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Looking Ahead to Pierre Dorion’s Crucial Offseason

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An expansion draft and several key contract negotiations will need immediate attention after the 2021 season

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s safe to say that Pierre Dorion has been one of the busiest general managers in the NHL since the start of his tenure with the Ottawa Senators. He’s been busy each and every trade deadline, adding depth for a deep playoff run in 2017, and selling off players who didn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans each year since then.

Starting next season, Ottawa will be hoping to be a team that will be good enough to be perennial buyers at the deadline, but in order to do so, Dorion will have to manage his roster through what will prove to be an important offseason, perhaps just as important as last year’s highlighted by the franchise-altering 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

The first item on the list for Dorion will be the Seattle Expansion Draft, which will take place on July 21st. I wrote a piece about the event last season, and the only changes brought about by COVID-19 are a lower games played threshold for the exposure requirements.

Dorion will likely opt to protect the standard 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender since the Senators have very few defencemen that they desperately need to protect in the first place. On the offensive side of things, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Colin White, Connor Brown, and Nick Paul are all eligible for the draft, and should all be protected.

That leaves two spots, and I’d reserve one for Vitaly Abramov. While he hasn’t dominated in the AHL to the degree we’d expect, his numbers in junior paint a picture of a top-six playmaking winger. Is it likely he reaches his potential? To be blunt, no. However, think back to Mike Hoffman, who spent four years in Binghamton before emerging as a sniper in the NHL in the 2014-15 season. Abramov could be a late bloomer, and while that may not be enough for some teams to protect a player, Ottawa doesn’t really have any better options as far as I can tell.

Belleville Senators v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The last forward spot could go to Evgenii Dadonov, but I don’t think we’d be all that upset if Seattle took his contract, with two years remaining at $5M, off Ottawa’s hands. If they did, Ottawa could always bring back Ryan Dzingel to take his spot. Other options include Austin Watson for his penalty-killing prowess or Logan Brown for the speck of trade value he almost still maybe holds, but I don’t think Dorion can do much harm by exposing any of the three.

Calgary Flames v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

As of right now, the three defensemen to be protected are most likely Thomas Chabot, Victor Mete, and Josh Brown, since Erik Brännström and Artem Zub are exempt, and protecting Nikita Zaitsev would be superfluous thanks to his contract. As for the crease. Matt Murray’s recent improvement is a great sign, but 22-year-old Filip Gustavsson is currently the most valuable goaltender in the organization. Protecting him would run the risk of losing Joey Daccord, who Seattle could assign to the AHL without having to waive him. Dorion could make a deal to keep the Kraken away from Daccord, but it may not be worth it seeing as goaltending is one of the system’s many positions of strength.

NHL: MAR 15 CANUCKS AT SENATORS Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All that said, Dorion’s job will get much more difficult after the expansion draft, as well as the 2021 NHL Draft a few days later (there’s no need for him to do anything there except “listen to Trent Mann FFS”); new contracts are due for Tkachuk, Batherson, and Zub. All three are pending restricted free agents, but the term and cap hit of each of these deals will be crucial to the success of the rebuild. How much can the team afford to pay them right now, versus in a few years?

In the case of Zub, a three-year deal makes sense as the term is decent while not having a ton of risk. I’d expect the AAV to fall somewhere around $3M per year since Zub has played only one season so far.

Winnipeg Jets v Ottawa Senators Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

As for Tkachuk, I’d be inclined to give him an eight-year deal, but that contract would expire when he’s 29, and at that point, his next deal would be incredibly difficult to negotiate. Instead, I’d look at giving him a bridge deal; a three-year contract comparable to Brock Boeser’s, worth $5.875M per year. If that seems a bit low for Brady, keep in mind his production is lower than that of Boeser, and the difference is made up for by Brady’s intangibles and impacts on team offense. Three years later, he’s still an RFA and you can go nuts with an eight-year deal.

Ottawa Senators v Calgary Flames Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

At this stage, a long-term deal would make more sense for Batherson. They could keep the salary low for the first two years, and start paying him more once Dadonov’s contract comes off the books. There are many ways to go about signing each of these players, but you don’t want to be paying out too much money in a particular year, lest you’ll end up in an unfortunately familiar situation.

NHL: APR 14 Jets at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dorion’s biggest weakness as a GM is in the area of professional scouting, and he could also stand to be less aggressive with draft picks. However, he was able to sign Chabot to an eight-year deal worth $8M annually, so he’ll know what to expect from the upcoming negotiations with Tkachuk and Batherson. Here’s hoping he can take care of business on his end, while the young core continues to develop and carry the Senators to a strong 2021-22 campaign.