The Ottawa Senators are bad at a lot of things, but optics is right near the top of the list. The franchise fired coach Guy Boucher on Friday, replacing him on an interim basis with associate coach Marc Crawford. Taken in a vacuum, this is not an unreasonable move: the Senators have been brutal this season and Crawford is a Stanley Cup-winning bench boss who can keep the ship sailing for the last month of the season.
But of course, nothing is easy when it comes to the Senators. To begin with, GM Pierre Dorion had just been quoted on Monday as saying that Boucher would be evaluated once the season was finished. Bob McKenzie, however, revealed on Twitter that the Sens had already decided not to bring back Boucher, whose contract was expiring. Given all we know about owner Eugene Melnyk’s thriftiness, this certainly lines up.
McKenzie also notes that the organization was not happy with certain tendencies that were creeping up around the team recently and hey, fair play – this is a franchise that currently needs to establish good habits amongst its youngest players. Because those also happen to be the most important players in the organization.
There is no present in Ottawa, there is only future. And Dorion needs to thread the needle if he wants to keep his own job in the long-term.
Some of that will come down to luck. As we have mentioned multiple times on the podcast this year, Ottawa does not own the rights to its own first-round pick in 2019. The Senators gave it away in the three-way trade with Nashville and Colorado that landed Ottawa Matt Duchene – who, of course is now plying his trade in Columbus. So if the ping pong balls determine that Ottawa “wins” the draft lottery, it will actually be the Colorado Avalanche striding up to the podium to select center Jack Hughes in June. Now, the Senators did get the Blue Jackets’ first-rounder in the recent Duchene deal, but it is conditional – should it fall within the top three picks in 2019, Columbus can keep the selection and give Ottawa their first-rounder in 2020.
Now, the Blue Jackets are very likely making the playoffs this season (especially given Pittsburgh’s injury horror show), so they won’t even be eligible for the draft lottery. But imagine if they somehow missed, then won the lottery? There’s a nightmare scenario where Ottawa misses out on both the first and second selection overall in 2019.
But back to reality. The Senators do have a nice pipeline going, headlined by NHLers such as Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Colin White, plus prospects Drake Batherson, Logan Brown (both of whom have already played NHL games) and Erik Brannstrom, who was acquired in the deal that sent Mark Stone to Vegas.
Dorion says he is looking for a teacher, a listener, a communicator and a tactician in his next bench boss. Will he go with an old hand, or a new voice at the NHL level? The most obvious candidate in the “new” pile would be AHL Belleville Senators coach Troy Mann, who already knows many of the organization’s building-block players and has managed to keep the Baby Sens in the hunt for a playoff berth, despite losing a steady stream of talent to the big club at various points in the season (Belleville has won nine of its past 10 games, by the way).
And, of course, there is Crawford and his pedigree to consider. Should Dorion go outside of the organization, he’ll have a raft of choices, too. But this is a key decision and because it’s Ottawa – a team that was one double-overtime goal away from a Stanley Cup final berth just two years ago – the scrutiny will be merciless. This is the situation the Senators have made for themselves and it is not going away anytime soon.