As the Ottawa Senators prepare to welcome young additions from the 2020 NHL Draft, they say goodbye to two cherished veterans.
In a Zoom call with reporters, general manager Pierre Dorion confirmed what has long been suspected: the Senators are moving on from venerable goaltender Craig Anderson and the team’s hard-nosed defenceman, Mark Borowiecki. Both are expected to pursue free agency on Oct. 9.
Anderson, 39, was not offered a contract. Borowiecki, 31, a player Dorion once said he wanted to make a “Senator for life,” is leaving on his own terms. Dorion saluted them both on the way out the door.
“Craig should be given so much credit -- it was one of the best trades (the late GM) Bryan Murray made,” Dorion said. “He’s the winningest goalie in this organization’s history, and I will go on the record as saying he’s the best performing goalie in this organization. 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.”
Anderson, who came to Ottawa in 2011 in a trade with Colorado for Brian Elliott, quite likely saved Murray from getting fired -- so well did he play down the stretch that year, for a team headed to a rebuild. His Senators record: 202-168-46 with a .914 save percentage and 2.84 goals-against. Anderson is the franchise leader in games played by a goaltender (435), starts (422), wins (202) and save percentage. He's second all-time in shutouts with 28, two behind Patrick Lalime.
Dorion called Anderson the “MVP” of the 2017 run to the Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s unfortunate we were unable to win a Cup with Craig but he did many wonderful things for this organization,” Dorion said.
Look for Anderson to be honoured in some way by the Senators next season. He’s a good fit for the Ring of Honour.
Borowiecki was that rarest of 30-year-olds in Ottawa, a Senators player who was drafted and stayed here for more than a decade. The Kanata native has been Boro-Cop on the ice and on the streets -- breaking up a robbery in Vancouver this season -- and a community role model off it, with deep ties to several charitable organizations.
Along with Anderson, Borowiecki has been a veteran leader for the Senators as the team got younger in recent years and the likes of Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Matt Duchene left via trade.
“Mark has been a great member of this team for many years,” Dorion said. “If he’s going to go to the free agent market, we thank him for everything he has done. I don’t think you will ever meet a better person... someone who has great values. He’s a great human being.
"But at the same time we have to respect a player’s wishes.”
They leave a big void. Bobby Ryan, 33, is the only long-standing veteran remaining. He joined the Senators in 2013 via trade from Anaheim.
Look to Dorion to shore up his veteran depth either through trades at the draft or free agency.
“We are not going with a team of all young players,” Dorion assured fans. “We will add key veterans to solidify the progress of our young players.”
Draft: Best player or match needs?
With picks at Nos. 3, 5 and 28 plus four more in the second round and 13 selections overall, Dorion and chief amateur scout Trent Mann will be overlooking one of the Senators' most important drafts in just two weeks time.
While it’s expected Ottawa will take either Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle with their first pick, Dorion wasn’t going to tip his hand on the pick at five. There is a group of excellent forwards available, but also defenceman Jake Sanderson, who could be playing alongside Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker at the University of North Dakota this season.
“We are going to draft the best player who is going to help us win as we move forward with this plan,” Dorion said, quite generically, although his eyes twinkled a little when he considered the question about Senators prospects playing together in college.
“We have a lot of needs, we’ve finished in 30th, 31st and 30th place over the last three years... we have a lot of prospects coming at multiple positions but we are going to draft who we feel are going to help us win in the near future and in the long term.”
Dorion said that general managers are doing a lot of talking before the draft, and admits he is open to swapping some of his picks to move up or acquire a player, but won’t “jump the steps required to make us a better team in the long term.”
Canadian scouts only
Just another 2020 oddity: the Senators won’t have their full complement of scouts together for the draft as COVID-19 travel restrictions make it too difficult for European and U.S. scouts to be in Ottawa. They will follow and contribute online.
Tkachuk deal has to wait: red flag or TBA?
In response to a question in French, Dorion said that it will take some time to sort out a long term deal with young forward star Brady Tkachuk because “the landscape of the NHL has changed and is going to be changing,” due to the pandemic and its impact on the NHL.
The Senators were able to sign Thomas Chabot last fall before the last year of his entry-level deal. Tkachuk’s ELC ends in 2021 when he becomes a restricted free agent. Ottawa’s rebuild will lose credibility if the club can’t extend Tkachuk long term.
Nilsson ‘should’ be ready
Dorion tried to sound optimistic about the health of goaltender Anders Nilsson, who suffered a concussion in mid-December, but admitted he won’t really know until teams are able to report to training camp.
“We think Anders will be ready when the season starts,” Dorion said. “He’s not been on the ice but he feels better. When he gets to Ottawa we should get a better indication of his recovery, his path.”
Pierre Groulx, the Senators' goalie coach, has been in touch with Nilsson weekly.
The club’s level of confidence concerning Nilsson, pencilled in as the team’s starter, might dictate whether they seek help through trade or free agency to secure a veteran for the upcoming season, whenever it might begin. Marcus Hogberg is the other returning veteran, and he doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience.
In the pipeline, Dorion likes the “depth and quality at the goaltending position.”
In particular, Dorion said he was pleased with the progress of Joey Daccord in the ECHL and AHL last season, as well as Filip Gustavsson in Belleville, who has had “ups and downs” but whom Dorion sees as having a lot of upside.
Kevin Mandolese of the Cape Breton Eagles, signed to an entry-level deal in April, was the QMJHL goalie of the year.
“I would say there wasn’t a better goalie in junior in the second half of the season,” Dorion said.
At the last draft, Ottawa selected goalie Mads Sogaard in the second round and while he experienced some growing pains last season, Dorion and Groulx like his size (six-foot-seven) and lateral ability.
Sogaard will likely remain in Medicine Hat (WHL) this season, according to Dorion.
“We feel we have four quality prospects,” Dorion said.
Three of them will be at the pro level this season.