Just wait until next year.
As the Ottawa Senators closed the books on the their worst season statistically since the franchise finished with 41 points in 1995-96, general manager Pierre Dorion was selling hope in his year-end news conference at the Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.
He expressed confidence that better days were ahead for the Senators.
“Of course, there were some long nights driving back to Orléans and some long nights on the road,” Dorion said. “But we feel as good as we’ve ever felt and we feel we’re ahead of where we were last year in this rebuild for the simple reason of the prospects we’ve acquired, the picks we’ve acquired and, more importantly, the young stars we have.
“No one cares more about this team than probably me. I’m from here, grew up here. I love this place. I want to see this team succeed and I know with what we’ve done over the last 12 months, I know it’s not the sexiest thing to see, but we’ve acquired so many good pieces with picks, prospects and the young superstars that we have that we’re going to be a good team.”
Owner Eugene Melnyk said in a radio interview last month that Dorion and his hockey operations staff had “six months to get their act together,” Dorion said Tuesday that he agreed the next six to 12 months would be pivotal for the franchise.
“We have to hire the right for coach for this rebuild to move it along as quickly as possible,” Dorion said. “We have an important draft coming up, a development camp with as good a group of prospects as you’ve seen, a rookie camp and then training camp. We’re not just in a rebuild, we’re now building. We’re in Phase 2 of the rebuild.
“The worst is behind us. And, we feel as a hockey group, really passionate about that. 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. Those are words from the general manager and it has to be like that.”
Dorion, who fired Guy Boucher in early March, said Tuesday he would immediately begin his search for a new head coach for the team that finished 31st and last overall in the National Hockey League with a 29-47-6 record for 64 points. Yes, interim head coach Marc Crawford, who was behind the bench for the final 18 games, will be a candidate, but an extensive search is planned.
“The last time we had a fairly long list to start off and then we dwindled it down to where we had nine interviews that were probably four to five hours, and some were more,” Dorion said. “This time, I don’t know if we’ll do nine, but we’ll definitely have five to six candidates that we’ll look at.”
Dorion sat down with Senators coaches Tuesday to review the season and to talk about where the organization was headed. Crawford’s contract expires July 1, as do those of assistants Rob Cookson, Martin Raymond, goalie coach Pierre Groulx and video coach Kris Young. Right now, all five will have to play the waiting game.
The Senators were 7-10-1 record during Crawford’s stint as interim head coach, and he’ll have a formal interview for the post in the coming weeks. At this point, he has as good a shot as anybody, but Crawford also has to find a way to make this group play better defensively if he’s to have a realistic chance.
“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.
“But definitely there are things that Marc did, and I’m not going to get into details, that we really liked and a few things he can do better. But, with his experience, he definitely is going to be a candidate for us.”
Given the fact the Senators will be built around the likes of defenceman Thomas Chabot and forwards Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton (down the road), they’ll be looking for someone to help the young players develop and help the team improve defensively.
That might be Crawford, it might be somebody else, but Dorion described what he wanted in a candidate.
“We have a younger group of players, so a good teacher (is important),” Dorion said. “We have more players that we’d call millennials. We’re not going to ask the coach if he knows what Fortnite is, but I think it’s important to be able to relate to our players and, at the same time, bring some kind of structure to our team that’s needed.
“Or a different type of structure that’s needed and will help us move this rebuild as quickly as possible.”
It’s only 156 days until training camp starts in September. There may still be snow on the ground, but hope always springs eternal around the NHL at this time of year.
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