The Heavy Lifting is Done, But Pierre Dorion Still Has Work to Do This Summer

At some point this summer, Ottawa Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion will probably like a little time off. And as the off-season’s most productive NHL executive, he’ll have earned it. But his work this summer isn’t done. Dorion still has to settle things away with four players he’d like to have on his opening night roster this October.
The Elusive Top Four Defenceman
As you can see in the graphic below, the Senators are more than prepared to go to battle with a very strong forward core. Adding Alex DeBrincat (trade) and Claude Giroux (free agent signing), along with Shane Pinto and Drake Batherson, who both lost the bulk of last season to injury, is going to improve any team. It also won’t hurt to throw defenceman Jake Sanderson into the fray, one of the NHL’s early favourites for the 2023 Calder Trophy.
Ottawa’s weakness for the moment is the blue line. In a perfect world (and it’s been almost perfect so far this summer), Dorion will be able to bring in a defenceman who’ll knock everyone on the right side down a notch on the depth chart, including Artem Zub. As was the case with Connor Brown, the Senators may have to start thinking ahead about a world without Zub, who becomes a UFA next summer. Will Zub be game to re-sign here or will he want to head to the highest bidder next July?
Dallas Stars’ right shot defenceman John Klingberg is the only unrestricted NHL free agent remaining that can clearly upgrade the Sens top four. Klingberg has size and skill, but doesn’t get enough love for how hard he is to play against. He’s not a fighter but he is a pain the ass out there. When the Stars went to the 2020 Cup Final, Klingberg finished 7th overall in playoff scoring with 21 points in 26 games.
Either Klingberg or Zub will make a fantastic D partner for Sanderson this season. Despite all the hype, the rookie will need that insulation. If he gets it, it’s still a huge ask for Sanderson to jump right into a top 4 role. If he ends up partnering with Nikita Zaitsev or Travis Hamonic…well, that’s not ideal.
It’s now Klingberg or bust on the UFA front. But there remain plenty of intriguing trade partners out there – NHL teams who’ve overspent and now need to find cap room. Or perhaps teams with unhappy players. The Arizona Coyotes are frequently full of those, of course. That includes Jakob Chychrun, who’s frequently mentioned in trade rumours. The Sens still have the cap room, picks and prospects to attract that coveted top four D by way of a trade.
RFA Alex Formenton
Formenton is a restricted free agent, coming out of his entry level contract, and one of the fastest players in the NHL. If it feels like Formenton has been around a long time, it’s because he has. His first game with the Sens was five years ago, but until last season, he’d only appeared in a grand total of 30 NHL games. So last year was his first full season and he really broke out.
Formenton finished 4th in team goal scoring with 18, and not one of them came on the power play (13 even strength, 5 shorthanded). He also thrives in a penalty killing role and plays with feistiness and edge. Formenton will be 23 in September and he’s already an excellent third liner who could potentially be ready for second line duty within a year or two. Dorion will need Formenton to pick up a lot of the slack following Connor Brown’s exit this summer. Best guess? A 3 year contract worth $2.5 million per season.
RFA Mathieu Joseph
Joseph is an RFA and has filed for the dance of arbitration this summer. 24 NHL players have filed, some will get a hearing date, almost all will settle before that date. After arriving at the trade deadline, Joseph made a great first impression in Ottawa last season. Like Formenton, he’s fast and can kill penalties well. Because of injuries, Joseph got some looks with some of Ottawa’s top forwards and made the most of it. He had 12 points in 11 games before being shut down with a chest injury.
Joseph is a tricky case. His people will be talking about those 11 games in Ottawa, and how it proves he can score more, like he did in junior, if given the ice time and linemates. Dorion will counter by pointing to the other 220 games in his NHL career where he wasn’t anywhere near that level. And with Ottawa’s additions at forward this season, that ice time and those linemates won’t be available.
But Dorion will certainly want to get this done. Joseph is not only a good player, he’s the reason Sens fans aren’t kicking themselves over losing Nick Paul, who was a playoff star for Tampa this spring. Expect a deal very similar to his new linemate’s – 3 years, $2.5 million – which should be good enough to avoid arbitration.
RFA Erik Brannstrom
Brannstrom has had some very nice moments of high-end puck skill but the team is still waiting on him to consistently produce in other areas. The 22-year-old is generously listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds (and probably thrilled that 5-foot-7 Alex DeBrincat has arrived). He’s smart but not physical or overly fast, and tends to take a lot of big hits. There are a striking number of similarities between Brannstrom and the early days of Chris Wideman in his first two NHL seasons here.
As with Joseph, Brannstrom is the compensation the Sens received for a popular player Dorion traded away. In this case, there’s even more baggage weighing on Dorion, who called Brannstrom’s acquisition his greatest day as a GM to that point. It stands to reason he’d like Brannstrom to pan out, so he’ll wait on him for at least one more year. We’re guessing 1 year, $1.2 million. Will there be a 7th defenceman? Will he supplement things on the right side, where he’d like to be anyway? Will he win over D.J. Smith? Will he be traded at some point?
The only thing we know for sure is that Dorion’s list of summer chores, while impressive so far, isn’t quite done yet this summer.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine
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