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Pierre Dorion Speaks: Lehner Contract, 2015 UFAs, Budgets, Chiasson Dominance

Last week the Senators disclosed that they would be meeting with the representatives from the Newport Sports Management to discuss contract extensions for a number of key players and for the better part of this week, news on this front has been relatively non-existent… until today when Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion conducted a series of interviews with the media.

The following is an interview from TSN 1200 this afternoon, so if you wish to listen to the interview, you can follow this link or listen to the embedded audio at the bottom of this blog.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On Robin Lehner’s contract signing and the negotiation process…

“The process was interesting. We both at the start felt that maybe a longer term deal would work, but obviously we talked a one-year deal, two-year deals, three-year deals, four-year deals. We didn’t want to do, on our side of things, we didn’t want to do five or six (years). We also talked a seven-year deal and we felt, a seven-year deal, there was a lot of gamble from their side of things and a lot of gamble from our side of things and we felt, doing this bridge contract and getting a three-year deal seemed to be the right amount of years for both parties. It was just trying to agree on the money and a week ago or just a bit over a week ago, (Robin Lehner’s representative) and I felt that we were pretty close on it. We just said, ‘We’d give it a bit of a break’ and we (got the contract done) yesterday at lunch – just needed to check a few of things and were able to announce it today.”

Without knowing the financial specifics of Robin Lehner’s deal, the mid-term deal is a smart one given the volatility of the position. The organization isn’t putting all of its eggs in the Lehner basket, but at the same time, his current contract will expire before he’s slated to hit unrestricted free agency (UFA), so the team will be afforded the luxury of determining whether or not they want to go in a different direction down the road or re-up with Lehner.

On what Lehner’s deal means for Craig Anderson…

“I don’t think it does. I don’t think it does at all. I think for us, one of our strengths is both of our goalies. We feel both are top end NHL goalies. In talking with Craig’s agent, again through Bryan Murray’s permission, Bryan indicated to me to see what they’re looking for. I just told Craig Anderson’s agent that we’re going to do Robin Lehner first and after that, we’ll see if an extension works for both sides.”

Translation: Craig Anderson’s not a big priority right now.

On whether the organization was prioritizing Robin Lehner over Craig Anderson or whether it’s just simply a matter of getting the RFA done first…

“Yeah, exactly. I think because Robin was a restricted free agent, I think we owed it to Robin to get his deal done first. And from there, I know Bryan (Murray) and Craig Anderson’s agents had preliminary talks earlier in the spring and Bryan just said, ‘Pierre, you can look after this. You know what the parameters are.’ We have to make a deal that’s going to work well for both sides and is fair for both sides – if we make a deal. It has to make sense for us. We have the money to spend to sign Craig – that’s not an issue. We have the money to spend on all our pending UFAs. So it has to make sense that we just don’t throw money at one person and not at the rest of the guys.”

One recurring theme throughout this interview was Dorion’s repeated assurances that money was not a problem for the organization.

On how he feels on having two goaltenders instead of having a definitive number one guy…

“I think it only works well for us. I think the more quality players that you have at a certain position, it’s better than having a 2A and a 2B. I think if we consider Robin and Craig Anderson both a 1A and a 1B, I think it only makes it a healthy competition. At the end of the year, I know people are going to say that it doesn’t really matter, but we were the best team for the last ten games of the year and we’re probably out of the playoffs, but they both played. I think it’s just going to be a healthy competition. Obviously it’s not Bryan (Murray), myself or Randy Lee who decides who plays in nets – that’s up to Paul (MacLean). And we have to respect that he’s the coach of the team and we don’t micromanage our coach and he decides who plays. But, I think it just makes it a really healthy competition knowing that any night, our goalies can steal a game or can steal two points for us.”

The Senators were the best team in the NHL for the last 10 games of the 2013/14 season? Put that on a banner at the Canadian Tire Centre.

On the other impending 2015 UFAs in Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot’s status and his thoughts on the school of thought that the Senators can’t afford to go into the season without having them inked to extensions or whether the organization would take it all the way to the trade deadline to get deals done…

“Well obviously we would like to sign all four of them by July 1st at 12:02 pm, but these deals don’t get done in a few minutes. They’re pending UFAs, so because of that scenario and situation, they take a bit longer. They have got contracts for next year. We feel very confident that we feel that we can sign all four of them, especially after meeting yesterday with the Newport representatives – Don Meehan was there, Pat Morris was there, Mark Guy was there and Craig (Oster) was there also. So both Bryan (Murray) and I – and we talked at length with Randy (Lee) also – we feel that we can sign our guys. I wish we could do it right away, but it’s got to be the right deal for the team. It’s got to make sense. The player has to be happy. The organization has to be happy. I don’t see a deadline. You know, obviously you’d like to see it done before next year’s trade deadline, but I don’t really see a timeline or a deadline. The negotiations yesterday, they were really productive concerning both Clarke (MacArthur) and Bobby Ryan. It’s beyond preliminary talks, but in saying that, I don’t think it will be anything that’s done in the next day or so.”

Management knows the score. They realize that barring an exclusive window in which another team can reach a contract extension with one of Ottawa’s impending 2015 UFAs, each of their players’ value as rentals will diminish with each passing game. The Senators would never publicly admit to their being a deadline, so that they would undermine their own leverage in any prospective trade negotiations.

On whether it’s productive to sit down with a large Newport contingent to get the deals done…

“Yes it can and no it can’t because you have so many things to talk about. We started the conversation yesterday by saying, ‘Why don’t we get Robin Lehner done before we get to the other two?’ and the last thing we talked about was Robin Lehner, so it can be positive and negative. I think having Bryan (Murray) there was outstanding because everyone knows that everything goes through him on the hockey side, even though he’s battling this disease. The talks were, I’ve been around enough and I’ve done enough contracts, even though I’ve been an assistant GM for a short span of time, we left the restaurant and felt good when we left the restaurant. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, we’ll just wait and see.’ It was like, ‘Okay, what type of years would work? What kind of money are you’re looking at?’ So it was really productive talks.”

Good to hear and hopefully the Senators can make some headway on these negotiations so one way or another, the team will know what direction they have to go in or whether more moves are necessary.

On what the budget the team expects to spend on player payroll…

“Well this year, my calculations were, if every player achieves, depending who you have on our team, if we’re at a 23-man roster with Robin (Lehner) in right now, with all bonuses, I’m at about $56 million right now was what I figured. There’s really no set number. Next year, we’d like to sign all these (impending 2015 UFAs). We know we’ll have Alex Chiasson coming off the books. You know we will have Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone. Both of them will be coming off RFA years. If Mark Stone is on the team, he’s another RFA. We’re going to spend money. I don’t think budget is an issue here. We’re going to spend money. We spend it wisely, but I don’t think it’s an issue moving forward with our team. I think we have the resources with our players and we’re going to keep our players here. Every time I talk to an agent, as in the case with Marc Methot, he seems like he wants to stay here too. We’re going to spend money, but we’re going to spend it wisely.”

The terms of Lehner’s deal are as follows:

With that added $2.225 million to this year’s budget, Capgeek lists the Senators’ payroll at a robust $55 million (approximately). It’s good enough for the third lowest payroll in the entire NHL – trailing only the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes and given the Flames having to fill more roster spots, there is still time for them to surpass Ottawa’s payroll.

Again, Dorion’s going on the defensive about the team’s budget and it’s probably a direct result of the attention being paid to the team’s bottom line in the blogosphere and online communities. Even though the organization has repeatedly told its fans that money is and will be available in the event that they can add salary to make this team more competitive, history shows (ie. the Ales Hemsky deal) that the Senators are running a dollar in and dollar out operation.

On why the Senators were willing to sign Lehner seven-years but not sign him to a five or six-year deal…

“Well, the simple reason is that five would take him right until he’s a UFA. We didn’t want to do six (years) because that would just buy one-year of UFA, but we figured if we did seven (years), it would buy two years of UFA. And if we did four (years), it would take him to one-year before he became a UFA, so you have to have, not that I’m trying to reveal any big secrets, but you have to have a kind of a plan. And again, this was all approved by Bryan Murray. Before we sat down, I sat down and I talked with Randy (Lee) also about it, ‘Long-term, this is what we’re looking at.’ Because Robin (Lehner) made it clear and they wanted to know if we’d be ready to do a long-term deal, so we gave him an offer of seven-years and then we just felt when we were both discussing it, we just felt for both sides, three years was the right number. We buy two years of arbitration rights which is really big for us because of the number of games that Robin has played and he’s still got, after this current contract, two years before he becomes a UFA, so if at that point in time we want to give him a big deal then we can do it or deal with more term, then we feel we can do that. I think it’s a win-win for both parties. I think Robin said that he thought I (indiscernible audio), but it was more Bryan Murray that did a good job. I was just more negotiating, but at the end of the day, Bryan comes in and approves everything.”

No complaints here. It’s a great term and very reasonable dollar figure.

On anything on the trade front…

“I’ve got to say, I’m really excited about our team. I don’t want summer to be over, but I can’t wait for us to drop the puck September 18th for training camp. I look at our team right now, I know people don’t know too much about Alex Chiasson, but if you saw this guy play in the first half of the year, he was a dominant player. I think adding David Legwand, who played against every other team’s number one center in the Western Conference — –and they have top end number one centers on the other side. I think our defence is going to bounce back. I think Erik (Karlsson) is going to have the chance to train all summer compared to what he didn’t do last year. We’re going to see an even better Erik Karlsson. I think having our two goalies, having guys like Mika Zibanejad step up, Kyle Turris step up, having guys that are maybe hungry because they’re pending UFAs – whether we can do (sign them) or not. Having a guy like a Mark Stone maybe step up or a guy like Mike Hoffman. Still having the grit of a Chris Neil. Leadership that we think is going to be good by committee. I’m really excited about our team. If we don’t do a thing, I feel confident that we’re a playoff team. I think we’re a team that can contend in the playoffs. Sometimes I go for a few beers with my friends and they say, ‘Where are you guys going to finish?’ and I say, ‘Well, we’re going to finish in the top eight (in the Eastern Conference) and then we’ll see what happens after that.’ But right now, I’ve got to tell you, I feel confident about our team’s chances moving forward.”

Like Dorion, I’m excited to see a healthy and focused Erik Karlsson. I’m also excited to see what Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman can bring to this team – provided that they’re given an excellent opportunity and quality linemates.

As for the rest of it, it remains to be seen. As much as I believe that improved forward play within the defensive end will help eliminate many of the problems that plagued the Senators last season, I’m still somewhat taken aback by Dorion’s faith in this team’s blue line. With the exception of Karlsson and Methot, the team does not have a lot of proven defensive options. For as much depth as they have, most of it projects as bottom pairing guys – no matter how much the organization likes guys like Chris Phillips, Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki. In consequence, any Senators success this season is predicated on the success and growth of guys like Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Cowen and Cody Ceci.

The thing about Dorion saying that Chiasson was dominant during that first half of the season is that if it was true, the proof would be in the numbers. They’re not.

According to the numbers, in Dallas’ first half, Chiasson on the ice for 19 goals for at even strength and 33 goals against – a difference that can mostly be explained by Dallas’ porous .856 save percentage when Chiasson was on the ice. Nevertheless, Dallas only generated 48.5-percent of the shots and 50.0-percent of the shot attempts when Chiasson was on the ice. In his freshman season, he was okay and that’s fine, but considering the inherent pressures that will come just from being the featured and first piece from the Dallas trade package to play games for the Senators next season, I’m not sure it’s in anyone’s best interest to start playing him up as a dominant player. The pressures that will come from being traded for Jason Spezza alone should be big enough as is.

While true that Legwand did play tough minutes for Nashville in the past (and this is something I hope the Senators explore to ensure that Turris’ line is used in a more offensive capacity), he’s 33-years old and he finished last season playing fourth line minutes in Detroit. I certainly don’t begrudge the Senators from promoting their lone UFA signing, but should Mika Zibanejad develop and get the top six minutes that I expect, I don’t envision Legwand getting the kind of power play time or minutes necessary to put up the kind of numbers that he did in Nashville.

 

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