Senators mailbag: Breaking down summer moves, the draft and downtown arena talks

Ottawa Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion. (Justin Tang/CP)

Thanks for a mailbag full of interesting questions and comments on the Ottawa Senators

Though we couldn’t get to them all, the topics were pertinent heading into what many feel is the most important off-season in franchise history. 

Not to be dramatic, but Ottawa is coming off its fifth straight season of missing the playoffs and Senators franchise owner Eugene Melnyk died in the final weeks of the regular season schedule. So this is a pivotal moment for the hockey club with a lot of big decisions to be made on and off the ice. 

Just this past week, the Senators fired Pierre McGuire, the senior VP of Hockey Development, so the off-season moves have already begun. The next moves are expected to involve players and draft picks as the stage gets set for the July 7-8 draft in Montreal. 

senssenses (@Ry): If the Sens can’t land a true top 6 forward as a UFA, do you see them trading some of their younger assets to acquire one?

General manager Pierre Dorion certainly opened the door to this possibility with his end-of-season reference that “our cupboard is full.” Not only did he hint at trading his first-round draft pick (the Sens will pick at No. 7), for the first time during this rebuild he talked about packaging one or more of his prospects to get the help Ottawa needs right now to be a competitive team next fall. 

Both Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith hedged their comments about expectations for next season by adding that they need to see what the roster looks like in September – following a summer of adding pieces, that is. 

Unless the Senators have a very strong hint that a pending UFA like Claude Giroux, who makes his home in Ottawa, will want to sign here in July when he becomes a free agent, I think it’s incumbent on Dorion to make something happen around the draft, when he can use that top-ten pick and perhaps combine it with a prospect in the system to produce a current NHLer in his prime, a top-six forward or top-four defenceman. Keep in mind, the draft is ripe for trades because teams can combine picks and prospects in a package. Free agency comes later (July 13 this year) and can be used to plug holes not filled via trade. 

@joe hockey: What top 6 forward currently playing on another team might the Sens be able to sign? Not Giroux. 

There has been lots of discussion in Ottawa about Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala, a 33-goal, 85-point pending RFA. At 25, Fiala checks a lot of boxes as far as being a fit for the Sens. His AAV this season was $5.1 million, so he will be in for a big raise. 

A player I believe could be a good fit is Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers. Though it feels like he’s been in Philly forever, Konecny just turned 25 and carries a cap hit of $5.5 million through 2024-25, so the Sens would have him under contract for three full seasons. Konecny can play either wing, and is pesky and productive. Two years ago, Konecny had 24 goals and 61 points in 66 games. His numbers have dipped but he still had a 52-point season this year for a losing Flyers team that is in the midst of change. Konecny is more than familiar with Ottawa as a former Ottawa 67’s star. 

There are plenty of other options. These are just a couple. 

Minnesota Wild left wing Kevin Fiala. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

PositiveSensFan (@James): With it being no mystery that the Sens are willing to move bodies for help right now. Who would be your top 3 players/prospects that could be on the move this summer? 

Every GM has a list in his own mind of players he is willing to part with. The problem is, as soon as the phone rings, that other GM often names a player not on that list. That’s when the interesting negotiations begin.

Rather than narrow it down to a top three who could be moved, let’s consider areas where the Senators have surpluses. Certainly they would move forward Colin White if possible. And if he can’t be traded, he is a prime buyout candidate because he earns too much ($4.75 million) for the role he has here.

Ottawa is deep in young role players, third and fourth line players. You only need so many and they are not hard to replace. So, players like Adam Gaudette, Dylan Gambrell, Parker Kelly and Mark Kastelic are effective players and young enough to have some upside. Kelly and Kastelic finished the season strong, but they are hardly what we might call untouchables. On the other hand, I don’t see them moving prospect Ridly Greig any time soon. What about Egor Sokolov? We all love the guy as a player and personality, but what is his ultimate NHL destination? Do the Sens see him as a future top-six player on the right side? If not, he might get lumped in with the players made available to help the club now.

The Senators are not as deep in prospects on defence, but there is enough there that they can’t all make the big club and one could be moved. On the veteran front, they would love to move Zaitsev’s contract. Michael Del Zotto has a year left at $2 million and was considered a McGuire acquisition, so he won’t likely be back. Dorion spoke highly of Erik Brannstrom but if it means bringing in a top-four D-man, Brannstrom is hardly what anyone would call indispensable. Will BOTH Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson be part of Ottawa’s future? Thomson was a third-pairing defenceman for AHL Belleville in their brief playoffs. Lots of potential moving parts. 

BrodyF03 (@Brody Fallon) Tweeted: Dorion has stated in the past that the team needs another top 4 D. Does he believe Hamonic is this top 4 D, or is he planning on acquiring someone else?

Funny, I asked Dorion a similar question on ‘garbage bag’ day. Though he didn’t answer directly about Hamonic as a top-four defenceman, his response was that “every team that’s probably aspiring to win the Cup, they went out and got a top-four D.” He went on to praise Hamonic for fitting in as part of the support cast, but it’s apparent that Hamonic, who turns 32 this summer and has a lot of miles on him, is here as a depth defenceman and the club would like to upgrade their D corps with one significant addition. Hamonic has one year left at $3 million.

messens26 (@Messens): What top D do you think is available through trade or UFA?

One guy I really like is Josh Manson, the longtime Anaheim Ducks right-shot defenceman. Manson moved over to the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline and is playing in the second pairing alongside Samuel Girard for an Avs team that looks like a legitimate Cup threat.

Girard is a mobile defenceman. Like, say, a Jake Sanderson? It would be easy to see a veteran like Manson step in and be a solid partner for a talented rookie like Sanderson, who will need some guidance. That would leave Thomas Chabot to play alongside defensive stalwart Artem Zub and you’d have a pretty good top four. Manson is big (6-3, 218), tough and a good all-around defenceman. He’s a pending UFA and had an AAV last season of $4.1 million. As a pending free agent, he will be looking for a raise but might be a reasonable fit for Ottawa, if the organization can sell itself to him. 

If not Manson, someone like him. 

 tuna99hockeyfl1 (@tuna99hockeyflow): What’s your take on another losing season and the tolerance the core players have (Chabot, C. Brown especially) for more losing. Are the players as dedicated to this rebuild as the GM is?

This question picks up on the vibe from Chabot, who seemed to challenge the GM during his exit meeting to bring in some established players ASAP. 

As Dorion replayed their exchange to us, Chabot apparently told him: "I’ve put a lot of faith in what you’re going to do to bring us to the next level. But at the same time, picks and prospects only go so far."

The fact that Dorion relayed this message to reporters is a clear signal he intends to act on it. Chabot, now 25, has not had a chance to play in a single playoff game in five seasons. And Connor Brown hasn’t played in the playoffs since he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019.

RichardA1957 (@RichardA): I can't see the LeBreton site for an arena being approved by the NCC a 2nd time unless it will get built. I feel the current Sens organization can't afford it. Seems the Sens are not for sale. June is soon. So, is LeBreton dead for the NHL?

I think the concept of a downtown arena is very much alive, and perhaps more than ever with the potential for new ownership partners if not new owners entirely at some point in the future. Before his passing, Eugene Melnyk is believed to have submitted an expression of interest to build a rink on the LeBreton Flats. 

And while, as you reference, there is expected to be an announcement by the National Capital Commission in June of a preferred partner for a major attraction of some kind, and then a 60-day negotiating window beyond that, there is no reason the Sens can’t be in the game.

The fact that Melnyk’s heirs, daughters Anna and Olivia, are still sorting through their options shouldn’t be a barrier to getting something done. Any new partners that could get involved will surely be on board with an NHL wish to have a new central arena for Ottawa. And as to NCC deadlines, let’s just say this. Much of LeBreton has sat idle for 60 years. A few more months, give or take, while the Senators ownership situation gets clarified should not matter. 

@fred): I think it’s unlikely they fire the HC or GM this off-season. Do you think they bolster the front office or the coaching staff with more hockey minds? Or steer the course with what they have, which seems on the thinner side compared to other franchises?

That’s a great question. I know that some in the organization would love to see more heft on the hockey organization side, not just scouting but in analytics, skills coaches, skating coaches. A lot of teams are really expanding these aspects of their programs. The Sens are not expected to fill the vacancy left by McGuire and they take some pride in their lean and mean approach, but they could use more support. Maybe that changes as ownership evolves.

Meanwhile, Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith are under enormous pressure to have a competitive team next season. They will have to walk that tightrope of making the team stronger without sacrificing the future, which looks bright. 

tuna99hockeyfl1 (@tuna99hockeyflow) Tweeted: What’s the realistic outreach the Sens have in the business community. How many big businesses (Shopify i.e.) have been left out of buying tickets and supporting the team?

I love this question because it doesn’t get talked about enough, the disconnect between the hockey club and area business, a decline that has been evident for several years now.

A fresh approach now seems possible. Just consider the partnership between the Senators and OSEG (which owns the OHL 67’s and CFL Redblacks) in a recent bid to host the World Junior Hockey Championships. The bid fell short, but that partnership would not have been possible even a few months ago.

I expect we will see more alumni involvement, including a return of Daniel Alfredsson as a more active participant and a stronger community outreach of the hockey team. Small businesses have felt ignored for some time. There is some work to be done here but what an opportunity to have area businesses in Ottawa and Gatineau feel that this is “their” team. 

Owen Kelly: Expecting a nice expose on the “short-lived stint” (of Pierre McGuire).

Didn’t receive a lot of questions on McGuire’s departure, perhaps because there was a pretty clear understanding he was ‘Melnyk’s guy.’ The late Eugene Melnyk hired McGuire to assist Dorion, yet McGuire was not Dorion’s boss, but working under him with a vague Senior VP of Hockey Development title. From what I can gather, McGuire was consulted on the pro scouting side but wasn’t really encouraged to do much as far as prospect development.

He did some travel, including a trip with Dorion to visit Jake Sanderson at UND. But Dorion didn’t hire this assistant that many viewed as a threat to his job, so it was not a shock to see him leave. But kudos to him for getting a three-year deal. He will have options to get back into hockey in some aspect, including broadcast. Staff have told me that McGuire was pleasant, positive and easy to have around. It was just an awkward arrangement because the hire was never Dorion’s idea.

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