Bullish Senators fans bask in the sunlight of the ‘Summer of Pierre’ Dorion

Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion gives Claude Giroux his Senators sweater in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, after signing a three-year contract with veteran forward. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

It used to be, summer wasn’t considered Pierre Dorion’s season. 

PRE-summer, when Dorion, the Ottawa Senators general manager (along with assistant GM Trent Mann) presided over the NHL draft, that was a different story. The Senators have had some big drafts, perhaps none bigger than 2020 — the year of Tim Stützle, Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig, Roby Jarventie, etc.

Yet, when summer rolled around and it was free-agent time, Ottawa typically hung out in the shallow end of the UFA pool, scooping up veteran castoffs to try to fill a need here and there on a team rebuilding with strong young core pieces like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Josh Norris. 

 That was then. And now?

Now, Dorion, once a prime fan target for online grumbling, is getting rock star treatment in Ottawa-Gatineau. He is seen beaming at photo ops as he hangs out with the stars (including his new BFF Claude Giroux) at the recent CP Canadian Women’s Open golf tournament. 

Now, you can still order your ‘GMPD Hot Pierre Summer’ t-shirt in a variety of sizes for $23.94 (reduced from $27.53 — let’s face it, the summer is fading fast). 

With all due respect to the talk in Calgary that Brad Treliving is the ‘MVP of the summer,’ spare a thought for Dorion, whose moves preceded those of the Flames’ GM and have perhaps been forgotten about outside of Ottawa. Around here, bullish Senators tweets have been circulating daily, all summer long. 

Recency bias may have tipped the scale toward Treliving, who made the best of a tough situation, bringing in the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri while saying goodbye to Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and the contract of Sean Monahan. We’ll see how all of this plays out, in Calgary and in Florida. 

Ottawa, too. It will be a fascinating season-long watch to see how a bevy of new faces can come together as a competitive unit. 

Has there been a more transformative summer in the 30-year history of the Senators? I would suggest there has not been. 

Before the Flames made headlines with those big deals, Dorion was already swinging for the fences. As far back as the July 7 draft, Dorion acquired two-time 41-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks for a first-round pick and two third-rounders. 

Dorion followed that up by unloading the contract of oft-injured goaltender Matt Murray, plus a third- and seventh-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for future considerations. One day after that July 11 transaction, the Senators solidified their goaltending situation by acquiring veteran Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, coming off a so-so season in the Ottawa organization. 

Just like that, the Senators should have their best goalie tandem, at least on paper, in the past five years with Talbot and Anton Forsberg, coming off his breakout year with the Sens last season. 

Dorion wasn’t done. On the first day of free agency, July 13, the GM from suburban Orleans signed one of the most sought-after offensive stars, as fellow local guy Giroux inked a deal for three years and $19.5 million US. 

This was a signing that put a smirk on faces all summer long. At 34, Giroux has some miles on him, but is fired up to play for the hometown team and is training hard to be a big contributor to a suddenly scary offensive lineup. 

On that same front, Ottawa’s 35-goal scorer from 2021-22, Norris, was signed to an eight-year, $63.6M deal. Norris is just 23 and a big part of the Sens future. Teams will now have to contend with a power play that boasts DeBrincat and Norris, not to mention other holdovers like Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Stützle, who himself was rewarded with his first big contract this week — an eight-year, $66.8 million deal that kicks in next season. 

No wonder Dorion is smiling in those myriad photo opportunities.

“We definitely have a higher skill team than we were last year,” Dorion said during a recent interview on Ottawa sports radio. “We’re a better team than we were last year as long as everybody is healthy.”

On the same station, head coach D.J. Smith suggested that for the first time on his watch, the Sens will have the ability to win some games on skill alone. 

Dorion, meanwhile, continues to try to upgrade his defence. At the moment, the D-corps features Chabot, Artem Zub, Nick Holden and Travis Hamonic, Nikita Zaitsev and then the prospects led by Sanderson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson etc. With Chabot-Zub projected as the top pair, Sanderson will get a chance to join Hamonic or Holden in a second pairing, but won’t be rushed if he’s not ready. 

Whether an upgrade might include Jakob Chychrun of  the Phoenix Coyotes remains to be seen. Dorion has balked at giving up some of his blue chippers in the pipeline, namely Greig, Shane Pinto and Jarventie. 

When camp opens on Sept. 21 there will be storylines everywhere — from the chemistry on offence, to the defence competition and who starts in goal. 

The Summer of Pierre is about to bleed into the expectations of fall for Smith and his new-look roster. A sign that Ottawa is determined to get off to a fast start this season: nearly every roster player had checked in by Labour Day weekend to participate in open skates, weeks ahead of training camp. 

Key Sens off-season moves

IN: Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, Cam Talbot, Jake Sanderson.

OUT: Matt Murray, Connor Brown, Colin White, Chris Tierney, Tyler Ennis, Josh Brown, Adam Gaudette,  Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Victor Mete. 

EXTENDED: Josh Norris, eight years, $63.6M. Mathieu Joseph, four years, $11.8M, Tim Stutzle, eight years, $66.8M. 

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