.
Interestingly, while Dorion spoke about the process of hiring a new head coach, he isn’t certain who will step in as an incoming senior advisor in the hockey operations side, or if the new hire, as suggested by Melnyk and the NHL head office, will be Dorion’s new boss.
“We don’t know who that person is, we don’t know what that title will be so its difficult to answer that,” Dorion said, when asked by Sportsnet on how the new hierarchy will work.
Dorion did say he is a “team player” and welcomes an experienced addition to hockey operations, filling a role that has been vacant since the passing of Bryan Murray, former senior advisor, and prior to that, GM when Dorion held the role as assistant GM. Whether the new person has final say on hockey decisions, or is merely a sounding board for Dorion, will be a fascinating future development.
Dorion did say he retains autonomy to hire the next head coach. Interim bench boss Marc Crawford will be a candidate, and among five or six likely candidates to be interviewed for the position.
Top priority qualifications for the head coach: ability to teach and relate to young players, plus a vow to instill strong defensive structure for the NHL’s worst defensive team.
Other quick hits from the GM:
On whether he would be watching Tuesday’s draft lottery, considering Ottawa gave up its 2019 first round selection in order to keep a 4th overall pick in 2018 (used for Brady Tkachuk): Dorion said he would be at his son’s hockey practice during the draft lottery but would keep track of it on his phone.
On any regrets keeping the pick to draft Tkachuk: “Have you seen Brady Tkachuk? I think we’ve all seen what Brady Tkachuk brings to this hockey team.”
Dorion said Tkachuk is a member of “hockey royalty” and raved about the 19-year-old who engaged in a floss dance contest with a fan in Calgary and danced with a girl in a wheelchair during the Senators Soiree event. “The intangibles he brings to the game, you can’t find those guys.”
On the possibility of re-signing pending UFA goaltender Anders Nilsson: The GM said he would discuss it with his staff. The Senators are deep in goalie prospects but Dorion added: “we saw this year, you can never have too many good goalies.”
On whether Thomas Chabot might get an extension, as soon as he is eligible on July 1: “We have had preliminary talks and we hope at a certain point in time to have a lengthy contract extension with Thomas Chabot. Our plan is to keep him for a long time and hopefully, he will be a Senator for life.”
On how many Senators might play at the World Hockey Championships: “I’d rather it came from him than from us, but a pretty good defenceman on our team I think is going to commit to play for Canada.” That reference is to Chabot. Tkachuk and Colin White are also expected to play, for Team USA.
On the possibility of signing Cody Ceci to a long-term contract: “We feel Cody Ceci, slotted in the right spot, can be a very good NHL player.” Dorion hinted that Ceci was asked to do too much on a young defence corps and said he is as tough as any Senators defenceman since Anton Volchenkov. Ceci is again eligible for arbitration but said he would prefer to sign a deal with term and remain in Ottawa, his hometown.