Pierre Dorion is the 11th longest tenured general manager in the NHL. Based on the trajectory that the organization is on, he should be completely off that list by the end of the 2021-22 season.
Now, this article isn’t meant to be a personal attack on Dorion, but the NHL is a business, and I simply don’t see how he is the right person to lead the Ottawa Senators. Being a GM in the NHL is an incredibly difficult job to have, so it’s not as if Dorion is dumb, although you need to be the best of the best in order to be successful in the best league in the world. Not all of his tenure has been awful, but if the Senators want to capitalize on this window with a young core, they need to bring in a fresh face.
First of all, let’s start off with what Dorion has done well. While I’m criticizing him today, he’s certainly done some great things for the team. He’s brought in youngsters such as Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Shane Pinto, Erik Brännström, and Alex Formenton, plus he added prospects Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig, Filip Gustavsson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, etc. In addition, he signed Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Drake Batherson to long-term contracts, with Batherson looking like the steal of the decade at just $4.975M per season.
He also brought in an unknown Artem Zub who has been one of the most underrated KHL signings. Although you can quibble with the necessity of certain veteran players leaving between 2018-2020, he did quite well to get good value in trades involving Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Derick Brassard, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Lastly, he’s done all of this under the strict ownership of Eugene Melnyk, who undoubtedly makes things more difficult with budgetary restrictions. So Dorion has definitely built a foundation that can be added to, which is why it has been easy to be optimistic about this team’s future.
However, that foundation can only take the team so far.
The Senators are going to miss the playoffs for the fifth season in a row, and they are already supposed to be in their “run of unparalleled success” from 2021-2025. I don’t think people truly expected them to make the playoffs this season, but after being “just” 10th from the bottom last season, there were real expectations that Ottawa could at least challenge for a playoff spot and reach 80+ points. Yet they’ve taken a step back this season, and it’s hard to see how they’ll even come close to a playoff spot in 2022-23 without major upgrades. At what point does there begin to be some urgency in this rebuild?
Yes, this core is still very young, but Chabot and Tkacuk are signed for six more years, which you can essentially view as their window. As long as Melnyk is the owner, I just don’t expect players to stay beyond their late 20s, so Ottawa has six years to win with this group. And that’d be fine if they were already a contender or even a playoff team, but if they don’t make the playoffs for a few more seasons, then they’re just limiting themselves to a few runs at the Cup. As we’ve seen with teams like Washington, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay, it can sometimes take years for a core to finally get over the hump. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but you want to keep your window open as long as possible. Peak performance tends to occur between the ages of 22-25, which is how old a lot of these players are, so there is no time to waste in terms of making this team as good as possible.
The Senators have reached a different stage of their rebuild where they shouldn’t be selling off pieces anymore, but rather, they should be adding complementary pieces to surround the solid talent they have already. And Dorion knows that, as he’s essentially said as much. However, the main issue is that him and the rest of the organization are inept when it comes to identifying good NHL players to bring into the fold.
I’m going to go through a list of NHL players that Dorion has acquired during his time in Ottawa. I’m only looking at guys who had previous NHL experience, because for some strange reason they can scout prospects but not guys who are already established. For each one, I’ll say whether they worked out worse, better, or just as the team expected. Here they are in chronological order:
- Tom Pyatt: worse
- Chris Kelly: worse
- Derick Brassard: as expected (but Mika Zibanejad was even better)
- Mike Condon: better
- Tommy Wingels: as expected
- Alex Burrows: worse
- Viktor Stalberg: as expected
- Nate Thompson: worse
- Johnny Oduya: worse
- Matt Duchene: as expected (but they lost the 4th overall pick)
- Magus Paajarvi: as expected
- Mikkel Boedker: worse
- Dylan DeMelo: better (yet failed to retain him)
- Chris Tierney: as expected
- Anders Nilsson: better
- Anthony Duclair: better
- Oscar Lindberg: as expected
- Tyler Ennis: better
- Nikita Zaitsev: worse
- Connor Brown: better
- Ron Hainsey: as expected
- Artem Anisimov: as expected (salary dump)
- Vladislav Namestnikov: as expected
- Mike Reilly: better
- Josh Brown: worse
- Matt Murray: worse
- Erik Gudbranson: worse
- Austin Watson: as expected
- Evgenii Dadonov: worse
- Alex Galchenyuk: worse
- Derek Stepan: worse
- Cedric Paquette: worse (salary dump)
- Braydon Coburn: worse (salary dump)
- Anton Forsberg: better
- Nick Holden: as expected
- Michael Del Zotto: worse
- Zach Sanford: worse
- Dylan Gambrell: worse
- Travis Hamonic: ?
So that’s 18 out of 38 players that have been worse, 8 better, and 12 as expected. In other words, only 21.1% of added players have been nice surprises to varying degrees. The thing is, they ended up moving on from Duclair, DeMelo, and Reilly without getting huge returns, with C. Brown and Forsberg being the only out-performers still around. Not every acquisition has the same story, as some were meant to be minor bandaids, but none of these players have really been able to move the needle.
Duchene could have been that, but that deal hurt them in the long run, Brassard was solid but it would’ve been better to keep Zibanejad, and Murray and Dadonov had potential to change things, but neither of those worked out either. This list just looks like a lot of failed attempts to add to the roster that just haven’t done anything.
Defenders of Dorion might say that some of these acquisitions like Gudbranson, Coburn, Stepan, Hainsey, etc. were placeholders, and that’s true to an extent (Coburn and Paquette at least got them a 2nd rounder so that was worth it). Furthermore, some were small moves that weren't necessarily looking to improve the team (like Anisimov). At the same time, nobody says you have to acquire bad players, nor do you have to overpay to get them. It’s not like you need to flip a switch at some point and say “okay now we’re going to acquire good players instead!” There is never a bad time to acquire good players, as he showed with Duclair, C. Brown, and Forsberg.
I’ve long felt that Dorion isn’t the right person for the job, but I was willing to give him a chance to see what he would do to add to this roster. However, the most recent Hamonic trade is a perfect encapsulation of what’s wrong with the team’s player evaluations. Dorion talked about how the Senators need a top-4 defenseman, and after saying that Hamonic was better than the other options, I can’t imagine them adding any other defensemen in the off-season—and that is a massive problem for a team that is still awful defensively. Sanderson will help, but if Hamonic and Zaitsev are still getting big minutes, this is not a playoff team.
A 3rd round pick isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s never a good sign when other fanbases (including analysts) are destroying Ottawa for it:
Clearing Hamonic’s $3M cap hit for free would have been a huge win for the #Canucks. Getting a third round pick back? That’s just a steal— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) March 20, 2022
The Hamonic trade might be the best deal the #Canucks have made in a decade. To offload $3 million for a bottom pair defenceman while also adding a 3rd rounder is basically wizardry in today’s NHL.— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) March 20, 2022
Hamonic hasn’t been good for a few years now, but Jack Capuano coached him in New York five years ago, so apparently that’s a good enough recommendation in this organization:
Travis Hamonic (traded to Ottawa) is, by definition, an nhl player. pic.twitter.com/5fLbxMr1d5— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 20, 2022
It’s frustrating that a team that is supposed to be budget-conscious added a non-valauble player like Hamonic for $3M when that money could be allocated in a much better way. I could talk a lot more about Hamonic, but the point is that Dorion does not have a good ability to recognize which NHL players will help the team. And that’s essentially the only thing that the organization needs right now—someone who can add to this solid core.
There are lots of ways to accomplish that through either trades or free agency, with trades being the most likely for Ottawa. I’m not going to pretend that it’s an easy task, because we have no idea what other teams are asking for their players. Having said that, I can confidently say that the additions Dorion has made have routinely failed to live up to his expectations, which is unacceptable. Realistically, this team still needs another top-6 forward, a top-4 defenseman, one or two very good bottom-6 players, and a starting goaltender. That isn’t always easy to find, but Cup-winning teams find a way.
Again, I don’t want this to come across as a “Pierre Dorion is an absolute moron” piece, because he’s done some good things and he’s in a challenging position. But this business doesn’t give people a free pass, and fans expect this team to be much better. If the Senators want to have any hope of winning with this fantastic collection of young talent, they need to find a new general manager.
The good news is that the young talent is there, so it’s possible to get out of this rut. I’m just unsure how willing Melnyk is to fire him considering he got a contract extension in September. Nevertheless, it’s time to switch things up by bringing in an external hire—otherwise there’ll be a lot of wasted time for the Senators.