Pierre Dorion’s morning quarantine routine includes something very familiar to Ottawa Senators fans.
The Ottawa Senators general manager loads the 2020 NHL Draft lottery simulator on his phone and he doesn’t stop spinning the virtual wheel until the gets the desired outcome for his team.
"Every morning – it’s part of my routine," Dorion said with a laugh, while speaking to reporters on a Zoom conference call on Tuesday. "And I do it until I get one and two and then I stop. Some days it takes a few minutes longer."
The Senators might be the team with the most to gain – or lose – depending on how the NHL decides to allocate the No. 1 overall pick whenever they hold the draft lottery for real. By virtue of holding their own pick and San Jose’s in the first round, the Senators could be looking at a situation where they have two of the top three or four selections in the draft – including the plausible scenario in which they hold the top two picks overall.
But with the 2019-20 season on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic there is an air of uncertainty around how the draft lottery might unfold moving forward. There have been several proposals tossed into the public sphere – including an unlikely scenario where the bottom teams would play a mini-tournament for the rights to secure the No. 1 overall pick.
On Tuesday, Dorion didn’t want to go down any roads with wild speculation pertaining to how the draft lottery might play out. But he did acknowledge that his club has expressed their desire to league officials for how they would like to see the 2019-20 season conclude.
"The only thing we’ll tell you is that we’ve made three proposals to the league. Our hockey operations group worked really hard in making three different kind of proposals for resumptions of regular season play, the playoffs and draft lottery – all items that are related to hockey personnel decisions," Dorion said.
The Senators proposals – which Dorion did not elaborate on during the conference call with reporters – were passed along directly from team owner Eugene Melnyk to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
"We want to make sure we have a voice in this. We’re going about our business probably more quietly than some other teams that have leaked it out," adds Dorion. "But we feel that it’s important to go through the proper channels and have a voice in what could possibly happen. I think our game is in good hands with Gary Bettman. I think the integrity of the regular season, the playoffs, the awarding of the Stanley Cup and the draft lottery – will all be decided well and with a lot of integrity."
Dorion said he will be watching the upcoming NFL Draft – which will be held remotely – to see if there are any technological flaws or issues with hosting a draft in that manner. While he is still holding out hope for an in-person draft at some point in this calendar year, Dorion said he’s open to the idea of hosting it via teleconferencing.
"If we have to do it remotely, we’ll be ready to do it," added Dorion, who said he already has preliminary plans in place to be in the same room – six feet apart as per social distancing guidelines – with his assistant general manager Peter MacTavish and his chief amateur scout Trent Mann.
When the Senators started their rebuilding process 18 months ago, much of it was done with an eye towards the 2020 NHL Draft, which was scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but has been postponed.
"We did our homework. We always felt this 2020 draft would be one of the deepest in many years," said Dorion.
For several years, amateur scouts have salivated over the potential crop of players available this season – including crown jewel Alexis Lafreniere. The 30th-ranked Senators feel confident that they know enough about this draft class to make informed decisions on prospects – even though leagues such as the CHL and NCAA have cancelled the remainder of their seasons. Mann e-mails the entire Senators hockey operations department and scouting staff select video clips of 2020 draft eligible prospects, so they can continue to analyze the players.
"Now what we’re doing is watching a lot of video of players. It’s good for us because when you’ve seen the players play and then you add the video element to it – which is what our scouts are doing – it will prepare us even better for this upcoming draft," says Dorion. "For sure, we planned on doing some scouting after the trade deadline. But our scouting is in great hands under Trent Mann. He’s done a tremendous job over the last few years and we’ve drafted really well. Under his tutelage our scouts know what they needed to do."
Dorion was scheduled to go on an amateur scouting trip when the NHL season was abruptly paused March 12 while the Senators were in California. But Dorion did spend nine days in Europe in January, getting a first-hand look at potential draft prospects and free agent players overseas.
One of the players rumoured to be on the verge of joining the Senators is KHL defenceman Artyom Zub, who is a free agent. Senators head coach DJ Smith recently made a presentation to Zub. On Tuesday, Dorion stopped short of saying the 24-year-old defenceman was signed, sealed and delivered.
"We’re one of the teams that are one of the finalists for Zub. We hope he signs with us," Dorion said. "We feel that he’s somebody who can play for us as soon as nxt year. He’s still pondering his decision, but he’s someone who we’ve had an eye on."
While the Sens are hopeful to get Zub signed to a contract, they are not actively engaged in contract talks with any of their own restricted free agents, such as Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown or Chris Tierney. With so many questions about what the financial landscape might look like for next season and beyond, the Senators have decided to be patient as they negotiate with their own restricted free agents.
"We don’t feel that right now is the right time to have those discussions," Dorion told TSN 1200 in a later interview. "We’ve never been a big team to do RFAs during the season and I can’t see us doing that until we know where the NHL season goes. We’re going to be very careful and there are priorities on other matters before discussing contracts.
While the Senators were well out of a playoff spot last month, their AHL affiliate in Belleville were in first place in the North Division when their season was paused. Dorion admitted that not having the likes of Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson and Logan Brown gain playoff experience this spring is one of the more frustrating elements of hockey being put on hold.
"It’s probably the thing that hurts us the most as an organization with this pause being on," said Dorion.
Dorion also admitted that his team being the face of COVID-19 for the NHL was a scary ordeal, especially because he was on the Senators charter plane where five players, one staff member and a team broadcaster ultimately ended up testing positive for the virus.
"I wanted to get tested because I was worried about my family, but I never had any symptoms," Dorion said. "They said there was point in getting tested, but it was a bit frightening when we were the first team."