Ottawa Senators must dig themselves out of the hole they’re in

Trying to acquire a veteran NHLer to help the young core is a tall task at this time of the season.

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The answers will have to come from within for the Ottawa Senators.

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While Steve Staios, the National Hockey League club’s president of hockey operations and general manager, has been working the phones trying to see if he can bring in a veteran player to help the young core, that can be a tall task at this time of the season.

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That hasn’t stopped Staios from shopping around because the indications are he doesn’t like the way the roster is put together.

A league executive told Postmedia on Saturday that most veteran players available right now were on expiring contracts and there were still 61 days before the trade deadline on March 8.

“Those guys become even more valuable before the trade deadline and the race is so tight in each conference it can be hard to get those guys,” the executive said.

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As the Senators prepared to face the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place in the Alberta capital on Saturday night, they were 16 points behind the New Jersey Devils for the final wildcard playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the chances of making it to the playoffs for the first time in seven years were slim-to-none.

That doesn’t mean Staios, newly hired senior vice-president Dave Poulin and the rest of the hockey operations staff are ready to throw in the towel. Ideally, they’d like to like to see this group start playing up to its potential so the appropriate decisions can be made.

Though Staios was brought on to start the season, he’s still trying to get a handle on what he’s got with this roster after officially taking over as GM full-time on New Year’s Eve and bringing Poulin aboard to join team management along with associate GM Ryan Bowness.

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Given the fact the Senators went into Saturday’s matchup with the Oilers with a 14-20-0 record, Staios is well aware he has to make deals to try to help them improve. What he’s trying to pinpoint is where those changes need to be made.

Steve Staios Ottawa Senators
Steve Staios is the Ottawa Senators’ president of hockey operations and general manager. Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

The Senators are built around their core — Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson — and all of those players are signed long-term. There has been speculation that Ottawa may decide to move on from one of them.

Staios is hard to read, but he doesn’t sound like he’s in that mode … yet.

“All (those young) players that you named continue to improve, and they bring great character and different qualities,” told Edmonton colour analyst Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now on 630 CHED on Friday night. “That’s very intriguing about this group and moving forward.

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“As this group matures, and gains more experience, we’re excited about it. Now, my job is to be able to support them, not only through bringing in the right players, but also with the environment and all the resources that we have to make sure that we can create that environment where they can maximize that potential.”

This group has created the mess the Senators are in right now and it’s up to them to find their way out of it. They can’t rely on Staios to lend a hand by making a deal, as much as he’s trying to make that reality.

Talk in league circles is that the Senators have tried to deal winger Dominik Kubalik, who was brought over as part of the Alex DeBrincat trade, but there’s not much of a market for a veteran with eight goals and three assists for 11 points in 34 games, along with a minus-12 rating.

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A decision the Senators will have to make this spring is whether they’ll forfeit their first-round pick in the 2024 NHL draft to pay as the penalty for the botched Evgenii Dadonov deal with the Vegas Golden Knights in July 2021.

The Senators learned on Nov. 1 they would have to give up a first-round selection in one of the next three drafts. Given the fact the club will likely be a lottery team that spring that doesn’t make sense, but the Senators do have the Detroit Red Wings’ top pick from the DeBrincat deal.

The Detroit selection has conditions attached, including the possibility of the Senators receiving it in either 2024 or 2025. The Senators must forfeit their own selection and not one they’ve received in trade.

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“We’ll have some options (because of the Detroit pick) and we’ll have to go through to determine exactly how we pay our dues on this one,” Staios said.

Essentially, the Senators told the Knights that Dadonov didn’t have a “no trade” clause because Ottawa hadn’t received that list in time.

An investigation by the league confirmed that wasn’t the case, though, which was why the Senators were docked the selection. The fallout cost Pierre Dorion his job as general manager.

Staios said the Senators had implemented measures to make sure that a situation like that didn’t happen again.

“It was unfortunate and unforeseen and I think the processes that we have in place will keep us from ever getting into a situation like that again,” Staios said.

The Senators haven’t appealed the decision by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to dock the first-round pick.

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