Five Thoughts: What Do You Do About Pierre?
A journey filled with deep highs and lows, does Dorion deserve another chance?
With ownership of the Ottawa Senators seemingly guaranteed to be finalized this off-season, fans started speculating on what comes next as soon as that last game ended. There is broad agreement on many issues such as Alex DeBrincat should be extended (though at a reasonable rate), Cam Talbot shouldn't come near our net again (thankfully, that's been confirmed) and DJ Smith is probably on a short leash. However, one position seems to have fans split and that is General Manager Pierre Dorion. There's a credible case for retaining the long-serving head, and there's plenty of reason for parting ways.
While I personally think Pierre Dorion will probably not survive the new ownership sweep, I can see the logic of keeping him at least for the first little while. Let's dive into why Dorion has become such a tough case to figure out.
A Core Commitment
There was a time, not too long ago when we were terrified when a star player was up for a contract extension. However, since September 2019, we have seen Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Tim Stützle all secured with long-term deals, many of which look to be a steal from a value perspective. Was Melnyk's budget holding him back? It's hard to argue otherwise, even if the extent is unknowable, but with Dorion clearly showing he can convince his young players to stay on very reasonable contracts, this will probably be his biggest selling point to new ownership. This team begins and ends with this young core and any success they've had and will continue to see is because Dorion was able to keep them together.
A Lacking Support System
While Dorion did a great job creating a core that should be one of the best in the league very shortly, he has done a poor job of creating a supporting cast for this young group which has often held them back and is probably one of the main reasons this team's rebuild has not met any of the timelines previously promised, as Ian Mendes recently reminded us.
I don't want to take credit from Dorion for securing the core but in the grand scheme of things, it's easier to secure what you already have than to build to the point of contention. This team won't truly contend unless it's a complete team without the dead weight that Dorion has insisted on adding the past few years. Depth additions that haven't really worked as hoped include Dylan Gambrell, Brady on Cobourn, Austin Watson, Derek Stepan, and Tyler Motte. Fans enjoyed this season and were more forgiving about missing the playoffs but that won't be the case next season so is Dorion ready to do the tricky part of getting those players who will have an impact every night without having the elite price tag?
Team Morale and Loyalty
Pierre Dorion really believes in loyalty, especially when it comes to his head coach . While it makes sense to support your own hire, Dorion may have risked a future job and fan support with his constant refusal to hold DJ Smith accountable for the way he has run this team.
Dorion has often used the team's players as an excuse for keeping Smith around but a good GM knows that if the players are getting too friendly with the coach, it is not necessarily a good thing. While I will 100% agree that Smith seems like a genuinely likable man, I think the players got too comfortable around him. This is where Dorion makes me nervous, he doesn't always come across as the man who can make the truly tough decisions when it matters the most.
On the other hand, I think just like Smith, the players do seem to enjoy being around Dorion so with the possibility of Smith moving on in the off-season, how would losing both Dorion and Smith affect the current team morale? This team's strongest point has been the close-knit relationship they've formed and that has included both Smith and Dorion so while this young core does need some more structure, we also need to consider that most of them don't have much experience with different kinds of NHL coaches and management so they may need time to adjust.
Trade and Draft Wins
We can spend weeks going through every Dorion trade and draft pick and we'd all conclude that just like any other GM, he's had some big misses and some big wins. I don't think Dorion is great at off-season signings (Claude Giroux was basically a gift for him) but he's done quite a job, especially in the post-Melnyk era, at making big splash trades that have had zero negative impact on the team. The Cam Talbot trade was bad and it continues to bother me but then you look at how he's added Alex DeBrincat and Jakob Chychrun and I think most of us (including myself) will eventually forgive him for losing Gustavsson. While we sometimes don't like to admit it because it should never have happened, he also did change the entire direction of this team with his work on the Erik Karlsson trade and somehow managed to convince our most hated rival to take on Matt Murray.
I won't pretend I'm a prospect expert and I've accepted that I never will be but Dorion has done extremely well with building a team through draft picks that most people initially disagreed with, most notably Brady Tkachuk and Jake Sanderson. I can't truly give him credit for Tim Stützle because we got lucky he "fell" to us and I often wonder if Dorion would have made that same choice if there were more options presented to him. With the team now being mostly a result of his smart and bold decisions, is there an argument that he deserves another chance to see the result of his hard work?
A muddy history
It might be unfair to cast Pierre Dorion as part of the Eugene Melnyk mess but the truth is, he'll always be associated with him and the worst times this fanbase has gone through. Nobody is going to forget the way he handled the Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene situations even if you think he eventually won those trades.
Then we get to Daniel Alfredsso,n who should be a big part of this team going forward. While there were efforts of reconciliation made this season, I don't see Daniel Alfredsson being a huge fan of working with Pierre Dorion after everything that's happened over the past few years.
Pierre Dorion may have been handcuffed by Melnyk but unlike Bryan Murray, he never made the effort to fight back when most of us felt he could. He didn't stand up for this organization or its players when they needed him the most and only added to the toxicity of everything that was happening at the time. Good hockey trades are great and should be applauded but with new ownership providing us all with a chance to start fresh, do we truly want Pierre Dorion to be part of that future?
When it comes to Pierre Dorion, I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. You can justify both points of view and ultimately the decision will depend on who the new owners will be and if they feel there is enough time to bring in a completely new management team, although I'd assume they would have already done their research beforehand. The era of Pierre Dorion will always be controversial and will always have fans divided.
Personally, I've always been of the opinion that Dorion's mistakes had a bigger impact than his "wins" and there are times when I still believe this, especially considering how I feel that DJ Smith was the main reason this team didn't go as far as they could have this season and that fully falls on Dorion. What's the point of creating the greatest cast with a proven incompetent director?
Is Pierre Dorion a credible GM? Yes, he is. Is he someone that you can confidently say will take this team to elite contender status? I can't bring myself to really believe that.