The 2017-18 Ottawa Senators followed up a tremendous season with almost the worst possible outcome: finishing second last in the entire league. With that, one would expect there to be some changes made, even if the front office believed in most of the people in the organization.
Considering Pierre Dorion has been the GM for just two years, it didn’t seem like he was going to be fired by Eugene Melnyk just yet. However, Guy Boucher and the rest of his staff were on the hot seat, and even up until yesterday there was still a chance that they were not going to be returning.
Yesterday on the radio, Dorion put those rumours to bed though, noting that Boucher and all of his assistants would be back in 2018-19:
#Sens GM Pierre Dorion tells @TSN1200 coach Guy Boucher and his entire staff will return for next season— TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) May 1, 2018
I don’t think any of us should be surprised that Boucher is coming back, mainly because it would be strange to fire him weeks after the regular season has ended, and not immediately after like the late Bryan Murray did with Dave Cameron in 2016.
There was certainly some doubt before the season had ended whether or not Boucher would be back, but I would have been shocked if Dorion took this long just to ultimately decide he wasn’t the man for the job. I think it would be naïve to believe that money isn’t playing a factor here too, as Boucher has one more year left on his contract, and the amount of times Melnyk has had to pay coaches to not work for the organization is a bit ridiculous.
The thing is, I don’t understand why Marc Crawford, Rob Cookson, and Martin Raymond are all returning as well. Replacing one, two, or all three of them may not ultimately have a huge impact on the team, but shuffling the deck chairs seems like a last ditch effort to make this coaching staff palatable:
Dorion says Guy Boucher will run the power play next season. Rob Cookson will go behind the bench as an assistant coach, while Martin Raymond becomes the "eye in the sky". Marc Crawford will remain behind the bench as an assistant.— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) May 1, 2018
In March, I talked about how abysmal the Senators special teams have been with this coaching staff, and I really doubt that swapping a few roles is going to change very much. The assistant coaches seemed like obvious scapegoats for a terrible season, and I think the idea of bringing in new people would have been accepted by the masses, whether it would work out or not.
If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be bringing Boucher or his assistants back, mainly because I just can’t see him making the necessary changes in order to adapt. And obviously with a new coach, it would be useless having assistants that he does not want. Having said all of that, Dorion now has an easy escape route for next season if things go south. Boucher and his staff will surely be the first to go in another bad season, whereas Dorion might not get as much of the blame within the organization.
The interesting thing about this news is not the news itself though—it’s what it means for the Senators roster. At the end of March, Dorion noted that changes had to be made for next season:
Dorion. “There’s going to be changes next year. This is unacceptable. There’s a plan in place”— John Rodenburg (@TSNJR) March 23, 2018
With Dorion and the coaching staff all coming back (except for Belleville’s coach Kurt Kleinendorst), the only place left to make changes is on the roster. Perhaps he was referring to making additions to scouting and the front office, but considering that Melnyk essentially shot down that idea, I wouldn’t count on it.
How can the Senators make changes then? By trading some of their bigger names like Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, and Mike Hoffman. I do believe that Dorion will be looking for a deal that straps Ryan to Karlsson, and the return is not going to be anywhere near what it should be, mainly because he has only one year left on his contract, plus Ryan significantly drops the price down.
Perhaps the Senators can find some common ground with Karlsson and actually re-sign him long-term, but if that happens, you can bet that Hoffman will be shopped in an effort to save some money. As I’ve outlined before, trading Hoffman is incredibly moronic, but in their minds, it’s probably easier to trade one big fish than trade three or four bad contracts like Zack Smith and Mike Condon.
I want to believe that the core of Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Ryan Dzingel, and Thomas Chabot will stay together and that Dorion will keep adding good depth pieces to the roster, but I also know that the Senators have proven themselves to be bad at identifying good depth players, plus they have been looking to shed salary. Dorion tried for months to get rid of Dion Phaneuf’s cap hit, Ryan’s name his been on the block for a while now, and the assumption from people inside and outside the Ottawa media is that they can’t even afford Karlsson.
The reality is that they can afford him, but with the way that the roster is poorly constructed, it is a lot harder to. Which then brings us back to the changes that Dorion said he was going to make this summer. If he is true to his word, he is going to be actively looking at deals involving Karlsson, Ryan, Hoffman, and probably even a few more players.
Whether those deals are going to be true “hockey deals” or not remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: if Karlsson is gone, this team is not going anywhere anytime soon. So I hope that Dorion’s “changes” for next season refers to better goaltenders and an improved bottom half of the roster instead.