June 7, 2023

With the Ottawa Senators in the middle of a five-game losing run, general manager Pierre Dorion made the bold decision to call a press conference on Monday (Nov. 9). He held the unexpected media availability at the Canadian Tire Centre, fielding a wide range of questions about the team’s rocky start.

Pierre Dorion Ottawa Senators
Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dorion hadn’t addressed the media since preseason, which left him with a deep in-tray of issues to address. He was asked about several topics, including his search for a defenceman and the status of the injured Josh Norris.

While a section of the fanbase is keen to see a reshuffle within the organization, Dorion’s comments poured cold water over the idea that significant changes are in the work. With that said, here are five key takeaways from the general manager’s interaction with the media. There is plenty to discuss.

Josh Norris Does Not Require Surgery… For Now

Norris suffered a shoulder injury during the second period of a win over the Arizona Coyotes last month. Initially, the Senators were unsure whether the 23-year-old centre would require surgery. Dorion lifted the lid on the situation through his brush with the media.

“After consulting with five doctors and two experts on shoulders, [I can confirm that] Josh has a different injury to the one he previously had, and he will not require surgery at this point in time. There’s no timeline, except that we will know more in the new year about a possible return,” he explained.

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In his five appearances before the injury, Norris recorded two points (one goal, one assist) from a prominent role in the top six. Since then, the Senators have tumbled toward the foot of the table.

Dorion was relatively vague when asked for details about the injury, saying that “[the injury] is something that doesn’t happen a lot in hockey” and confirming there is “no correlation” to the shoulder issues Norris has suffered previously.

“It’s a completely different part of the shoulder,” Dorion explained. “We initially thought that he would require surgery [but] he met with two specialists last week, and they both said that with this type of injury, we should look at strengthening and rehab. That’s what he’s going to do until the new year, and then we’ll see what path we want to go down. If he has surgery now or in the new year, it doesn’t affect anything because it’s probably a six-month injury.”

Dorion also noted that the Senators hold a 15-6-1 record with Shane Pinto, Tim Stützle, and Norris in the lineup and repeated that the team would know more about the situation in January.

“I’m not a doctor, so I would like the medical experts to answer [a question about whether Norris will need surgery] more than me,” he continued. “All I know is that we’ll have an update in January, and then we’ll see where we’re going with Josh.”

Advanced Statistics Boost Pierre Dorion’s Confidence

Dorion referred to the penalty kill and power play as “areas to improve” for the Senators but stressed that he is broadly happy with how the team has performed thus far. While results haven’t been perfect, he believes there are reasons to be optimistic.

“I know the record doesn’t indicate it, and I know a lot of us are frustrated with the 4-7-0 record, [but] – for me – we would be in a way better spot with a few bounces, but we haven’t been as fortunate,” he explained. “Our seven losses have been by one goal. I was very happy with our first six games and how we played, but not as happy with the Florida trip.”

Dorion backed up his stance with advanced statistics: the Senators’ underlying numbers have improved this season, and he feels their development will eventually translate into points and wins.

“Overall, we’ve lost every game by a goal, we’re playing hard, and – analytically – we’re sixth in the league at five-on-five expected goals differential,” he said. “Last year, we were thirtieth. I think there’s a lot of positives there.”

D.J. Smith’s Job Status is Secure

Dorion cooled speculation about Smith’s job security. For now, he is safe from the sack.

D.J. Smith Ottawa Senators
D.J. Smith, head coach of the Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“One thing about Pierre Dorion is Pierre Dorion is very loyal,” he said. “D.J. has done a good job. He’s shown that he can win. I’m not giving votes of confidence or anything. I think that’s foolish. D.J. is our coach. He’s going to be our coach. I have faith in how this team plays under D.J.”

However, Dorion was quick to point out that everyone inside the organization will be held accountable for how the season unfolds. If their standing doesn’t improve, he could be forced into action.

“I think there has to be accountability for everyone,” he said when pushed on the topic. “There has to be accountability for the general manager and the coaching staff. The only people who don’t need to take any accountability is the fans. They’ve been great.”

Nothing to Report on RFA Alex Formenton

Dorion had very little to say about restricted free-agent (RFA) forward Alex Formenton. If the 23-year-old does not sign a contract by the start of next month, he will be ineligible to play in the NHL this season due to rules in the collective bargaining agreement.

“I think both parties know we have a Dec. 1 timeline,” Dorion said of Formenton’s status. “From there, there’s nothing else to report.”

With just three weeks until the deadline, the former second-round pick is the NHL’s only unsigned RFA. His situation remains unclear in the meanwhile.

Senators’ Defenceman Search Has Slowed

There is also little to report on the blue line. While the Senators would still like to add another defenceman to the mix, they are reluctant to meet the asking price set for the likes of Jakob Chychrun.

Related: Senators Should Make Themselves a Favourite to Land Chychrun

“It’s probably not the right answer to give you, but it’s the honest answer to give you: finding defencemen is the toughest thing to do as a general manager,” Dorion explained. “No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it’s the toughest thing, and the price is sometimes not worth it.

I’ve never said that we’re going to be a team that is vying for the Stanley Cup this year, and to give up what some defencemen on the market are [valued at] is not worth it. I’ll ask our professional scouts and ask them what they’re thinking, and it’s always a unanimous ‘no’.”

Jake Sanderson’s emergence as a top-four defender has also impacted the organization’s search. The 20-year-old has performed excellently to start his rookie season and will feature in the Calder Trophy debate if his form continues.

Jake Sanderson Ottawa Senators
Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dorion added: “Do we need another defenceman? You know what, I’ve been pretty impressed with how Jake Sanderson fits into our top four. I think that’s a bonus.”

Looking Ahead for the Senators

The Senators return to the ice on Tuesday (Nov. 8) for an all-Canadian clash with the Vancouver Canucks; both teams are currently below the .500-mark. Later in the week, they will head south of the border for road games versus the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.

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