Ottawa Senators Player Grades: Coaching & Management

Last but not least, we grade two important areas of the organization’s hockey operations department.

Welcome to the fourth piece of our 2018-19 player grades series. This time, we’re looking at the polarizing seasons of the coaching staff and GM Pierre Dorion that featured 10 trades, a firing, and a number of controversial comments.

The final piece will run tomorrow, and reveal how each staff member voted for each player/staff.

Guy Boucher: D-

Reader Grade: D+

When a coach is fired during the season, it’s hard to imagine of a scenario where he’d get a good grade. And to be honest, Boucher probably has only two reasons why he didn’t receive an F: 1) an improved powerplay that finished 13th in the league (20.3%), and 2) generally playing young players high up in the lineup when he was known for being incredibly stubborn about it during the prior two seasons of his tenure as head coach.

The mandate to play young players had to happen regardless of whether Boucher wanted to do it or not. When the team’s higher-ups explicitly state that it’s a requirement in all public communications, there was no choice for the two-time Conference Finalist.

The powerplay, however, is an interesting story. When Boucher was hired, he was known for his tactical prowess, especially on special teams, but the team generally struggled over his 2.5 years as head honcho. After swapping responsibilities last season didn’t lead to significant changes, Boucher took all responsibility for the powerplay this year and it improved in terms of chances converted. The underlying numbers, however, still paint a dim picture. The Sens weren’t threatening in terms of shot location, ranked last in the league in terms of shot attempts generated (CF/60 = 79.52), but were marginally better (19th) in terms of expected goals per 60 minutes (xGF/60) via

Marc Crawford: C-

Reader Grade: C+

Both the staff and readers ranked Crawford a full letter grade higher than Boucher.

Let me be clear: it’s hard to judge Crawford in any way because he didn’t really get a chance to made fundamental chances to the team in a month of being head coach. However, as he was, by all indications, a participatory member of the Sens coaching staff over the last three seasons, the team’s deficiencies — from player usage to special teams performance — falls on him, too.

Younger players like Max Veronneau, Rudolfs Balcers, and Christian Wolanin did receive an uptick in ice-time to the chagrin of veterans like Mikkel Boedker, but there was very little in any metric showing any sort of change other than attitude — which counts for something, but not enough to give me any confidence in him being the coach this team needs.

Pierre Dorion: D

Reader Grade: C

Pierre Dorion and co. made 10 trades over the course of this season:

  • Chris Wideman to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2020 6th round pick
  • Macoy Erkamps and Ben Sexton to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Tobias Lindberg and Stefan Elliott
  • Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt, and a 2019 6th round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for Anders Nilsson and Darren Archibald
  • Paul Carey to the Boston Bruins for Cody Goloubef
  • Gabriel Gagné to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Morgan Klimchuk
  • Max McCormick to the Colorado Avalanche for JC Beaudin
  • Matt Duchene and Julius Bergman to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, 2019 1st round pick, conditional 2020 1st round pick
  • Ryan Dzingel to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Anthony Duclair, 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 2nd round pick
  • Patrick Sieloff to the Anaheim Ducks for Brian Gibbons
  • Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights for Erik Brännström, Oscar Lindberg, 2020 2nd round pick/

There’s generally three groupings here:

  1. AHL swaps (#2, #4, #5, #6, #9) — a majority of the trades made, Belleville seemed to benefit from most of them (outside of the McCormick swap), and the team basically re-made their AHL blueline. Gagné for Klimchuk is the only one with real future implications, with Toronto getting the younger player and Ottawa getting the more established prospect. Unfortunately, Klimchuk was injured for most of his time in Belleville, and is now an RFA.
  2. Trading away older, established players (#1, #3) — See ya, Wideman, McKenna, and Pyatt. It’s unfortunate the team had to throw in a 6th, but it led to them getting a good look at whether Anders Nilsson has a future in the Sens net (TBD) and Darren Archibald helped add a quality veteran producer to a younger Belleville group. What’s most interesting to me about this section are the trades that didn’t happen, like Mikkel Boedker, Zack Smith, or Magnus Paajarvi. Two of those players had salaries that made them hard to trade, and Dorion’s on the hook for both of them as he was the Sens GM at the time of the Boedker acquisition and Smith’s latest contract.
  3. The Big Three (#7, #8, #10) — by all accounts and purposes, Dorion appeared to get fair value for Duchene, extra value for Dzingel, and less value for Stone. This evens out in my mind, and it’s where it gets hard to blame Dorion for greater systemic issues coming from Sens ownership. That being said, as he consistently stated publicly (and supposedly, was even on the radio less) because of how hard he and Sens AGM Peter MacTavish were working to re-sign these players, it’s an inditement of the franchise that none got done.

Dorion’s “D” grade from the staff also comes from how he handled a lot of the news surrounding the team. Throughout the last 18 months, it’s become increasingly apparent just how valuable the late Bryan Murray was to this team, for his ability to keep Melnyk at bay, and explain his moves (even the ones some were critical of) to the fans as transparently as possible. Dorion has garnered a reputation of only speaking when he thinks things are going well (the Duchene trade, drafting a high-end prospect, etc.) and avoiding when the team is being dragged on all fronts. That, coupled with a disastrous interview with the much-beloved Ian Mendes, really turned fan opinion against Dorion this season. Signed to a three-year deal when the “rebuild” commenced in February 2018, Dorion is fully complicit in Melnyk’s direction for the team, and takes his share of the blame in this year’s grades.

As opposed to what we saw with the forwards and defence, there were some interesting contrasts between how the staff and the readers viewed the team’s coaching and management this season. For the readers: I’d be curious to know why you think this is? What are the potential positives that we aren’t seeing, or was it just hard to give everyone a negative grade given how much the dark cloud of ownership looms over hockey operations decisions?

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