Earlier this week Commissioner Gary Bettman brought forward the NHL’s 24-team Return to Play plan. And that plan did not include the Ottawa Senators. Although Senators’ fans and their players will have to sit and watch 24 clubs battle for Lord Stanley’s Mug at a date to be determined, General Manager Pierre Dorion and his hockey operations staff will be hard at work, attempting to build a strong footprint for seasons to follow.
An upbeat Pierre Dorion appeared on a Zoom call Thursday and plenty to say about his club’s future plans. Full Press Coverage had the pleasure of being part of this call.
The GM opened by praising frontline workers, first responders, people that work in long term care facilities “for the sacrifices that they’re making.” Dorion also took time out to thank Senators’ fans for being patient and for their continuing support.
On, if the team met Dorion’s overall expectations in development in Ottawa and American League affiliate, Belleville, and what steps were made this past season?
“Obviously, it wasn’t a full season, but it was close enough. We got a very good evaluation of what was going on with our team. We made good progress. We felt we were a very competitive team, high compete. We were very happy with the job (head coach) D.J. (Smith) and his staff did with the team. I thought we were progressing well in following the plan with this team – getting better – lots of our good young players in Ottawa improved. We had some solid veterans that we counted upon. At the same time, the development of the players in Ottawa and Belleville was very good. It was unfortunate what happened in Belleville as far as their season coming to an end also, but we knew our prospects were getting invaluable minutes there.”
“At the same time, we made strengths in how we played, how we compete, how our team structure is. And we feel that the plan we put in place in February 2018 with (team owner) Eugene (Melnyk) and myself is on the right path, on the right schedule, and it will bring us a lot of success down the road.”
Thoughts on the Draft Lottery format?
“We know we’re part of the NHL and the NHL made a decision. They consulted with many teams, we’re of those. We’re happy with how it will proceed. We know we’re going to get two players in the top six, the worst-case scenario – best case one and two. And we’re looking forward to the Draft Lottery being held June 26.”
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With the looming Draft order including potentially high picks, how will the Senators’ GM approach free agency?
“It’s where you’re going to pick. If you’re going to pick one and two, it’s different than picking five-six. Those players probably have a higher chance of playing in the NHL next year. But at the same time, we know we’re going to take two good players with our first two picks. And when it comes to potential UFA’s, last year we added veterans that we felt helped with the growth of younger players and the growth of our team. It’s something that we look at in the short term, but as far as adding UFA’s for the long term for multiple years is something we’re probably not going to look at.”
Does Dorion feel this upcoming Draft Class is deeper than others?
“We always knew that this would be one of the better Drafts in the past 10-12 years. That’s why we stockpiled so many picks. We wanted to get ready for it. We feel that we’re in a very good position. We have nine picks in the first three rounds. We have three picks in the first round. That puts in a good position to help our rebuild, to have long term success by stockpiling so many picks in this year’s Draft. We feel it’s a good quality Draft. In the top 15-20, you’re going to get really good NHL players. In the top three rounds, you’re going to get solid NHL players also.”
With an abundance of picks, will the Senators package some of them to move up or acquire more talent?
“I don’t particularly know what we’re going to do with all of our picks. I’m sure as we get closer to the Draft there will be multiple discussions. We know that we have a plan in place. We’re going to follow that plan. We know we’re not growing to rush things. We’re going to do things properly, and that’s part of having long term success in building a championship-winning calibre team in Ottawa.”
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) May 26, 2020
Where is the club in Draft discussions? Has the team held scouting meetings? How many players has the club spoken to?
“One thing with the Ottawa Senators that we’re very fortunate is; we have a great amateur scouting staff. We feel we’re led by one of the best Chief Amateur Scouts in the business in Trent Mann. We know our Draft that will be in very good hands with Trent handling it. We’ve had preliminary meetings as far as areas. Area scouts are still doing (player) interviews. We know time is on our side here. We know that the Draft will not be until much later on. I think it’s to our benefit to prepare as best as possible. So right now, we’re in no rush. We’re going to have meetings at some point in time – in the next month or so. But at the same time, we’re going to do it right. It’s not a race, but we want to make sure we build the best list as possible to have proper planning to go into this Draft.”
“We’ve spoken to quite a bit (of players), at least 50 interviews – some of them I’ve not been on, just the local scouts, sometimes I’ve had other duties. I can tell you they’ve gone very well. It’s been a very good process for the Ottawa Senators.”
How does the club’s approach change if next season may not open until December or January? How much of a concern is this?
“I think we have to accept the fact that it’s the way it is. It’s a changing world. We know that 24 teams will have a certain advantage of playing before we ever get a chance to play. I’m sure the NHL will look at it, into the matter. We’ll look at what can be done. I think that a plausible solution will be made for the seven teams that will be on a break.”
“Players are professionals. They’re ready for it, whether they are in Belleville or in Ottawa, they’re ready for it. We know we’re going to field a competitive team next year, and we’ll be looking forward to the 20-21 season to start.”
A message from Eugene Melnyk on the NHL’s Return to Play plan. pic.twitter.com/gj7MBZFJ00
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) May 26, 2020
What steps can be taken for the Senators’ prospects to be a competitive edge for next season?
“I think we have a great staff of three strength and conditioning people, Chris Schwarz, Rob Mouland and Jeremy Benoit – to make sure whether they’re working together to contact our players, whether it’s having sessions through Zoom or other ways they can communicate with each other. We know the players will be ready when the season starts…whenever that might, our players will be ready to go. And there will not be any excuses.”
Would the team ultimately ask players to come to Ottawa for training this summer?
“The NHL has guidelines. We’re going to follow those guidelines. They’ve got some really smart people there. They came up with a great plan to play in. Whatever the guidelines are for our prospects, for eventual development camps or rookie camps which will follow guidelines, we know we just can’t go into the season without having some form of prospect/development camps.”
On contract talks with any of the club’s 15 combined RFA/UFA’s:
“We made a rule I learned from my first year as general manager, that it’s probably not best to talk about any of these discussions. We know what we need to do from now until the season starts and we’ll make sure that we will get it done.”
Dorion on Belleville Senators’ forward Josh Norris earning AHL Most Outstanding Rookie honours:
“For us, Josh Norris just became a man among boys at the American League level. For a 20-year old to win the Rookie of the Year just says something about where we fill he will end up. He’s someone that plays the game at an extremely high pace, his skating, his puck execution, his shooting ability – he’s someone that’s got offensive flair. He does everything the right way. Once he joined our organization, once he signed after his shoulder surgery, he came to Ottawa. He spent extra time in Ottawa to make sure he was ready for the past season. He comes from a hockey family (dad, Dwayne played pro hockey). We know that we have a star in Josh Norris, whenever he joins the Ottawa Senators.”
News Release: #Sens prospect @joshnorris10 has been voted the winner of the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as outstanding rookie for the 2019-20 @TheAHL season: https://t.co/opqloT7cN8 pic.twitter.com/xp1UGLShTp
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) May 28, 2020
What the GM’s priorities for the off-season?
“As part of the plan to keep going, we want to field a competitive team in Ottawa and Belleville. We want to see the growth in our players. We have to start moving up in the standings. For our team, a lot of the work we’ve done in the past two years, our fans will start seeing. We’re really excited about the upcoming season. I think we’re really excited about the injection whether it’s three, four or five guys coming to our team that finished on Belleville in the last year. That team was in first place and was the highest-scoring team. We had some role players that also came up. At the same we want to surround them with some quality veterans to show them the way of being good pros as we’ve shown them in Ottawa.”
Dorion expresses his thoughts on D.J. Smith’s first season as Senators’ head coach.
“To us, D.J. has done a tremendous job. First and foremost, he makes it a pleasure to come to work every day. I don’t think I’ve met one more person with the positive energy than D.J. Smith has. As a coach, he has great structure. He’s a great communicator with the older players, the younger players. He knows how to get the maximum out of them. If we give him the right pieces, we know he’s going to bring a championship-calibre team in a very short span.”
Senators Leading Scorers: 2019-20