Senators general manager Pierre Dorion could not have made it more clear. The time is now.
The 44-year-old has reportedly been one of the busiest GMs in the entire league the past month, and it’s shown on the roster. With the acquisitions of Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg, Dorion has done exactly what he set out to do: bring in forward depth.
Though actions supposedly speak louder than words, Dorion has also covered the latter. In his Tuesday conference call, a day after pulling the trigger on the Burrows deal, he stated, “I’m sending the message: Win.”
“I would hope that's the message,” said Tommy Wingels, now 15 games into his Senators career. “You play this game to win. You play this game for a chance to win the Stanley Cup. You play this game for a chance to play in the playoffs. Anyone who's played this game, anyone who's watched this game knows that playoff hockey, that experience, that intensity, is so far beyond what the regular season is.
“Everyone in this room is happy (with) this organization's direction and the guys up top. The guys in this room believe this is a playoff team. Now it's our job to put our heads down and work."
This is the first time in recent memory the Senators have made multiple impactful moves near the trade deadline to ensure a playoff berth and give themselves a solid shot at winning a round or two.
In the previous five seasons during the two weeks leading up to the deadline, Ottawa had acquired a grand total of Ales Hemsky, Cory Conacher, Matt Gilroy and Ben Bishop. An owner opening his wallet and a GM working the phones in anticipation of a possible deep playoff run is something the nation’s capital isn’t all too familiar with.
Whether or not you feel this is the right time for the Senators to go for it, the players are enthused. Management hasn’t been this eager in years and it’s trickling down to the locker room in a big way.
“It's exciting,” said forward Zack Smith after practice yesterday morning. “(It's) some of the most action we've seen at the trade deadline in a way that's building your team for the moment right now, as opposed to trading for picks and the future.”
“There's one reason why everyone in this room and everyone in the game plays the game and that's to win the Stanley Cup,” said Wingels. “You want to be on a team that has that opportunity, a team that's willing to add players, a team is trying to make the playoffs. Fortunately, we're one of those teams this year and we're going to make a good push in the last five or six weeks of the season."
On Monday evening, Dorion made his first of two rather substantial splashes in the trade market, bringing Burrows from Vancouver to Ottawa in exchange for Swedish prospect Jonathan Dahlen.
Burrows got his first taste of the Senators’ style and system in practice on Wednesday.
“There’s a total buy-in in the team concept that we’re trying to do here,” explained Burrows in front of his new locker beside fellow leaders Smith and Mark Stone. “I’m going to try and play hard, play in people’s faces and play wherever I can in the lineup to earn my ice time. I know it’s not going to be given; I don’t want it to be given.
“I want to win and I feel this team can win in the long run (and) short run. That’s why it made the decision for myself pretty easy.”
Head coach Guy Boucher could not be more excited to have Burrows along for the ride.
"Burrows has made it deep in the playoffs,” Boucher acknowledged in arguably his most attended press conference of the season. “He was a top, top, top leader down there. You can see what the players have said in Vancouver. He's one of those classy individuals off ice that's got unbelievable intangibles and our group needs that. We have some good, young guys and we need to protect our investments."
The final item on Dorion and Boucher’s must-have shopping list was purchased Tuesday afternoon as the team parted ways with their third-round pick in 2017 - leaving only four picks left in their possession for this year’s draft - in order to acquire Stalberg.
Stalberg, along with Burrows, was on the ice for the first time in a Senators uniform.
“They’ve got a lot of offensive threats and obviously a couple of really good Dmen back there,” said Stalberg of his observations of his new team. “Goaltending has been great, over the last stretch they’re not giving up a whole lot and winning tight games. That’s what you’ve got to do in the playoffs. Seriously, I think this is a team built for the playoffs and now we’ve just got to find a way to get in there.”
And again, Boucher raved about adding a player of Stalberg’s calibre.
“We wanted more speed for our fourth line and Viktor has unbelievable speed,” Boucher explained. “And size, we wanted more size, also. The guy can play PK. He was playing the first minute in Carolina and they've got one of the best PKs in the league, so that's terrific. He can still make plays, he's got experience, he's won before, he's (gone) deep into the playoffs with two different teams and the experience is something we need."
Burrows and Stalberg may not be the duo that puts Ottawa over the edge and turns them into a contender in any sense of the word, but because the team lost no current NHLers in trading for them, the forward corps has completely transformed.
Not only does the acquisition of Burrows and Stalberg mean two top-nine talents are immediately inserted into the lineup, but it bumps out two players Boucher has been reluctant to give consistent ice time on a nightly basis.
It also made Curtis Lazar expendable, which gave Dorion the green light to get what he could for what has been an underwhelming development of a sought after prospect so far.
The Senators are looking a hell of a lot more like a playoff team up front now.
Healthy Forward Depth (Minus Clarke MacArthur):
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Mike Hoffman||Kyle Turris||Mark Stone|
|Zack Smith||Derick Brassard||Bobby Ryan|
|Ryan Dzingel||Jean-Gabriel Pageau||Alex Burrows|
|Viktor Stalberg||Tommy Wingels||Tom Pyatt|
|Chris Kelly||Chris Neil|
"Obviously Bobby's not there, that's a gigantic part of our team,” said Boucher. “So you plug him in there and I think you look at our lineup and we're basically going to have three lines that look like a first line. That's the depth you need. You look at the top teams in this league and that's what they've got. Pittsburgh comes in here and you look at their top three lines and [exaggerated exhale]."
Though Boucher’s examination of his forward group may be a little overzealous, he has good reason to be satisfied with the four healthy lines that could be at his disposal with Ryan’s return.
"Fourth line now is the old third line,” said Boucher of the new NHL. “It's just there's so much depth out there, you've got to have it. And now we believe that we have it. Our owner and our GM have permitted us to improve in that sense, so I think it's a great boost for us."
The Senators still have their work cut out for them. Though rather safely above the ninth seed New York Islanders with a four-point advantage, the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers absolutely have the ability to overthrow Ottawa within their own division.
With 21 games left, and one or two in hand on their surrounding competition, the Senators have put themselves in a favourable position, but don’t think for a second they’re out of the woods and into the postseason.
Boucher and his squad know this wholeheartedly. But still, with the immediate upgrades the team garnered before 3 p.m. ET yesterday, it’s hard not to crack a smile.
"I'm excited, really excited,” exclaimed Boucher. “Like a kid under a Christmas tree. It's great to look at your board and see the options. That's what it's given us now."