Steve Staios was charged with the task of finding the next general manager of the Ottawa Senators.
In the end, he only had to look in the mirror.
To be fair, it was Senators owner Michael Andlauer who encouraged Staios to see his own reflection, as Andlauer wanted his go-to guy to also be his GM.
Staios, 50, hired in late September as Ottawa’s president of hockey operations, adds the title of GM to his Senators portfolio in a blockbuster staffing announcement made on New Year’s Eve afternoon, just hours before the Senators took the ice against the Buffalo Sabres.
In a neat twist, former Philadelphia Flyers captain and longtime broadcaster Dave Poulin has been hired as the Senators new senior vice president of hockey operations. Poulin, 65, held a similar role, VP of hockey operations, with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2009 to 2014. He has long known Andlauer and Staios from their AHL days — Poulin as GM of the Marlies while Andlauer and Staios were running the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Andlauer has often said he likes the idea of a “two-headed monster” in hockey operations. He has that now with Staios and Poulin.
And Ryan Bowness, 40, who had been an assistant GM under Pierre Dorion, moves up to associate GM under Staios, who admitted that in the brief time he was considering someone else as GM, Bowness was the only one he had in mind.
But now Staios can settle in as the lead dog in what he calls a “collaborative” approach in hockey operations, with Poulin and Bowness.
“I think far too often in the past, here, if I can say it, it hasn’t been that,” Staios said, in just one of two direct shots at Dorion’s tenure as GM. The second one came when Staios was asked if he could manage under the salary cap constraints the team is facing, with unsigned Shane Pinto about to rejoin a roster that has been at or near the cap all season. Plus, other potential moves he might care to make.
That question had heads shaking up on the dais.
“Well, it’s challenging,” Staios said of the cap. “But I’m confident that we can get it done. The situation we inherited is not ideal but I’m confident we’ll be fine.”
Staios opened his comments by thanking Andlauer for his faith in him to be the next GM.
“It’s a big job,” Staios said. “And I’m looking forward to the challenge of moving forward with this group — to be able to do this with Dave and Ryan Bowness (currently away scouting). Putting together that foundation of a staff gives me great confidence that we can move this thing forward.”
Staois described Poulin as a “great pillar” for the organization.
“He comes with great integrity, great experience and — just a wonderful addition to our group,” Staios said.
Ottawa fans will miss Poulin’s regular voice on the local morning radio show. He has been providing thoughtful insights, wit and wisdom about the Senators and their opponents for the past few seasons. Now, that valuable input will get channeled within a single organization.
“This is a unique opportunity for me,” Poulin said. “I’ve had a different seat for the past 10 years (as a broadcaster). I’ve got to watch hockey with a very objective view. I wasn’t tied to a team, I wasn’t tied to a group or wins and losses. I simply watched and commented and thought about the game and saw the way different teams were built and saw what was successful and what wasn’t. And it added a piece — that really helped all the other pieces I had in place, the playing piece, the coaching piece, the managing piece. And the fan piece that I’ll never lose.”
Poulin said he jumped at this opportunity, which came up quite recently, he says, because Andlauer and Staios are such “good people to work with.”
Poulin is no stranger to Ottawa as grew up here for a time, and his grandmother owned a house in the west end especially for its proximity to her church.
“I spent all my time as a youth in the west end and have remained close to the people in Ottawa,” Poulin said. “I still have family here. So it feels good, very good to be joining this group.”
Throughout, Andlauer looked as pleased as a proud poppa as he participated in the scene. Ever reflective during his brief reign as Senators owner, he noted that this major announcement comes exactly 100 days since he became the boss, just prior to the start of this perplexing season.
There has been a ton of turmoil in those 100 days — a GM fired, and then a head coach, D.J. Smith, while the team on the ice continues to take steps forward, and then back. But Andlauer seems confident things will settle down — at least until the end of the season while interim head coach Jacques Martin and his new high-profile assistant, Daniel Alfredsson, and the rest of the staff see this through to the spring of 2024.
“I understand this team a lot better now,” Andlauer said, warming up to a statement suitable for framing.
“Stability is not a word that has been synonymous with this organization, so my New Year’s resolution as we enter 2024 will be to make stability part of our fans’ vocabulary for years to come.”
That would be welcome. But to be honest, most fans would settle at the moment for a competitive team on the ice most nights.
It begs the question, would Staios and his group consider tinkering with this current young core, or is he more likely to add to it? He reiterated his belief in the current core of the roster, but added his voice to those who want to see more consistency.
“We talk about process a lot,” Staios said, borrowing one of Jacques Martin’s favourite words. “And to make an evaluation without all the information is not the right way to do it. So, I want to see how this coaching staff can resonate with this group. I know they’re sending the right message.
“We’ve got to learn to play the right way. We can have all the talent — you see the National Hockey League, watch all the games every night. If you drop off just a little in your game play, there’s relatively no chance to win. We have to build that up.”
In time, Staios said, the roster will be evaluated more fully “to see where everybody fits and what the dynamics are.
“What changes need to be made at that point?”
Once again, Staios said he believes this core “has the potential to do it. They just haven’t done it consistently. Is it experience? Is it accountability? Those are the things we have to evaluate to make an accurate decision on the roster in general.”
There will be concerns about Ottawa heading down the path with an inexperienced GM again, after going that route with Dorion in 2016, when GM Bryan Murray stepped aside for health reasons.
Fans always felt more confident with Dorion when Murray was there to advise and guide him. But that was not a long period, as Murray died in the summer of 2017.
Poulin will play that senior advisor role to Staios, who left the Edmonton Oilers in late summer, where he had been a special advisor to hockey operations. Staios had been serving as interim GM in Ottawa since the Nov. 1 firing of Dorion.
From the outset, we got the sense that this organization, at least on the hockey side of things, was going to be the Andlauer-Staios show. Now it’s official.
Andlauer, Staios and his collaborative friends.
Let’s see how they do.
Happy New Year to all — 2024 will be a big year for the Ottawa Senators.