The newest Five Thoughts as we get closer to the 2021 NHL pre-season:
Next Stage of the Rebuild
Pierre Dorion signed a 3-year contract extension with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday that expires in 2025, ending speculation about Pierre McGuire being his potential successor in the immediate future. It’s strange to think about, but if he makes it to the end of that contract, he will have been the GM of the Senators for nine years. It’s certainly unusual to go into the final season of a coach or GM’s contract without signing an extension, so it makes sense that with Eugene Melnyk happy in the team’s direction, he wants to keep Dorion around.
Dorion had a quote that got circulated a lot on Wednesday in regards to where the team is right now:
"The rebuild is done. Now we're stepping into another zone," says Dorion. #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) September 7, 2021
As the GM of a team, he’s obviously going to be optimistic and is only going to say positive things like this, so I get why it was said. At the same time, it would have been nice for them to be out of the rebuild in a much more defined way by adding to the NHL roster in the off-season. They have swapped Evgenii Dadonov for Nick Holden (a lateral move at best) and added Michael Del Zotto. Yes, their young players will be better and that will help, but they haven’t been able to capitalize on adding surrounding talent yet.
In terms of the “rebuild,” there are a lot of semantics going on because I wouldn’t necessarily say they are still in a rebuild in the sense that they are tearing it down and amassing draft picks, but they are still “rebuilding” as they have yet to make the playoffs. If the Senators finish in the bottom five in the league again, I certainly wouldn’t say the rebuild is over. This is definitely another “zone” as Dorion calls it, but I hope they can be aggressive in terms of supplementing the young talent they already have.
Dorion has done a great job at drafting NHLers, but what he and his staff have severely underperformed in is acquiring established NHL talent. That is the one thing that will make or break him as a good GM for Ottawa, and that will be tested over the next few seasons. Because adding to your young talent can be the difference between being the Edmonton Oilers or the Pittsburgh Penguins. I wouldn’t say Ottawa is out of the woods yet with this rebuild, but they are on the right track with the next step being the hardest one.
Brady Tkachuk remains unsigned, although there are still other high-profile names on that RFA list including Rasmus Dahlin, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Kirill Kaprizov, Kailer Yamamoto, and others. It hasn’t reached “panic” territory yet, although it’s fair to be a bit antsy about when this contract is going to be finalized. There has been plenty of speculation about what Tkachuk wants, and the latest update from Elliotte Friedman is that the two sides are in a good position:
“Over the last little while, the word is the Senators and Tkachuk have been grinding away on a long-term deal — believed to be similar to Thomas Chabot’s 8x8 extension. If that can’t get done soon, it’s very possible the two sides will switch to something shorter. What that says to me is both sides agree getting Tkachuk in camp is a priority.”
It doesn’t sound like a long-term deal is guaranteed, but it’s nice hearing that it is a distinct possibility. Either way, I’m counting on an expensive new contract and a ‘C’ on his sweater very shortly.
What to do with Logan?
Logan Brown is their only other unsigned RFA and he’s a bit of a forgotten man. I thought for sure he was going to be traded in the off-season, but the only thing they’ve done to the forwards is get rid of Dadonov. The Senators centre depth includes Josh Norris, Colin White, and Chris Tierney as locks, plus Shane Pinto and Logan Brown as other options. Unless they acquire somebody else or Nick Paul moves to centre, there isn’t really much competition at this position, especially if White moves to the right side with a vacant spot left by Dadonov.
If Brown is willing to sign a one-year deal in Ottawa, he might make the team by default—however, that assumes he is healthy, which is never a good assumption. I do wonder what both sides would be looking for in a contract though because he’s clearly too good for the AHL but hasn’t been able to prove much in the NHL. I think a one-year, one-way deal is fair since this is a make-or-break year for him.
Does he still have potential? Absolutely, and I was one of his strongest supporters in the past. But he needs to stay healthy because he hasn’t been able to since he was drafted five years ago. If the best offers for him are late-round picks and the Senators aren’t going to get another forward, it’d be better to just play him in Ottawa and see if he can stick.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman released his top U23 players a few days ago, and the Senators are sitting pretty. He ranked 194 players and had seven Senators in the top 98, plus 10 in the top 166. To put that into perspective, the average team has just over five players in that group of 166. He had Tim Stützle (7), Brady Tkachuk (8), Josh Norris (22), Jake Sanderson (27), Shane Pinto (58), Alex Formenton (86), Erik Brännström (98), Jacob Bernard-Docker (118), Egor Sokolov (161), and Ridly Greig (166) on his list, which is quite the representation from Ottawa.
I saw some people say that Pronman is always so anti-Senators—which I don’t buy considering he gave them an A in the 2020 draft—but even if he was, having 10 Senators on this list is even more impressive since he’s supposedly “harsher” on them. No matter how you slice it, that list is great to look at because of how much young talent they have.
Games Coming Soon!
Senators development camp begins tomorrow, which runs until September 20th. The development/practice portion goes until the 14th, but we get to see the Sens rookies face off against the Montreal Canadiens rookies on the 18th (home) and 20th (away). It’s unclear if those games will be broadcasted, but if they are, it will be great to watch some action for the first time since mid-May. Their roster sadly doesn’t include any college players such as Jake Sanderson, Tyler Boucher, Tyler Kleven, etc., but Leevi Merilainen, Mads Søgaard, JBD, Angus Crookshank, Shane Pinto, Ridly Greig, Roby Jarventie, Egor Sokolov, and several others will be fun to watch.
Not long after that, the Senators NHL roster will be beginning their pre-season on Sunday, September 26th against the Jets in Winnipeg. Their other six games will feature three versus the Canadiens and three versus the Maple Leafs before they begin their regular season on October 14th against Toronto again. This is a long way of saying that we get to watch NHL hockey really soon. Just eight more days until the first rookie game, 16 more days until the first pre-season game, and 34 days until the season/home opener!
August was an extremely slow and boring month, but before we know it, the Senators are going to be a part of our weekly routines. And I can’t wait to see what they’ve got for us this season.