For almost the entire 5 year tenure of Senators General Manager, Pierre Dorion, the cry has been there to give him a better support structure. Every time a Senior Advisor role was announced in another market, the first questions from Sens Nation were:
“When are the Sens going to bring someone in?”
“Why didn’t the Sens get in on that guy?”
“When is Dorion going to hire some help?”
After the most underwhelming season of pro scouting acquisitions in Dorion’s tenure, the Senators finally splurged this week and hired long-time TSN and NBC analyst, Pierre McGuire as Senior Vice President of Player Development. McGuire inked a 3 year contract on July 12th and it remains to be seen how he will be integrated into the Senators. You can bet it won’t take long. given that all teams must provide their protected lists for the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft by July 17th. There is also the matter of the amateur draft on the 23rd and 24th of July and, of course, pro scouting’s time to shine with NHL free agency starting July 28th.
At first glance, this looks like exactly what the doctor has been prescribing for the Senators who have excelled far more on the amateur scouting side than pro scouting of late. Of course, you can trace some of that delta back to a lack of committed resources between the two departments. That excuse will only get you so far. Lack of resources might explain why the Senators would potentially miss on someone. However, it doesn’t explain the multiple decisions that were made that did not pan out. That comes down to having an eye for talent.
Most teams have eyes in the sky, so to speak. McGuire, on the other hand, has had a front row view of the league for years being down at ice level between the benches. You would think, for once, the Senators have access to a resource that no one else has. We are talking about a man who has cultivated relationships with players inside and outside the league. He can speak to their talent and their character. Advantage Ottawa Senators, right?
At second glance, this could also be viewed as an omega being brought in to potentially challenge the alpha of the pack. The title alone suggests McGuire’s role will not be in an advisory capacity, despite the word “support” being used most frequently. While the reporting relationships are still to be clarified, one thing is clear. These two men will share the same boss. It is going to be very important to figure out where Dorion ends and McGuire begins. I don’t mean to be skeptical. Well, okay I do. This hire has awkward written all over it. When a person is hired into senior leadership, typically the announcement would include: “Name will report directly to Name and will be directly responsible for X, Y and Z.” Player Development can mean a lot of things. Why is the team so cagy about what McGuire will or will not be doing?
If you have listened to TSN1200 and the Team 1200 before that, you have heard McGuire provide his opinions. My favourite story was of his time in Pittsburgh where he, allegedly, threatened to walk out the door and leave the 1991 draft if the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t select Markus Naslund with the 16th overall pick. While I can’t confirm the story, I have never heard anyone debunk it. My point being, he isn’t here to not give his opinion. What will happen when he and Dorion differ in opinion?
Another thing that has also been clear to me is that Pierre McGuire covets being a General Manager in the National Hockey League. He has been in on, and unsuccessful, in several recruitments in the past 10 years with teams such as the Penguins, the Wild and as recently as 2020 to replace John Chayka in Arizona. Do you really believe this is his dream job? Perhaps McGuire has come to the realization he isn’t going to get a General Manager’s seat straight out of the booth. Maybe he now knows from past debriefs, when he came up short, that there is concern that he hasn’t worked in the NHL since 1996. I believe he is a man of honour. Too many people trust him with intimate details and insights for me to believe that he isn’t a respected and trusted person. Do I think he would undercut Pierre Dorion? I have no reason to suspect that. I also believe all is fair in love and war. When it comes to people and their career aspirations, this means war.
As far as being a man of honour goes, I would not say that of the man who hired McGuire. That’s the only thing the Senators have been clear about since the announcement. Pierre McGuire was hired by Eugene Melnyk “in conjunction” with Pierre Dorion. The Senators have missed the playoffs in four of the five years that Dorion has been at the helm. McGuire has been between the benches for years looking to get back in the game. Why bring him in now? The need for support for Pierre Dorion has been there since he became the General Manager. Is this to give Pierre Dorion support or is it to bring McGuire up to speed?
Does Eugene Melnyk strike you as a patient man? I have never met him but too many key people such as Chris Phillips and Daniel Alfredsson have pushed back from the table and cashed in their chips for me to believe that Melnyk’s reputation isn’t legitimately earned. I also don’t hear anyone saying anything to balance the scales with the noted exception of Pierre Dorion. I don’t put it past Melnyk to play these two off one another.
Facts to consider:
• Pierre Dorion is going into the last year of his contract.
• The same applies to DJ Smith.
• Pierre McGuire has a three-year contract.
• There have been no rumours of Pierre Dorion getting an extension.
• Pierre McGuire said not long ago he thought that Pierre Dorion deserved an extension, but then again, that was before June 20th which is when McGuire says he was approached by Melnyk, for the first time, about joining the Senators.
• Pierre Dorion says he supports this decision and that adding someone to the management staff was in the works for over a year.
• Dorion said hiring McGuire was a “no-brainer”.
• Dorion was also very vague about what McGuire’s roles and responsibilities would be.
Maybe he doesn’t know either.
The 2021/22 season will have one of three possible outcomes:
• Senators exceed expectations – Go past one round of playoffs
• Senators meet expectations – Qualify for the playoffs
• Senators fail to meet expectations – No Playoffs
Each of these scenarios presents a different potential outcome.
If the Senators qualify for the playoffs and win at least one round, I can see Dorion getting an extension to his existing deal to match the end of McGuire’s. In that case, I would expect DJ Smith would get the same. Of course, the caveat to this would be if it is believed that McGuire’s input could be tied to the resurgence. Even then, I would think this would give Dorion short term security.
If the Senators qualify for the playoffs and go no further, one would think that would be deemed a successful season. This would be particularly true if the playoff spot came at the Leafs expense. I can see extensions for another year for each of Dorion and Smith in that case. The surge the Senators showed in the final 20 games of the 2020/21 season gave enough pause for thought that, had the team been properly constructed from day one, they should have been a playoff team last year. Dorion is still paying for last year's off season and merely a trip to the playoffs won’t undo that completely.
Finally, if the Senators fail to make the playoffs, I don’t see a way where either he, or Smith, see the light of the 2022/23 season. In fact, if their fate is clear heading into the back half of the season, Dorion might not see 2022 and perhaps Smith as well. There is a legitimate replacement with intimate knowledge of the team’s personnel now waiting in the wings. Dorion has never had that dynamic as a GM. Up until now, he has had unfettered access to Eugene Melnyk.
Dorion is not a fool. He won’t question this move publicly. However, in private, he has to be wondering how this is going to play out.
Senior Vice President of Player Development, on its face, seems to suggest McGuire will be responsible for AHL and ECHL player development as well as tracking prospects outside the system. In his brief statement following being hired, he eluded to developing relationships with various people at those levels and he describes himself as being there to support Pierre Dorion. We all know where McGuire has been over the past 20 years. How could he not have a voice in pro scouting as well? His biggest asset is his knowledge of the teams around the league. If you are responsible, in whole or in part, for pro scouting, then you are, by extension, involved in free agent signings and player movement, are you not? The General Manager will still execute the trades and signings. However, will any of it have to clear McGuire?
It will be very interesting to see how much, if any, of Dorion’s portfolio is moved to McGuire. Being overworked and stretched too thin is something many people complain about at work but if they are going to forego some of their responsibilities, they want it to be a person of their choosing. They would also want that person to report to them directly. This makes it look like good leadership. Such is not the case here. When your boss goes out and gets someone for you and gives some of the responsibility to the new hire and that new hire reports to him, how can that not feel like you're being undermined? How can you not feel like the hourglass is turned upside down and that you're now on the clock?
Somewhere along the line, it seems inevitable that they are going to clash. Of course, there is some level of dispute in any working relationship, but there's normally one clear hand on the rudder. When ties need to be broken and Eugene Melnyk is involved in the process, things could get awkward in a hurry.
As a die hard Sens Nation supporter, I am hoping the Senators exceed expectations next season. The club hasn’t been in the playoffs for 4 years and I don’t need to see them go through another draft lottery I know we aren’t going to win anyway. It’s time for our prospects to enjoy some success and play with some expectations.
My instinct tells me – unless Matt Murray plays like a Stanley Cup winning goalie again – the Senators are, at best, looking at the "meets expectations" scenario but most likely the "does not meet expectations" scenario.
From listening to Pierre McGuire all these years, I can’t help but recall how he spoke of “Fool’s Gold”. This is becoming overly impressed with improved play when games are unimportant. I want to believe the final 20 games of last season were a precursor to what we could expect this year. Part of me still believes Fool’s Gold may have been exactly what we were witnessing. Factor in that the club will now be back in a division that includes, not only, the Leafs and Canadiens, but also the return of the Bruins, the Lightning and the Panthers and it’s easy to see the Senators have their work cut out for them with a young lineup.
If that is the case, I can’t help but believe that July 12, 2021 will be the day the Ottawa Senators hired their next General Manager.
Pierre Dorion, you are on the clock.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey