Claude Giroux has other things on his mind these days, as a key piece of the powerhouse Florida Panthers who open the NHL playoffs Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.
If and when he chooses to hear Sunday’s message back in his Ottawa home, though, it sure sounded like Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was extending a loud invitation to try the organization on for size next season.
During Dorion’s 30-minute post-mortem on the 2021-22 season and cautiously optimistic tone about what lies ahead, he was adamant about the necessity of adding proven veteran talent to help the existing young core rise higher next year.
Giroux, the 34-year-old centre/winger who is now in his 15th NHL season after growing up in Orleans and starring with the Gatineau Olympiques, will be at the top of the free agent list in the summer.
Yet Dorion freely admits that attracting high-end free agents to a small-market Canadian franchise that hasn’t tasted the playoffs since 2017 isn’t an easy sell. Beyond what is or isn’t on the ice, the high taxes and intense media pressure here are major factors in the decision-making process.
“It’s just the facts and reality,” Dorion said. “A lot of us are from here and we love Ottawa. I’m from here and I love Ottawa. If I was a player, I think I would want to play in Ottawa. If some people are not from Ottawa, maybe it’s their choice to not want to play in Ottawa.”
hmm. If nothing else, it’s food for thought.
Again, Dorion mentioned no names, except to suggest that he could lean on the Senators existing players, particularly Captain Brady Tkachuk and alternate Captain Thomas Chabot, as part of the wooing process to bring in a name player or two.
It’s no grand secret that the Senators would love to add another high-end forward to play somewhere on the top two lines alongside Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Tim Stuetzle.
Ideally, adding another top four defenseman would be part of the big picture.
If those players aren’t available via free agency, Dorion didn’t dismiss the possibility of using the club’s first round pick in July’s entry draft as trade bait.
Taken altogether, it’s setting up as an intriguing summer for an organization that is in ownership limbo following the death of Eugene Melnyk on March 28.
When it comes to big-ticket items, Dorion still reports to a board of directors above him.
In that regard, signing Norris to a long-term extension as soon as possible is a priority and the off-season house cleaning will include a decision on whether to buy out the $15.75 million remaining on Colin White’s contract.
According to capfriendly.com, if the Senators make that move, it will cost them one third of what remains — $5.25 million.
The Senators finished the season with a salary cap hit of $70.881 million, 28th in the 32-team league. The expectation is the Senators will spend more next season, but they won’t be close to the salary cap of $82.5 million.
There was some important messaging from Dorion as the club attempts to feed off their decent finish to the season by increasing the badly lagging season ticket base.
He began the press conference by thanking the fans for their patience during the extended rebuild. Keep in mind, Chabot was a rookie when the re-set began and he’s now 25, having completed five full NHL seasons without playing a playoff game.
“They are very passionate, they care about the success of their team,” Dorion said. “Obviously, they pay for the tickets. They pay for the suites. As a general manager, I just want to thank them for the support and I think they know we’re headed in the right direction.”
It is past time for the Senators to seriously fight for a playoff spot. As was the case with coach DJ Smith and the players as they said their goodbyes to the media on Saturday, Dorion was taking some pressure off himself, stopping short of saying it’s playoffs or bust.
“We have to play meaningful games until the end, I think that’s probably the best way to look at it,” he said. “Let’s look at what our roster looks like in September and then I will have a better, clear cut indication and probably give you a better answer than I’m giving you now.”
The Senators general manager said he chose to offer up his state of union Sunday, in order to show respect for the teams that begin their Stanley Cup quests on Monday.
His summer test is finding the crucial missing pieces that will give Senators fans legitimate hope that they, too, can finally join in on playoff fever again.