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Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Management and Coaching

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Taking a look at how the Senators management and coaching fared this season

NHL: Ottawa Senators Press Conference Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

So far, Silver Seven Sens has graded all of the players on the team as part of our end of season grades, but now it’s time to look at the off-ice staff.

It’s not always as easy to evaluate the job done by the management and coaching staff, but here we did our best. There definitely are certain things that we can point to and evaluate positively or negatively, and unsurprisingly, there was a lot of blame to go around between the management and the coaches.

Here are the overall grades from the staff and readers:

Management: C- (Readers: C-)

Not every move Pierre Dorion made since the summer has been horrible, but he certainly did not do a good job of adding to a roster that was on the cusp of being a solid team. Instead of wanting to improve after being oh so close to the Stanley Cup Finals, Dorion & Co. were content with essentially the same roster sans Clarke MacArthur and Marc Methot, and that was an enormous mistake.

By having newly acquired players such as Alex Burrows, Nate Thompson, and Gabriel Dumont in the bottom-six, it is clear to me that Dorion does not have a good eye for evaluating good depth forwards. Yes, I’m sure some of those acquisitions were made partly to satisfy Guy Boucher, but at some point you have to tell your coach that he needs to worry about coaching the players that he’s given.

Let’s take a look at Dorion’s moves since last summer:

  • Let Methot get selected in expansion draft—Not ideal
  • Signed Nate Thompson for 2 years, $1.65M per year—Bad
  • Acquired Matt Duchene for Kyle Turris, Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, 1st round pick, 3rd round pick—Jury’s out, but as of now it’s average
  • Claimed Gabriel Dumont off waivers—Bad
  • Claimed Magnus Paajarvi off waivers—Good
  • Acquired Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore for Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson—Good
  • Acquired Filip Gustavssson, 1st round pick, 3rd round pick, 3rd round pick, and Nick Moutrey for Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, and 3rd round pick (essentially what the two trades turned out to be)—Good
  • Acquired 7th round pick for Nick Shore—Bad

As you can see, it was a mixed bag, and Dorion at least had a decent trade deadline with a couple big trades, plus not moving Erik Karlsson yet is a win (so far). Losing Methot instead of an inferior Cody Ceci wasn’t great, Thompson was a bad signing the second it was made, Dumont added nothing to the team, and I liked Shore as a 4th line centre who was actually good defensively, so seeing him go was a bit disappointing.

The Duchene trade still has lots of moving parts, because that first round pick next year could easily be in the top-5, especially if Karlsson is traded. But if Ottawa makes the playoffs, then it’s not as big of a deal and it might be a win for the Senators.

I didn’t list the re-signings that Dorion made, and that would definitely make things look worse. Re-signing Craig Anderson before he played a single game was a bad move in hindsight, Mike Condon has been a bad and expensive backup, and Ben Harpur has a one-way contract next season for some reason.

Despite all of that, my biggest issue with Dorion is that he failed to recognize some of the team’s weaknesses in the off-season, as he had a chance to bolster the lineup and make sure that 2016-17 wasn’t a fluke. Instead, he banked on his own players too much, and now they’re in an incredibly difficult position. If anything, my low grade for him is mainly due to his lack of adding to the roster, rather than his actual trades and signings.

And since this category is “management” and not just “Dorion,” we have to include Assistant GM and GM of the Belleville Senators, Randy Lee. This grade might be a tad higher if we were just including Dorion, but Lee has been an abysmal GM for the Senators farm team for years now.

In his four full seasons as GM of the Binghamton/Belleville Senators, the team has yet to make the playoffs, and they’ve failed to produce much young talent at all. Furthermore, the veteran signings that Lee makes hardly improve the team at all, as Jim O’Brien’s 29 points in 60 games can be considered a “success” compared to other veterans. It’s a sad state of affairs when the leading point getter on the team (Filip Chlapik) ends the year with 32 points.

The most baffling thing about this Belleville team though was how much they jerked around Marcus Hogberg. He played 18 games in Belleville and 16 in Brampton in the ECHL, despite being their best goalie prospect before Gustavsson was acquired. Instead, Danny Taylor, he of a phenomenal .900 SV%, got 32 starts and Andrew Hammond continued to play as well despite being part of the Avalanche organization.

Yes, Hammond was taking games away from Hogberg even though the B-Sens had no obligation to do so. The entire farm team has been a mess for a few years now, and perhaps that might partially be because their GM is a former strength and conditioning coach.

Overall, the management has not inspired much confidence, although Dorion has shown that he’s capable of making at least a few sensible moves like the Phaneuf and Brassard deals. Now we’ll see if he’ll be remembered as the GM who traded a two-time Norris winner though.

Coaching: D- (Readers: D+)

I’m semi-surprised that Boucher is still with the Senators organization. That may change in the near future, or some assistants may get fired, but as of now, Boucher probably has a short leash heading into next season.

It is becoming extremely apparent that Boucher is essentially a one-hit wonder wherever he goes. He’s followed an eerily similar run in Tampa Bay, Bern, and now Ottawa. In the first full season on each of these teams, they all went far in the playoffs. The Lightning and the Senators both went to game 7 of the Conference Finals and lost, whereas Bern actually won the championship. In each instance, there was strong optimism that he was the right coach.

But in the second season in Tampa, they had just 84 points in 82 games, and 32 games into the third season he was fired. Bern fired him even quicker, as in November of his second full season they let him go. Now the Senators could very well end up in a situation where they fire Boucher part-way through his third season in Ottawa, which would probably kill his chances of coming back to the NHL as a head coach.

I simply do not have enough faith in him being the long-term solution, and it appears neither do the staff or the readers.

Of course, we’re grading the entire coaching staff here, and all of the coaches should take blame for the horrendous special teams the Senators have had over the past two years. 2017-18 was especially bad, as they finished 27th on the powerplay and 26th on the penalty kill. The player personnel is part of the problem, but a good coaching staff should still be able to make a group consisting of Karlsson, Stone, Duchene, Hoffman, and Dzingel into a respectable offensive unit.

There’s also the issue of player usage, which is typically every Senators coach’s downfall. Boucher’s reluctance to use younger players early in the season was maddening, especially when the alternatives were his “guys” like Johnny Oduya, Alex Burrows, and Gabriel Dumont. He learned to give a bit more ice time to Thomas Chabot and even Christian Wolanin, but he still heavily relies on Cody Ceci in a shutdown role, which might just be the most miscast role for any player in the entire league.

I’m not going to pretend like I have an eye for noticing certain coaches “systems,” so I won’t touch on that in regards to how Boucher deployed it this season. I will say though that it was nowhere close to effective, as the Senators finished 30th in goal differential, adjusted corsi and expected goals for. Once again, part of that is because of a sub-par roster, but Boucher failed to get the most out of what he was given.

At the end of the day, it seems like most people are more willing to give Dorion another chance rather than Boucher & Co., and I tend to agree with that sentiment. I haven’t been happy with either of their performances over the past year, although at least Dorion has a chance to make up for it.

When evaluating why the Senators season went down the tubes so quickly, management and coaching are certainly two of the biggest reasons.