For a team that didn't make the playoffs, the Senators sure know how to keep themselves in the news during the post-season. From new coaches to missed opportunities, there were many things to keep minds of Sens fans racing this week.
1) New Coach
On Saturday evening, hope of the Sens hiring a decent NHL-ready coach seemed lost when Bruce Boudreau, who had been in Ottawa to interview for the head-coaching position, signed with the Minnesota Wild. And just like that, it looked like we were destined to face another AHL call-up, or former-assistant-turned-head coach. Well step aside Cory Clouston, because things are changing around here!
Not 24 hours after what felt like the ultimate disappointment, the Sens hired their
next option first choice, Guy Boucher on Sunday afternoon. At this point, we've all determined that we're pretty happy with this hiring. Sure, we couldn't get one of the best coaches in the league, but Boucher is a very good coach with something to prove.
Boucher had a pretty successful (if short) stint in the NHL, taking the Tampa Bay Lightning to Game 7 of the conference finals in 2011. Unfortunately, things didn't go so well for him after that, and the Lightning failed to live up to expectations following that run. He was, ironically, fired in 2013 after a loss vs. the Ottawa Senators. And that would be the last time we saw Guy Boucher in the NHL. Until now, of course.
He spent some time between then and now coaching in the Swiss ice hockey club, leading SC Bern to the Swiss Cup title in 2014-15. So despite not being in the NHL, he has seen some recent success as a head coach.
I could go on about why hiring Guy Boucher was a good move, but we've talked enough about it at this point. But let's focus on one thing: his ability to work with star players. He coached Steven Stamkos in Tampa for two and a half years, and arguably got the best out of him. In the two full seasons under Boucher (2010-11 and 2011-12), Stamkos had two of his most successful seasons, with 91 and 97 points respectively. He even scored 60 goals in the 2011-12 season... 60!
Boucher also coached Sidney Crosby in Rimouski (QMJHL). So it's safe to say he not only has experience working with stars, but also with getting the most out of them. Which should come in handy with one of the best defencemen in the NHL, Erik Karlsson. For those who are worried that we are wasting Karlsson's best years on this team, management just responded by hiring a coach geared very much towards him.
2) Unsure of Marc Crawford
Along with hiring a new head coach, the Sens also appointed an associate coach in Marc Crawford this week. Crawford did all the right things, speaking to the media and saying everything fans wanted to hear. But I'll be honest, I have my reservations about Crawford being involved.
Both Crawford and Boucher have gone a few years without coaching in the NHL, but Crawford hasn't been in the league since 2011 (2013 for Boucher). In his final two years with the league, he coached the Dallas Stars through two unsuccessful seasons, in which they missed the playoffs. In fact, Crawford hasn't made the playoffs since 2004 with the Vancouver Canucks. It may only be 12 years, but the NHL is a very different league than it was then. We've gone through two lockouts, which both came with a few rule changes, since then. And his time in Vancouver was certainly riddled with controversy.
Crawford was the head coach in Vancouver during the Todd Bertuzzi incident. If you're unfamiliar with it, you can read about it here. But basically, Bertuzzi took down Steve Moore, tackling and punching him from behind, breaking three of his vertebrae and ending his career. Not only was it rumoured that Crawford encouraged someone to attack Moore, but he was also allegedly laughing during the whole incident.
Sure, this was 12 years ago, but how many of you still remember that moment? How many times has it been replayed? Personally, I have trouble removing it from by memory. And I know I'm not alone. It's something that's very hard to forget, and now it's directly tied to our team.
Simply put, Crawford is an old-school coach. He may have won a Stanley Cup, but that was in 1996. Twenty years have passed since then, and a lot has changed in the NHL. Now he's working with Boucher, who is known for his progressive mind and structure in coaching. I don't want to be too skeptical too early, but it's difficult not to worry about a power struggle manifesting itself eventually. Only time will tell, but it's something to keep in mind. Because that's what we do, Sens fans. We worry.
3) Dorion Making Waves
It feels like just yesterday that Pierre Dorion was named General Manager of the Ottawa Senators. And since then, he has moved pretty quickly. He wasted no time clearing house with the coaching staff, firing Dave Cameron and company one week into his new job. Fans wanted it, and they got it.
Right away, he started interviewing high-profile coaches for a replacement (well, the most high-profile coaches available). While it doesn't look like he was able to get the deal done with Boudreau, we all know there were likely circumstances beyond his control on that one. But when things didn't go his way, he didn't hesitate to grab the next best coach available in Boucher.
While we have become accustomed to things moving at a glacial pace with management, Dorion has been a breath of fresh air. Callum wrote about the refreshing change in management this week, which I highly recommend reading, especially if you're looking for reasons to feel good about the near future of the Ottawa Senators.
The sample size on which I'm basing this is small, but from what I've seen so far, things are looking good as far as management goes. But ultimately, it's what comes next that matters most.
4) What's Next?
Old coach out: check. New coach in: check. What now?
Well, signing one of the team's best players would be a good start. Throughout all the recent changes, Mike Hoffman's pending RFA status has been in the back of everyone's mind. Of all the things Dorion has left of his to-do list, that should be at the very top.
The good news is, it sounds like the team hesitated with giving Boudreau the contract he wanted. Maybe they were saving budget for a certain left winger? Rumour has it Boudreau wanted more term than the team was willing to give, but let's just assume money was also a big factor. Isn't it always?
Regardless of what we think Mike Hoffman should or shouldn't get, I think we can agree that he deserves to get paid. He was one goal shy of 30 this season, and finished with a total of 59 points. Considering the team he was playing on, this is pretty impressive. You can read more about our anticipated contract options for Hoffman here. And considering the beating that his relationship with the organization took over the past few years, Dorion now has a chance to show Hoffman that this management regime is going to give him what he's valued at. This isn't just about paying a player, it's about mending a relationship. And that should be a top priority.
Oh, then there's also the need to fix the defence, bring in another decent forward (I didn't say top-six), go through the draft and fill in the rest of the coaching staff. But we've got all summer for that.
5) RFA Season
The Sens are pretty lucky this year, they don't have any high-profile UFAs this off-season, other than Scott Gomez and Philip Varone... moving on. But what they lack in UFAs, they make up for in RFAs. In addition to Mike Hoffman, of course, some of the names include Alex Chiasson, Buddy Robinson, Matt Puempel, Ryan Dzingel, Patrick Wiercioch, Cody Ceci and Fredrik Claesson. But who's counting? Two of the most concerning names on that list, in my opinion, are Alex Chiasson and Patrick Wiercioch.
To say that Chiasson had a disappointing season would be a slight understatement. In 77 games, he had 14 points (8G, 6A). And he made $1.2 million in the process. It's hard to imagine a situation in which the Sens re-sign him. We discussed options for Chiasson a few months ago. The only two options that seem to make sense at this point are trading him (likely as part of a package deal, or for a late pick in the draft) or just not giving him a qualifying offer.
Wiercioch is slightly less worrisome, because there is still hope that he will turn into a productive NHL defenceman. His underlying numbers are very impressive, and he has been proven to make the players around him better, and rely less on Erik Karlsson than any other player on the team. But he still only had 5 points in 52 games. Although he's the same age as Chiasson, there still seems to be the belief that Wiercioch can turn things around. That's why I feel like they are more likely to try to keep Wiercioch. However, his contract is a little more complicated than Chiasson's.
Basically, the Sens would have to sign him to a bridge-deal ($2 million AAV) or go to team-elected arbitration by June 15, making a trade at the draft (June 24) pretty difficult. It looks the team will likely give Wiercioch another contract, and another chance to prove himself to management. And these are just two of the many RFAs we have to get through this summer. Don't you just love the off-season?
Thanks for reading!