New owner Michael Andlauer named Steve Staios, the team’s president of hockey operations who was hired on Sept. 29, as interim general manager.
Why did this happen? What comes next for the struggling Senators? Here’s a look:
Why did Ottawa have to forfeit a first-round pick?
In Oct. 2020, Dorion signed free-agent winger Evgenii Dadonov to a three-year contract that included a 10-team no-trade clause. The Senators then traded Dadonov to the Vegas Golden Knights in July 2021 for a third-round pick and defenseman Nick Holden.
The Knights attempted to trade Dadonov again in March 2022 to the Anaheim Ducks along with a conditional draft pick for defenseman John Moore and the contract of injured forward Ryan Kesler. Vegas was trying to move his $5 million contract off their salary cap in order to welcome back players from long-term injured reserve.
But hours after the trade was announced, Vegas said it had “become aware of an issue with respect to the trade” and were consulting with the league office about it.
The issue: Dadonov’s no-trade clause wasn’t disclosed by the Senators during the trade call with Vegas back in 2021. Anaheim, it turns out, was on a list of prohibited destinations that Dadonov had previously submitted. But when the Golden Knights sent him to the Ducks, they were unaware that he had trade protection.
The NHL rejected the trade. The Golden Knights would eventually trade Dadonov to the Montreal Canadiens for the contract of injured defenseman Shea Weber in June 2022.
Vegas executives went to the NHL in late 2022 to ask for punishment against the Senators for failing to disclose that clause. Andlauer indicated the Ducks were also looking for “their pound of flesh” after believing Dorion botched their deal.
On Wednesday, the NHL announced that punishment: The Senators will forfeit a first-round draft pick in one of the 2024, 2025 or 2026 drafts. The determination as to which pick will be forfeited will be made by Ottawa within 24 hours of the conclusion of the draft lottery for that year.
“The 73-page report that was shared with me last week stems from actions originated by our hockey club, unfortunately,” Andlauer said. “Our duty of care was ignored, which set off events that embarrassed the league and pissed off two other NHL clubs.”
What happened after the Senators received the ruling?
Andlauer said he received the report from the NHL that detailed its findings on the botched trade. He spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last Tuesday and remained in contact with the league as he attempted to “understand the dynamics” of the report.
Last week, Andlauer sat down with director of hockey operations Steve Staios to discuss the report and whether there was a contingency plan if Dorion had to go. His preference was to keep Dorion in place as general manager with Staios above him. “I like that two-headed monster,” Andlauer said.
He had dinner with Dorion on Tuesday night to discuss the situation and “how serious it was.” Andlauer indicated that it was so serious that it was best for Dorion to resign and part ways with the franchise.
Staios would become the team’s interim general manager.
“We were downright negligent. At the end of the day, if somebody gets traded, you include it with the current no-trade clause. I mean it’s not that complicated,” he said. “I think it’s a very strong price to pay. But at the end of the day, this could have all been avoided and it wouldn’t have been an issue.”
Was the ruling the reason Dorion is out in Ottawa?
Andlauer was asked if the NHL ruling was “the last straw” for Dorion in Ottawa.
“Let’s put it this way: I think a lot of the decisions that have been made, or some of the issues that we’ve had, could have been avoided,” he responded.
Suffice it to say, the Senators’ on-ice performance didn’t exactly argue in favor of keeping Dorion through this firestorm.
Ottawa last made the playoffs in 2017. Since Dorion was hired as GM in April 2016, the Senators have the NHL’s fourth-worst record in that span (225-261-59, .467 points percentage). They’re currently last in the Atlantic Division (4-4-0).
Dorion has had some highlights. He added Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle through the draft and secured both players — along with center Josh Norris and defenseman Thomas Chabot — to long-term contracts. Trades like the Erik Karlsson deal with San Jose, which were maligned at the time, have been viewed more positively with the benefit of hindsight.
Other trades were not: He traded a pick that ended up being blue-chip defenseman Kevin Korchinski to the Chicago Blackhawks for winger Alex DeBrincat, who spent only one season with the Senators before they moved him to the Detroit Red Wings, where he has nine goals in 10 games this season.
His cap management also came under scrutiny this offseason.
That established, Andlauer did indicate that Dorion’s time with the team was at an end because of the report’s findings and the draft pick punishment.
“At the end of the day, we are at fault for what transpired. We can argue about how harsh this penalty was, but ultimately this could have been avoided. And the accountability is at our hockey club and Pierre was ultimately responsible for the hockey operations of this club,” he said.
“As a member of this league, we have to be held accountable for our actions. And while this was done before my watch, I must respect the league’s decision.”
Did Andlauer know about this investigation before buying the team?
Andlauer closed his deal to buy the Senators on Sept. 21 for $950 million. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors has unanimously approved the sale. The initial agreement to sell to Andlauer’s group was back in June.
According to Andlauer, he found out about the NHL’s investigation into the Dadonov no-trade clause disclosure through due diligence during his purchase of the team.
“It was basically, from the seller’s perspective, really a non-issue,” he said. “I don’t know if first round is a non-issue to you guys, but it is to me.”
Andlauer was asked why his team had to pay for something that didn’t happen on his watch.
“The commissioner had a lot of time to deliberate on it and think about it. Why I inherited this is beyond me,” he said.
There is precedent for the NHL washing its hands of a punishment after a team gets new ownership.
In 2010, the New Jersey Devils signed winger Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract that was blocked by the NHL for cap circumvention. The franchise was punished with a $3 million fine, losing a third-round pick in 2011 and then losing a future first-round pick in one of the next four drafts. The Devils deferred the lost pick for a couple of seasons. In March 2014, the NHL forgave the fine and awarded New Jersey the 30th pick in the upcoming draft, after Kovalchuk had left for Russia and owner Jeff Vanderbeek sold the team to an investment group led by Josh Harris and David Blitzer.
Andlauer also had a problem with another NHL investigation: The one that ended with Senators center Shane Pinto receiving a 41-game suspension for violating the league’s sports wagering rules.
He said his ownership group was not made aware before closing the deal for the team that Pinto was being investigated by the league, which he said was “another troubling thing for me.”
Pinto was a restricted free agent. Once Andlauer found out about the investigation, he immediately put a stop to all negotiations with Pinto and his agent.
The duration of both investigations, considering the timeline of his purchase of the team, left Andlauer frustrated with the NHL.
“I don’t understand why it’s taken so long. Maybe because the club was for sale and they didn’t want to disrupt [the transaction],” he said. “Making sure the seller got the biggest price possible. I don’t know.”
What else did he say about the Pinto suspension?
Pinto accepted his 41-game suspension from the NHL and opted not to have the NHLPA appeal on his behalf.
“This was an agreement with the player. And certainly if the player chose a different path forward, whatever the player wants, I represent the players, so I’m going to fight for the player,” NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh told ESPN.
Andlauer called the gambling policy “a serious thing” for the players — especially young ones.
“You look at a young man who’s making millions of dollars, that represents millions of people in the community, but is 21 years old,” he said. “Let’s say they’re injured and they got time on their hands and they got millions of dollars, they got a cell phone and Wayne Gretzky gets on an MGM commercial and talks about betting and … I’ll just leave it at that.”
Andlauer said Pinto being the first suspension since the widespread legalization of sports wagering will “make a difference” for players as an example of what not to do.
“For me, the important part is that this young man gets all the help, all the support from this organization and he will be a better person with all of us supporting him,” he said. “He’s already made a difference, being the first person [suspended]. He regrets what he’s done and he’s getting help for it. By default, he’s actually helped all the other players that are going to be going through this organization.”
Who could be the next general manager of the Senators?
Staios, who has only been with the organization officially for about three weeks, said his first priority is to bring “stability and confidence” back to the team after a very rocky start to the season.
In terms of searching for the next general manager, Staios said “that will happen” at some point. “I think as this sort of starts to unfold, we’re going to take a longer look at what our options might be and who might be available,” he said.
Ryan Bowness, the team’s assistant general manager, is one internal option. Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager Mathieu Darche has been a finalist with a handful of teams, and was rumored to be in the mix as a potential Dorion replacement after Andlauer bought the team.
There were two names being discussed in hockey circles on Wednesday. Peter Chiarelli was an assistant general manager in Ottawa before being hired by the Boston Bruins in 2006. He served as their general manager until 2015 and built their 2011 Stanley Cup winner, having added players like Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask during his tenure. He has reportedly moved back to Ottawa and has a relationship with Staios.
The other name: Steve Staios. He was the longtime general manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League and has been a confidant of Andlauer’s for years, to the point where his hiring by the Senators was the worst kept secret in hockey. It’s possible that just like Kyle Dubas and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the best GM candidate ends up being the person leading the search for that candidate.
What does this mean for head coach D.J. Smith?
Smith was hired in 2019 by Dorion after four years as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has a 124-143-32 record in Ottawa, finishing with a points percentage over .500 just once, which was last season (.524).
According to Cap Friendly, Smith is signed through the 2024-25 season. While the Senators have a new owner and a new general manager, Smith appears to be safe for now, as Staios gave him a vote of confidence.
“The players respect D.J. They play hard. They’ve never cheated us on effort. They look organized going into games,” Staios said. “We’re dealing with some injuries right now and some adversity, but I have confidence that this team will move in the right direction.”
Can the Senators turn around their season?
It’s been a turbulent start. Pinto’s suspension deprives the Senators of a dynamic offensive forward — assuming he would have eventually signed. Star defenseman Thomas Chabot is on injured reserve. The team has stumbled out of the gate at 4-4-0, and now the departure of Dorion is another unforeseen bump in the road.
That said, the Senators entered Wednesday fifth in offense at four goals per game. Stutzle continues to look like a star, while winger Vladimir Tarasenko — a Dorion signing — had nine points in his first eight games. If Ottawa can tighten up defensively, as they’re 28th in expected goals against at 5-on-5, they still have a roster that can challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
A roster built by a general manager whose “negligent” behavior on a trade over a year ago has cost him dearly.