When the Ottawa Senators parted with Pierre Dorion on Wednesday after forfeiting a first-round pick due to the mishandling of a trade in 2021, they left behind an executive who'd set them up for a promising future.
Under Dorion, the Senators had assembled a strong young core and signed them to reasonable contracts, putting the team in an excellent position to succeed in the years to come.
That doesn't mean that Ottawa's franchise has been weakened by the loss of Dorion. While there are positives to be drawn from his time as the Senators' GM, a closer look at his moves in that position make it clear that there were more misses than hits for the outgoing decision-maker.
Here's a rundown of Dorion's time at the helm for Ottawa:
The bottom line
The greatest indictment of Dorion's tenure is how little winning the Senators did while he was in the GM chair. Ottawa posted a 225-261-59 record in that time, good for 509 points. Only four teams produced fewer over those seasons and one of them — the Seattle Kraken — entered the league in 2021-22.
Ottawa also made the playoffs just once under Dorion and did so in his first year with a roster he inherited.
He can take virtually no credit for Ottawa's run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2016-17 as he was inactive in free agency prior to the season and his pickups midway through the campaign — Tommy Wingels, Alexandre Burrows, and Viktor Stålberg didn't score a single playoff goal. Mike Condon provided a major boost in the crease during the regular season as a 1B, but took a backseat in the playoffs.
That squad was hardly a juggernaut, either, as it won just 44 games during the regular season with a -2 goal differential.
Dorion's only notable on-ice success came from a team he stepped into that vastly overachieved in the postseason after a forgettable 82 games — that didn't benefit much from his additions.
The trade market is where Dorion did much of his most dubious work.
He undoubtedly had some wins like moving off Ryan Dzingel and Derick Brassard shortly before they lost their value — and the package he got for Erik Karlsson that included Josh Norris and a conditional pick that became the third-overall selection in 2020 was excellent. The jury is out on the Jakob Chychrun deal, but it could net out as a positive.
Beyond those examples, there are more instances of the Senators getting the worst side of deals.
One of the first moves Dorion made after taking over was trading Mika Zibanejad and a second-round pick for Brassard and a seventh-rounder. After leaving Ottawa, Zibanejad became an extremely reliable top-line center while Brassard gave the Senators second-line level production before being shipped off via trade.
In the middle of his tenure, Dorion both acquired Matt Duchene and sent him packing, neither of which worked out for the Senators. To get him the team had to trade Kyle Turris, and a package that ended up including the 2019 4th overall pick.
Duchene was productive in Ottawa, but when the team moved him again it got the 19th overall pick and a bizarre conditional first-rounder that didn't turn into anything when the forward didn't re-sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets — a scenario that didn't seem difficult to anticipate.
More recently, Dorion had another scenario where he traded a significant package for a player, had that guy for a short time, and moved him for far less. Alex DeBrincat cost him the seventh overall pick, 39th pick and a 2024 third-round pick.
They got a sold-but-unspectacular 27-goal season from the veteran before his unwillingness to sign an extension had the team flipping him for a package headlined by middle-six winger Dominik Kubalik and a conditional first-rounder in 2024 likely to be in the late twenties or worse if the Boston Bruins continue to thrive this season.
A common thread with Dorion's trades was the general manager's desire to push the envelope and his belief that his team was an impact player or two away from taking a step forward in its competitive cycle. As a result, he ended up trading away the fourth overall pick, seventh overall pick, and 12th overall pick for players capable of making an immediate impact, despite the fact his teams weren't reaching the postseason.
That's fundamentally unsound team-building.
The best way to describe Dorion's activity in the free-agent market would be modest. It's possible he was constrained by his market to some degree, but the GM never signed a free agent to a deal of more than $20 million.
Below are the only four deals he signed worth eight digits:
G Joonas Korpisalo, 2023 (five years, $20 million) — Korpisalo has only played six games with the Senators, so it's too early to say if this contract will make sense. At the time it seemed like an overpay for a player who'd generally been below-average with the Blue Jackets before getting hot at the end of 2022-23 following a trade to the Los Angeles Kings.
F Claude Giroux, 2022 (three years, $19.5 million) — We are less than halfway through this deal, but it looks like a clear win. Dorion gambled that Giroux still had something left in the tank at the age of 35, and that's been true so far. The veteran has produced 87 points in 90 games with the Senators.
F Evgenii Dadonov, 2020 — (three years, $15 million) — Dadonov lasted a single disappointing season in Ottawa before being shipped to the Vegas Golden Knight in the deal that brought about Dorion's downfall. It's safe to assume he regrets this one.
F Zack Smith, 2017 (four years, $13 million) — Smith was a player who'd been with the Senators for a while before Dorion re-signed him as a free agent. The veteran forward provided modest production (47 points in 138 games) in the first two years of this contract before being traded for Artem Anisimov.
There's a reasonable argument to be made that restraint in the free-agent market is a virtue for GMs. The few swings Dorion has made have produced mixed results, and this part of his legacy is likely to hinge on whether the Korpisalo deal yields a long-term solution between the pipes or not.
His ability to find value outside of the very top of the draft has not been strong during his tenure, although that could change slightly if some players drafted more recently break through.
As it stands, Dorion's drafts have produced just one reliable NHL regular picked after the second round (Drake Batherson, 121st overall in 2017) while Shane Pinto looks like a good find despite his recent suspension.
First-rounders that weren't top-five selections have not been an impressive bunch Ottawa:
Logan Brown (11th overall, 2016) — Brown has bounced between the AHL and NHL since 2017-18 with just 99 games at the highest level.
Shane Bowers (28th overall, 2017) — Bowers was part of the first Duchene trade just months after being drafted, but the Senators selected him with the initial intention to keep him, and he's become an AHL lifer with a single NHL game on his resume.
Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th overall, 2018) — Bernard-Docker is just 23, but he's failed to break through with the Senators thus far despite making appearances in each of the last four seasons. The defenceman could still find his way, but he cleared waivers in October — and even if he settles in at the NHL level he projects to be a relatively low-ceiling stay-at-home type.
Lassi Thompson (19th overall, 2019) — Thompson was also placed on waivers in October and was claimed by the Anaheim Ducks. The Senators were able to re-claim him just over a week later. That should indicate where the 23-year-old is at.
Ridly Greig (28th overall, 2020) — Greig looks like the prize of this group. He looked solid in an NHL cameo last season and has seven points in his first eight games to being 2023-24. That scoring is likely to come down, but the Senators seem to have themselves a real player in Greig.
Tyler Boucher (10th overall, 2021) — It's tough to label Boucher as a bust at the age of 20, but things aren't looking good. After being selected by the Senators, he started 2021-22 Boston University where he produced three points in 17 games before leaving midway through the season. Since then he's played 45 games in the OHL over one-and-a-half years with 31 points to show for it. More recently he's been dealing with injury issues as he had shoulder surgery in March and hasn't appeared in any game action in 2023-24.
While Greig is promising, that's not a good batch of players to pull from those picks, especially when you aren't delivering late-round surprises.
The best thing Dorion did for the Senators was lock up the team's top players on reasonable contracts.
Ottawa has the quintet of Tkachuk, Stützle, Norris, Sanderson and Thomas Chabot through 2027-28 with a combined price tag of $40.55 million — a reasonable sum that should only grow more appealing as the cap continues to grow.
You could quibble with Chabot's $8 million, and Norris has some health concerns, but that looks like an excellent foundation to build a team on, even if the proof of concept isn't there yet.
To Dorion's credit, he's shown a willingness to believe in his team's best young talents and sign them to lucrative deals in anticipation of their breakouts instead of waiting on the elite production to come and paying top dollar for it.
That means his successor doesn't have to worry about signing deals for any of the Senators' top players and finding the resources to put talent around them shouldn't be too tall a task.
It's possible that if given enough time Dorion might've transformed his legacy by using these foundational contracts to construct a year-in year-out Stanley Cup threat.
Unfortunately for the executive, he never got that opportunity, and now he won't get to reap the rewards of his best work. Instead, his tenure has come to a conclusion with more failures on his resume than successes.