By Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.
OTTAWA – When Steve Staios joined the Ottawa Senators as president of hockey operations in September, he didn’t expect his team would be sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at the halfway point of the season.
Then again, not much has gone as planned for the NHL club in a campaign dominated by negative headlines.
General manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith were both fired, forward Shane Pinto was suspended 41 games by the NHL for gambling-related reasons and the team has been plagued by a multitude of injuries.
That has added up to a rough start for the new ownership group led by Michael Andlauer, and the Senators (18-24-1) still have the second half of the season to get through as they seem destined to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
Staios, who now also carries the role of general manager, addressed the media Thursday morning for a mid-season update that addressed a number of topics, including the Senators lacklustre record, the search for a new head coach and how he might approach the trade deadline.
Interim head coach Jacques Martin appears poised to finish the season, allowing Staios and his team to evaluate what type of coaching candidate would be best suited for the current group of players.
“I feel like Jacques and (adviser Daniel Alfredsson) and the staff is really laying down the foundation for what it’s going to take for the next level to come in,” Staios said. “Is there certain criteria that I would like to see with our next head coach? Yeah, there’s a wish list.
“And the other thing, it’s more than just the head coach. I think the balance for the coaching staff, the experience, the personalities, their background in each area, I think it’s going to be hugely important. No different than putting a roster together.”
With the Senators sitting 16 points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, Ottawa is considering all options when it comes to the trade deadline March 8.
“Am I open for business? I’ve had some good discussions with lots of teams,” Staios said. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t looking for all opportunities to make this team successful short term and long term. I think the long-term vision is extremely important to keep an eye on with our group.”
While Pinto has only played two games since returning from his suspension, he has impressed Staios as someone who can play at both ends of the ice.
“When you talk about 200-feet players, I think Shane has a lot of that in his game along with other attributes for us as well,” Staios said. “So, when you bring a player like Shane back in the lineup it balances things a little bit, and, you know, he’s been a welcome addition.”
A potential candidate to be on the move is pending unrestricted free agent forward Vladimir Tarasenko, but he would need to waive his no-trade clause.
“I have not had a conversation with Vladdy,” Staios said. “With where we are in the standings and with him becoming an unrestricted free agent it’s certainly something we’ll continue to take a look at.”
Defenceman Jakob Chychrun’s name has also been mentioned as a potential trade piece.
The 25-year-old is eligible to become a free agent at the of the 2024-25 season, while fellow defencemen Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson are both locked in long-term.
“First I’ll say I’m disappointed that his name is out there,” Staios said. “I think when you have these conversations with other teams … if I’m on the other side looking at our team, I’m asking about Jakob Chychrun as well. So I’m disappointed, I’m disappointed for him.
“I guess it’s part of the game, but he’s a great player for us, he’s a great young man and loves Ottawa so he’s going to have to deal with those types of things being out there.”
Looking at the big picture, Staios says he sees progression as the team moves forward from a disappointing start.
“I’m encouraged,” he said. “I think that you see the commitment from the group. I think you see the discipline. I think you see the details starting to come into our game and that’s really what I’ve been waiting for, for this group.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.