The Ottawa Senators have missed the playoffs twice in the last three years. They’ve won just one playoff series since appearing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07 and haven’t finished higher than fourth in their division over the last four seasons. Jason Spezza was traded two years ago and Daniel Alfredsson last played for Ottawa in 2013.
Winds of change have been whipping around the Senators for several seasons now, even if the organization has tried to make the postseason by slim margins. Now new general manager Pierre Dorion will try to guide the Senators back to relevance in a shifting NHL scene. He has been with the Senators since 2007 and has been an assistant GM for the last three campaigns.
During the press conference to announce the change, Dorion spoke about putting a plan in place and executing on that program. What could his plan look like though? What choices will the new general manager need to make in the near future while guiding the Senators towards the postseason?
His first opportunity to put his stamp on the team will come soon, as he’ll need to decide Dave Cameron’s fate. Dorion stressed that anyone and everyone in the organization would be evaluated, not just Cameron. Player exit interviews are set to take place on April 11, however, and those could go a long way towards determining the head coach’s future in Ottawa.
Every under the "hockey umbrella in this organization will be evaluated." Means no decision on coach Dave Cameron today. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) April 10, 2016
The feeling in Ottawa seems to be that Cameron won’t make it through the process, meaning that the Senators will be looking to hire their seventh coach since making it to the Final nine years ago. There are some intriguing options out there should Dorion opt to find his own head coach.
Guy Boucher has reportedly been eyeing a return to the NHL since he was fired by Swiss club SC Bern. Todd Richards’ time with the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t end well, but he’s still the winningest coach in franchise history. Veterans like Ron Wilson or Randy Carlyle could also be of interest, and it’s no secret that Marc Crawford is itching to get behind an NHL bench again.
Figuring out what kind of style he wants the Senators to play will influence the coaching change, granted there is one. Once Dorion settles on his bench boss, he will have the opportunity to set a new standard for how negotiations with restricted free agents will unfold. For any general manager hoping to last more than a few seasons, creating guidelines for how young players are dealt with is of paramount importance. He has 26-year-old Mike Hoffman on his plate this summer, and those negotiations will be telling.
Over the last two seasons, only 18 forwards have scored more goals than Hoffman’s 56. He’s finished more chances over the last two years than Jonathan Toews, Jeff Carter and Brandon Saad, just to give that number some perspective. There’s more that goes into a player’s value than simple goal totals, but there’s no denying that Hoffman has evolved into one of the NHL’s best scorers. He’s been given one-year extensions in each of the last three seasons, and the time has come to commit to the former fifth-round pick with some term and cash.
How much term and how much cash though? We’ll learn a lot about how Dorion conducts business with Hoffman. The forward isn’t the only important player in search of a new deal though. Promising young defender Cody Ceci will also be a restricted free agent. Ceci and Hoffman seem to represent the future of the franchise to some degree, so it will be interesting to see how the new GM handles those contracts.
Messing around with the Ceci extension doesn’t seem to be an option, as the Senators badly need help on the blue line. It’s why the team traded for Dion Phaneuf despite his monster cap hit.
The name of the game at this point will be trying to utilize a prime Erik Karlsson while not rushing things too much. Too often the Senators have pushed for the playoffs when they should have been reloading to some degree. Dorion spoke to that during the press conference to announce his new role with the team. From Frank Seravalli at TSN.ca:
“I’ve been disappointed in a couple hires that we’ve had. Maybe we were too quick on them. Maybe we were too focused on the playoffs being the end-all, be-all here.”
Those words should be music to the ears of Ottawa’s fan base. There should be a long-term plan in place and it sounds like Dorion wants to piece one together in the coming weeks. While he needs to deal with the coaching situation and important RFA negotiations, he also spoke about the need to add a top-six or top-line forward to the mix.
There will be some alluring options available in free agency, should the Senators decide to take that route. While they may not gel with Dorion’s long-term approach, forwards like Eric Staal, David Backes, Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd could bring a lot to the table for Ottawa. Whether they fit in with the team’s internal budget is another matter entirely, but there is a clear checklist already forming just hours after the Senators announced that Dorion will be taking over as GM.
It’s going to be a long summer in Ottawa, but this shift appears to be a positive one for the franchise. Prospects like Colin White and Thomas Chabot will be arriving sooner rather than later, and with a few right moves, the Senators could be back in the playoff picture without sacrificing futures to get there.