Pierre Dorion wasted no time making a move or two Wednesday.
It may have been the kickoff to the NHL’s free agent frenzy at noon, but the Ottawa Senators’ general manager turned to the trade market instead by dealing underperforming winger Evgenii Dadonov to the Vegas Golden Knights for defenceman Nick Holden and a third-round pick in 2022.
After signing Dadonov to a three-year, $15-million deal from the Florida Panthers in October, the Senators determined it was time to move on and made the decision to acquire Holden, who will provide leadership and help with the club’s penalty killing units.
Then, to strengthen the club further, the Senators signed defenceman Michael Del Zotto to a two-year contract worth $2 million per season. Dorion spent the day huddled with assistant GM Peter MacTavish, senior VP Pierre McGuire, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the pro scouting staff at the Canadian Tire Centre, and was pleased with the day.
This free agent period was different because it got off to a later start this summer and it could be the same next year if NHL teams go to the Olympics. Dorion still has some irons in the fire, but there’s nothing imminent. The club may make another deal or two.
“You better jump the gun early and you better have all your ducks in a row because the players are gone very fast,” Dorion said in a conference call. “There’s no interview period, and as of noon we were setting up calls, and it was different than in other years. It’s free agency, you get a chance to add players to your organization and it’s a process we all enjoy here.”
The 34-year-old Holden is a guy who can help and play some big minutes on the blueline, taking some of the pressure off Thomas Chabot. That’s what the Senators have been looking for since last season came to an end and it makes sense for the organization to make this move because he can help improve the back end.
The expectation is Holden will play in the third pairing along side Josh Brown. No, this doesn’t mean restricted free agent Victor Mete or defenceman Erik Brannstrom will necessarily be moved. Dorion noted you can never have enough defencemen so the status quo could remain.
“We just feel we got a guy who’s a great character with a great stick and he can make great reads,” said Dorion. “He’s a played a lot of playoff hockey. Bringing his experience is a guy who fits in well for us.”
The Senators left Dadonov exposed in the expansion draft, but couldn’t entice the Seattle Kraken to take the contract off their hands. Yes, they were prepared to bring him back next season, however Dadonov had only one point on the power play last season while playing big minutes so the organization felt it was time for both sides to move on.
Dorion noted it didn’t help that Dadonov was away from his family and that made the transition more difficult.
“We felt we would be getting calls on him,” said Dorion. “When I talked to Evgenii (Wednesday), he was a total pro, he told me he understood it was a business and he apologized for under-delivering. He was first class from top to bottom and he totally understood it. It didn’t work out here as far as our expectations are concerned.
“It didn’t work out, but we felt that our team getting Nick Holden fills a need for the Ottawa Senators and Evgenii Dadonov will fill a need for Vegas.”
The Senators like Del Zotto because they feel he can play in all situations and he has established himself as someone who can play at both ends of the ice.
The 31-year-old suited up for 53 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, finishing with four goals and 13 points in 53 games. It will also give the Senators some experience on the back end because Del Zotto has suited up for 710 games in his career with six teams.
“I proved a lot of people wrong and I proved I could still play in the NHL,” Del Zotto told TSN. “I really like the way (the Senators) play under D.J. Smith and I want to bring a veteran presence.”
Del Zotto said he had other options, but he felt Ottawa was the best fit.
“I’m really excited to get there and get to work,” said Del Zotto. “There was numerous pros (to signing in Ottawa). The No. 1 was the direction they’re headed and my role there. I’m excited to bring my experience there.”
Dorion, McGuire and Smith had a call with Del Zotto right after free agency began.
“We explained to him the role that he would be playing here. He brings someone who is mobile, who’s got great experience and he’s a great pro,” said Dorion. “We felt he would fit in with this group. He could mentor our younger players because he’s seen it all. He’s had to sign a two-way contract, he’s got experience, he’s mobile and he’s good puck mover.
“We really felt this was going to be the right fit for us.”
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