OTTAWA — Guy Boucher called the Ottawa Senators' playoff run a "gigantic step" in the right direction, but cautioned the team should be prepared to start "from scratch" next season.
In their first year under Boucher as head coach the Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference final, where they lost in double overtime in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The goal in Ottawa is to go even farther, but Boucher said players can't expect to pick up at training camp where they left off this season — a goal away from a Stanley Cup final appearance.
"The challenge though, and I've lived it, is the year when you come back sometimes you forget where you started, and just like it is from game to game you have to build it all from scratch, and that's exactly how it's going to be next year," said Boucher. "The reality of the NHL now is that making the playoffs is extremely difficult from one year to another as we saw this year from teams in our division, none of those teams are the same this year.
"I think the player's realize what they've done, but to come back ... we've got to do it all over again and the mindset can't be that we are the beginning of the year where we were at the end of the year because you never are there, you have to start back at zero."
As in any season there will be roster changes.
Ideally the Senators would like to re-sign goaltender Mike Condon, who was acquired when Craig Anderson had to take personal leave to deal with his wife's cancer diagnosis, but Dorion didn't seem overly optimistic Monday.
"It's up to him," said Dorion. "If he doesn't like our offer he can just say no. We'd like to bring him back, he wants to come back, but I've been around a long time and you know when talks are going nowhere and they haven't been very good so far."
Dorion said that if Condon can't be signed they would consider bringing back Andrew Hammond, who remains under contract.
The Senators only have three restricted free agents on their roster: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel and Jyrki Jokipakka. Dzingel should get signed and ideally the Senators would like to see Pageau in the organization for a long time. They are hopeful to avoid arbitration with the 24-year-old, who is highly respected by both coach and GM.
The bigger question will be what to do with the Senators free agents. Dorion will need to make decisions on Viktor Stalberg, Tommy Wingels, Tom Pyatt, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly.
Pyatt was a Boucher favourite and would likely be a priority to get re-signed. Stalberg and Wingels were late acquisitions and cost and term will likely be a factor. Dorion said he would sit down personally with veterans Neil and Kelly to "find out what their plans are and if they're in relation with our plans and we'll go from there."
At locker clean out the 37-year-old Neil, who has played his entire career in Ottawa, said he felt like he still had much to contribute, but he was used sparingly by Boucher and it seems unlikely he would be re-signed.
"They can't all be back, it's just a numbers thing," said Dorion. "We have to look at who fits best our needs, our mock roster, where we need to go as far as a group and not take a step backwards."
Adding to the changes is the upcoming expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Discussions will be held this week as the Senators try to determine its protected list, but Dorion did confirm that Anderson would be protected.
Overall the first year GM was satisfied with his roster, but says they can always get better and are always willing to explore options via trade.
Boucher said he'll let Dorion deal with all the roster issues, but regardless of who's back expects the team to be better.
"You need to find a way to improve in every aspect of the game," Boucher said. "If you don't adapt and change then you don't improve and it will never be enough. Every team will want to get better so it's a matter of learning from this year and moving forward."
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press