Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion believes better times are ahead.
Considering all the turmoil experienced by the franchise in the past two years or so, it would be hard for that not to be the case.
The Senators general manager covered plenty of ground in his end-of-season news conference on Tuesday, touching on the hiring of a new head coach and president of hockey operations and the progression of the rebuild. But the overall message was that Dorion expects things to improve.
The Senators finished last in the NHL with a 29-47-6 record and while that was extremely disappointing, Dorion says there is reason for optimism with the prospects and picks they acquired from moving out players like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.
“We’re not just in a rebuild, now we’re building, we’re in phase 2 of the rebuild,” Dorion said. “The worst is behind us and we feel as a hockey group really passionate about that and I know there’s been some tougher times, but we feel the good times are ahead.
“Next year we need to start contending for the playoffs, two years from now we need to be a playoff team and three years from now we need to be a team that contends in the playoffs.”
To do that, the Senators need their young players to continue improving.
Defenceman Thomas Chabot, who led the team in points this season, will be a catalyst for this group. Negotiations for a new deal can begin July 1, as the 22-year-old is entering the final year of his entry-level contract.
“We hope, at a certain point and time, to have a lengthy contract extension with Thomas Chabot,” said Dorion. “Our plan is to keep him for a long time and hopefully be a Senator for life.”
Of course, Dorion said similar things about Karlsson and he was traded at the start of this season.
Brady Tkachuk, taken fourth overall last year, surpassed expectations, making the Senators’ decision to defer their first-round pick to Colorado in 2019 a little easier to swallow.
The pick, which was part of the Matt Duchene trade last season, could reap huge dividends for the Avalanche, but there are no regrets for the Senators.
“We are lucky (for) the Ottawa Senators to have Brady Tkachuk,” Dorion said. “No one’s perfect. We might have done mistakes, I’ve done mistakes in the past. I know there’s one thing I’m proud of and one thing this hockey operations group is proud of is drafting Brady Tkachuk. The intangibles he brings to the game, you can’t find those types of guys.”
The challenge now will be to find the right coach to guide the young group.
Ideally, the Senators will have their new coach in place prior to the NHL draft in June and Dorion said he has full autonomy to select Guy Boucher’s successor.
Marc Crawford, who served as interim coach for the last 18 games, posted a 7-10-1 record will be a candidate.
“Marc did a really good job and we’re really happy with what he brought,” Dorion said. “At the same time, I think we owe it to our fans, the organization and our players to make sure we hire the best available coach.”
Dorion expects to interview five or six candidates.
The GM said he’s looking for someone who will be able to relate to the players and communicate well, while bringing a much-needed structure that will allow them to move the rebuild forward as quickly as possible.
The Senators will also need to find someone who can get this group to play better defensively. Ottawa allowed a league-worst 3.67 goals-per-game.
The hiring of a president of hockey operations, meanwhile, also will be on the table this summer.
“We welcome the addition of an added member,” said Dorion. “We feel it’s going to strengthen our hockey operations group, whatever title or whatever role that person is, we’re going to welcome it.”
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Chabot is expected to announce that he will join Team Canada for the world championship next month in Slovakia.