Pierre Dorion

Senators owner outlines aggressive spending plan for ‘run of unparalleled success’

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At a corporate event on Tuesday, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk pledged that he and the organization would commit the resources necessary to make the team competitive once again, with the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup “to its rightful place in Ottawa.” This news was relayed in a press release sent during Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The statement mentions that more time is needed to rebuild the roster, but that as early as 2021, the team will begin a sustained period spending close to the salary cap ceiling. Here are the final two paragraphs from the release:

“Mr. Melnyk also confirmed during the presentation that on the hockey side of the business, the expectation is that the Senators rebuilding plan will take another season or two from now, but when his general manager confirms that the Senators have all the pieces of the foundation in place, he made the following pledge to the guests in attendance:

“The Senators will be all-in again for a five-year run of unparalleled success – where the team will plan to spend close to the NHL’s salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025. He reiterated that the Senators’ current rebuild is a blueprint on how to bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the obvious place to start is whether the Senators could even be in a position to contend as early as this timeline suggests. Of course, so much depends on the future of pending unrestricted free agents Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, the team’s top two scorers. During Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, Bob McKenzie reported that the primary concern for both players does not involve dollars and cents, but rather how soon the team would become competitive. That remains a major question considering the Sens are at the bottom of the NHL standings. To make matters worse, the potential lottery pick they would get as a “reward” for cellar-dwelling actually belongs to Colorado as a result of last year’s Duchene trade. That puts even more pressure on general manager Pierre Dorion to get deals done for his two best forwards.

Optimists can point to the return Ottawa got from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson deal, which included a heavy dose of draft picks. But a Sharks postseason appearance this year (a virtual lock at this point) means that Ottawa won’t receiving a first-rounder from them until 2020. So, barring another significant move, it will be at least another year before the Senators pick on day 1 of the draft.

Another reason to believe Ottawa can pivot quickly is that the modern NHL is rife with parity and turnover amongst playoff teams. Each of the past two seasons, seven teams made the playoffs after missing the prior year. And the Senators themselves are familiar with this, having missed the playoffs in 2015-16 before making it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the following year. Then again, relying on recent trends does not make for a sound strategy.

Moving beyond the proposed timeline of the rebuild, how will Senators fans interpret the latest statement from their team’s owner? Over the past year-plus, Melnyk has delivered mixed messages about the franchise, most notably in December 2017, when he stirred up a controversy by raising the possibility of relocation. Though Melnyk did walk those comments back shortly thereafter, it is still understandable that fans might view this “blueprint” with a degree of skepticism.

Regardless of how this plays out, it is encouraging that Melnyk offered a specific plan for how the team will approach the future, and it gives fans something to hold him accountable to. But before Melnyk and Dorion can begin spending to the cap ceiling, they must focus on the negotiations with Duchene and Stone so the roster doesn’t suffer another Karlsson-sized subtraction. Perhaps these comments will serve as part of the sales pitch to keep them in the fold long-term.

No ‘significant hockey deal’ keeps Erik Karlsson a Senator

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The 2018 NHL trade deadline has passed and Erik Karlsson is still a member of the Ottawa Senators. Why was general manager Pierre Dorion unable to consummate deal to trade away his captain for a bounty? There simply wasn’t a good enough offer out there

“It would take a special hockey deal to move Erik Karlsson,” Dorion told reporters Monday. “Today, we didn’t feel that that was something on the table. I always listen. I had offers on Erik Karlsson no one knew about over the course of the summer.”

Karlsson’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2018-19 NHL season, so a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Vegas Golden Knights — who were rumored to be heavily involved in discussions on the Senators defenseman — could have acquired the two-time Norris Trophy winner for a pair of playoff runs. But whatever packages that were discussed with Dorion weren’t to his liking, so now this trade gets pushed the summer, which should make the June draft in Dallas very interesting.

[Lightning trade for Ryan McDonagh, not Karlsson]

Dorion said that he believes Karlsson wants to be a Senator “for life” and if the he reaches July 1 still a member of the team, a contract extension will be offered. But with teams phoning since the summer gauging what it would take to land the superstar blue liner, surely seeds have been planted for a future trade. You also can’t rule out Karlsson’s feelings on the situation. There will be a time, if it hasn’t happened already, where the question will be asked if he wants to stay in Ottawa and then the GM will have to make his move. He does possess a 10-team no-trade list. How much does that expand in the off-season?

A summer trade benefits Dorion and the Senators much more than a trade deadline deal. We’ll know what the salary cap ceiling is for 2018-19 and the other 30 teams will have a better idea of what their roster looks like going forward. It’s already a mess in Ottawa, so what’s the big deal with a few more uncomfortable weeks?

“We always have to look at our roster. We’re in 29th place. Do we feel we have a team that’s of 29th place calibre? Probably not,” Dorion said. “But in every situation when we’re evaluating ourselves, we have to listen on every offer from teams. We did not actively shop Erik Karlsson. We did not. But when a player of his calibre is rumored to be on the market or when a team is struggling like ourselves, teams are going to inquire about him and we have to listen. We have to do what’s best for this organization in the short-, medium- and long-term. I don’t think we would be doing our job if we wouldn’t be at least listening on offers.”

Nine months ago the Senators were a goal away from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Now they’re in total rebuild mode, with Karlsson likely heading out the door and Mike Hoffman and others likely joining him in the summer. Dorion said he took calls on every single player on the roster and owner Eugene Melnyk told him to make the best “hockey deals” for the team. None of those deals were out there today, but they certainly will be there in the off-season, with Karlsson being the biggest prize.

So what was Dorion looking for in a potential Karlsson trade? A haul.

“Many pieces… When you’re going to trade away a generational defenseman, I think you’re gonna make sure that your return can be very good,” he said. “It would have to be a significant hockey deal.”

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sens meeting with agents of Ryan, MacArthur next week

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After going through tricky ordeals with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza in the past two summers, the Ottawa Senators would like to avoid similar drama next year.

Forwards Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur are entering the final year of their contracts and can both become unrestricted free agents. As Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen shared, assistant GM Pierre Dorion is trying to get ahead of matters and will be speaking with agents for both players next week.

Recently we shared how the Sens are looking to get a new multi-year deal done with defenseman Marc Methot as well, but with Ryan and MacArthur’s free agency looming next summer, there’s a sense of dread looming if talks can’t progress quickly. After all, when a team loses big time offensive producers in back-to-back offseasons that’ll happen.

MacArthur and Ryan were fourth and fifth on the team in points last season. With Spezza gone, it’ll be up to Kyle Turris to do what he did last season and more to help keep the Sens offense going. With Erik Karlsson putting up monster numbers from the blue line, the forwards have to do their part as well and the production fell off quickly after Ryan.

Senators GM Murray diagnosed with cancer

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The Ottawa Senators announced GM Bryan Murray has been diagnosed with cancer.

In a statement released by the team, the organization said Murray will begin treatment immediately and that his treatment schedule will force him to be away from his duties with the team periodically. Assistant GMs Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee will fill in for Murray during those absences.

Murray was named GM of the Senators in June of 2007 and has held the position since then. He’s been a coach and GM in the NHL since the early 1980s with the Washington Capitals, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Florida Panthers, and Detroit Red Wings before landing in Ottawa.

Here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery for one of hockey’s outstanding noted figures.