Trying (and Failing) to Figure Out the Sens Personnel Decisions
I’m convinced that each morning, Pierre Dorion rolls out of bed, picks up a coffee on his way into work, greets the usual CTC staffers, and heads down somewhere in the depths of the arena to an unmarked room off the beaten path. Inside, a single incandescent bulb dangles from a wire, illuminating old props from Sens intermissions, now dust covered from inactivity. Sparty’s hotdog gun sits in one corner, Sir Wilfred Laurier’s oversized head from the Prime Minister races rests on a table in another. Pierre removes his suit jacket and slowly rolls up his sleeves.
In front of him, a strangely shaped object is obscured by a tarp. Pierre approaches the mass and removes the covering with one swift pull revealing a great multicoloured wheel. He takes a final sip of coffee, grabs hold of one of the handles and gives it a mighty heave.
Round and round the wheel spins. The small white marker at the top rattles against the pins making a sound that briefly takes him back to his childhood, when he and his friends would put baseball cards in their bike spokes. As he opens his eyes, the wheel is spinning ever slower until finally it stops. Pierre’s gaze follows the white arrow which points to two words, crudely written in blank ink: “Call Up”. He takes a deep breath and fixes his sleeves before grabbing his suit jacket off the chair.
“The wheel has spoken” he mutters to himself before switching off the light and walking towards the door.
If anyone else has a more plausible theory as to how the organization is making personnel decisions right now I’d love to hear it. Until then, I’m sticking with this. How else can you explain some of the choices the team has made leading up to the quarter mark of the season? When the team traded a 2nd round pick for Derek Stepan, did no one do any kind of background check to find out he and his wife were expecting a new addition to the family? Keeping in mind that these aren’t just “Be A Pro” creations on NHL 21 here, they’re real people with lives that exist outside the arena. It may have been worth a little due diligence to walk through the scenarios of separating a player from his young family and see if that bodes well for on-ice production. As a result, Stepan is now on the trade block, but his early season woes (can’t really blame the guy, his mind is clearly elsewhere) have torpedoed his value making that 2nd rounder a sunk cost at this point.
Ok, so they swung and missed there, what’s the big deal? Well, the problem is the other early season gambles they took have turned out equally as disastrous. Paquette & Coburn came over for nothing (Gaborik and Nilsson went the other way, but neither will play this year and will be placed on LTIR). Unfortunately, their presence served as roadblocks to some of the Senators young prospects, and took away NHL level reps from players who had nothing left to prove at lower leagues. The same could be said out of Josh Brown whose play has been less than stellar to begin the season as well.
Only now, after 13 games worth of public outcry from fans and the media alike, are we starting to see some of the young prospects that have been touted as “the future” finally getting a shot at playing time. After returning from their western road trip, the organization made the long overdue decision to call up top defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom. Bruce Garrioch reportedly spoke with Brannstrom after the promotion and says Erik was told by GM Pierre Dorion and coach DJ Smith the plan all along was to bring him back after skating for a couple of weeks.
Now, let’s say you decide to take that at face value and ignore the fact that several other sources have indicated that it likely has more to do with DJ Smith not being a fan of Brannstrom’s game than it being some masterplan, it doesn’t change the fact that IT’S A STUPID PLAN! You’re telling me that having him rot in a hotel room and do individual skill work drills is better for his development than having him with the actual team? Not to mention the fact that Dorion and Smith would probably be well served to get their stories straight as to what “the plan” is, as both have given different versions of it several times up to this point in the season.
The same can be said for Logan Brown & Artyom Zub as well. After 5 straight training camps where he didn’t make the team, cutting Brown again served what purpose, other than to drive a wedge between the player and the organization? Mercifully, we seem to be on the cusp of seeing Brown in the big leagues on the back of increased public questioning as to what the logic in the organization’s decision making process is.
It’s almost as though the front office is being run by the Sens Twitter community as opposed to the hockey ops department. Just log on and see what the people want and, sure, let’s give it a try!
When the coaching staff preaches players “earning their spots” on the roster as the rationale for why they made their early season roster choices, then turns around a quarter of the way through the season and promotes that same player, it’s sending mixed messages to fans and the players alike.
How exactly did Logan Brown “earn” his promotion from his room at the Brookstreet? The NHL doesn’t exist in isolation, cut off from all contact from the outside world. The front office had to have known at this point of the pandemic that the AHL was long shot at best to resume play in Canada with the restrictions we have in place. If it was a normal year, and Brown could go down and produce at a point per game clip to earn his shot, then great, that's sound reasoning. But there was nowhere to send him.
Then you have the incomprehensible deployment of Tim Stutzle through the early stages of his career. The Senators have veteran players making egregious errors on a nightly basis with no repercussions. If Stutzle found himself even remotely out of place on a shift he wound up superglued to the bench for long stretches of time. This was compounded by the first power play unit deployment, which was giving fans flashbacks to the team’s inaugural season. Only in the early days, the team didn’t have the luxury of a star player watching from the sidelines, they were legitimately trotting out the best they could muster.
If you want to give him the first game or two before putting him out there, sure why not. But for a team that kept wanting to insulate the rookies and not put them out in situations where they’d fail, does it get any cushier than powerplay duty? Not to mention that that’s the exact situation where a player with Stutzle’s skill set shines the brightest.
You can’t tell me it’s a coincidence that Matt Murray was getting torched when the veteran defensemen were out there, and in the small sample size of games where Zub and Brannstrom have been active he’s had his best games in a Senators uniform. If anything, it only further cements the fallacy in the master plan narrative being fed to the public.
Fans don’t need to know everything. There are many things in hockey that need to be kept in house. But would it have given any kind of competitive advantage to other teams in their scouting, or be detrimental to team morale to say “Listen, we like Brannstrom, he’s a big part of our future, but he’s been in quarantine for a bit. We don’t think he’s quite got his legs back to where they need to be, so he’s gonna stay here in Ottawa and get some solo skates in and work on A, B & C with our staff. Then when we get back from our Western road trip, we’ll re-evaluate”.
Save yourself having the fans and media personalities getting whipped up into a frenzy, while instilling confidence the organization knows what it’s doing.
Were fans of the team expecting a Stanley Cup this year? No, I think even the most die hard of supporters would have laughed at that notion. But what they did want to see was the team make good on their promises to spend money, play the kids they’ve been touting for years, and start to see glimpses of that unparalleled success Melnyk spoke about. They don’t mind watching the team lose, as long as it’s icing the best product possible and the games are competitive. Most fans are finally getting what they wanted in terms of the on ice product now that youth is being served as we approach game 15.
Unfortunately for the team, many are simultaneously questioning whether the current management group are the right people to get the job done once all the shiny new prospects are finally at the NHL level. Anyone can tear down a team. There’s no shortage of clubs who will take your star players off your hands for you. But building it back up and getting over the hump is a whole other challenge. Now, some are beginning to question whether Smith & Dorion are up for it.
by Kyle Skinner | Sens Nation Hockey