Senators GM Dorion on NHL trade deadline: ‘In all my years as GM, this has been the quietest’

GM Pierre Dorion touches on the Ottawa Senators trade deadline strategy, says right now the phone isn't really ringing off the hook, thinks that will pick up, but anticipates most of their deals to happen this summer instead.

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has some bad news for the trade deadline TV specials.

“I hate to be Debbie Downer, but don’t get too excited,” Dorion told reporters on a pre-deadline Zoom call on Friday. “In all my years as GM, this has been the quietest.”

Although Dorion does expect his phone to get a little busier before the March 21 trade deadline, he set the groundwork for the possibility he won’t be moving as many of his (seven) pending unrestricted free agents as we might have expected.

Other bulletin tidbits from Dorion’s availability:

• He hopes that when Matt Murray returns to health, that Murray and Anton Forsberg can be the goalie tandem for the rest of the season.

• He is not opposed to using one or more of his 10 draft picks as chips to improve the team by acquiring a player or players.

• The Senators will not necessarily move a pending UFA just to acquire a late-round draft pick.

• Key defence prospect Jake Sanderson will report to Ottawa as soon as his college season is over at the University of North Dakota.

• As far as building a contending team, Dorion said he expects his group to make the playoffs next season and the rest will fall into place after that.

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Although Dorion declined to discuss specifics on contracts with pending UFAs – specifically when asked about the future of Forsberg and forward Nick Paul – he said he has spoken to a couple of agents representing Senators veterans on expiring contracts.

“Those players know we’d like them to be a part of our group, if it makes sense,” Dorion said. “We’re working on possible deals, but we’re not going to say much more than that.”

Whether Forsberg gets signed by the deadline or not, Dorion certainly implied that the big Swede isn’t going anywhere, with the suggestion that he hopes Forsberg and Murray can finish the season as a tandem.

Murray, currently on the injured reserve list with a neck/head injury, could be a while, though. Dorion said that Murray won’t return until he is 100 per cent, and that IF and WHEN Murray gets healthy and can stay that way, he can be an important part of the team.

“Obviously, we’ve seen with Matt some good and some bad,” Dorion said, very diplomatically considering the frustration in the marketplace with Murray’s recurring health issues. “I think he’s battled a few unlucky injuries, so it hasn’t given us the stability we want in our goaltending.”

Dorion added that Murray finished last season strong and was playing well in the new calendar year before his last two starts (13 goals allowed vs. Tampa Bay and Arizona).

“I think he was first or second in save percentage (in that stretch),” Dorion said. “So Matt has definitely displayed the qualities of an elite goalie in the NHL. We just want it to continue.”

Dorion would like goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson to finish out the season with Belleville, if possible. Gustavsson is needed in Belleville, especially now that Kevin Mandolese has recently suffered what is thought to be a long-term injury. As for the possibility of having three goalies on one-way deals next year (Gustavsson’s kicks in next fall), Dorion said he would cross that bridge when he comes to it. Don’t discount that one of the three could be moved by then.

Concerning his 10 draft picks, Dorion said that if he is able to move one or more players for immediate help, he would do it, but that “it’s something more for the summer than the trade deadline” as far as timing.

“We can make all the hockey deals we want right now but a lot of those players are on teams that are trying to win Cups, so we’re not going to get those players,” Dorion said. “I think we’re looking at more of those types of deals being at the draft or in the summer.”

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Needs? A top-six F and a top-4 D-man

As for specific needs in the big picture, the Senators GM suggested it is “no big secret, for us to hit the next level we probably need a top-six forward and a top-four D.”

“But those (players) don’t grow on trees,” Dorion said. “We probably have a top-four D in Jake Sanderson, once he reaches maturity. And he might be a top-two D. I think we have a few top-six forwards, but they’re not there yet.”

Speaking of Sanderson, Dorion and Pierre McGuire, senior VP of player development, recently made a trip to North Dakota to visit with the star UND defenceman and fellow defence prospect Tyler Kleven. Dorion said that while Kleven may stay in school for another year, it is “pretty much written in stone” that Sanderson will join the Sens as soon as the Fighting Hawks finish their season. Sanderson already has his room arrangements in Ottawa, Dorion says.

“Hopefully, it’s after they win the Frozen Four and the NCAA championship, because you want to bring winners into the organization,” Dorion said. “And possibly the Hobey Baker (for Sanderson), we’ll see about that one. With the injuries he’s had (and games missed due to the Olympics), I don’t know if he’s going to get enough consideration, but a lot of people tell me he’s the best player in college hockey if not the best defenceman outside the NHL. So, Jake will be joining our team. He knows it.”

Congrats to Anderson

Dorion closed his call with a shout out to former Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who notched his 300th NHL win this week. More than two-thirds of those victories (202) were delivered while with the Senators, from 2011-20.

“Craig was one of the best players, if not the best goalie we’ve had,” Dorion said, extending his congratulations to the 40-year-old Anderson, now a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Ironically, the Sens are still trying to establish the kind of crease stability Anderson brought for most of his time in Ottawa. Though Anderson had his own injury issues, he was an outstanding playoff performer and helped carry an unlikely Sens team to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017, Ottawa’s most recent playoff appearance.

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