Steve Staios reflects on his first trade deadline as Senators GM: ‘It’s hard to accelerate patience’

LOS ANGELES — Steve Staios decided to pivot from his original plan.

The Senators general manager was planing on accompanying his team to San Jose and running his first trade deadline from northern California. Instead, Staios and his hockey operations staff altered course at the last minute and stayed behind in Los Angeles on Friday — a tangible sign that Ottawa was at least contemplating pulling off a significant trade.

“This is a fluid situation. Sometimes you get onto a deal and the call goes late into the night,” Staios told The Athletic on Friday afternoon. “You don’t want to be on a plane or in an airport. You want to be sitting down and focused.”


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And so Staios and his staff extended their stay at the luxury hotel around the corner from Arena in the heart of Los Angeles. Instead of staying in the large conference room they were using the previous three days, they shifted into a single hotel room on the 24th floor on Friday morning. Staios and five additional staffers — Dave Poulin, Tim Pattyson, Sean Tierney, Rob Murphy and Dale McTavish — huddled around a table inside the room.

They put their projections and organizational depth chart up so everybody could see them.

And while the makeshift quarters were a bit tight, Staios wanted to make it clear that his hockey operations department was not backed into a corner. There were opportunities for the Senators to make significant changes to their roster on Friday, but the rookie general manager was not interested in executing a trade where he didn’t have some degree of leverage.

“We were more than willing on a couple of things,” Staios said. “But we were looking at it under our terms.”

As part of an extended interview with The Athletic shortly after Friday’s trade deadline passed, Staios said his first deadline was a valuable learning experience for his entire group.

“It was positive. I think we did a lot of good work. I mean, it doesn’t show in any transactions.” Staios said. “We learned a lot about the landscape around the league and about our group.”

Staios’ description of the day makes it sound like Friday was more like a tire-kicking or fishing expedition — maybe to suss out the value of some of his players without actually committing to trading them. But when that exact description was presented to Staios, the general manager very firmly pushed back.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Staios said. “There are some significant things that we could have done that maybe could change things in the short term.”

And so the main takeaway from the trade deadline should be that Staios is open for business in Ottawa. It’s just that Friday did not present the ideal backdrop for the Ottawa general manager to execute a significant deal.

Simply consider Staios’ answer when asked directly if he’s now open to trading a player with term left on his contract in Ottawa.

“The answer to that is yes,” said Staios. “We’ll look at all options. It just needs to make sense. The interest in our players is great. That’s how you know they’re good players.”

It should be noted that not everybody is on the trade block in Ottawa. When asked if his roster included some untouchable assets, Staios — who seems to always navigate the line between being polite and firm — was very clear in his answer.

“Yes, there are,” he said.

The name that seemed to generate the most interest externally in the weeks leading up to the deadline was Jakob Chychrun. The defenceman was listed on virtually every major trade board in the hockey world, rocketing up to as high as No. 5 on TSN’s list on Thursday. Staios opted to hang onto Chychrun beyond the trade deadline, even though he has a logjam of left-shot defencemen that include the likes of Chychrun, Jake Sanderson, Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.

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Staios opted not to trade Jakob Chychrun at the deadline even though the Senators have a logjam of left-shot defencemen. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

“I think Jakob can handle the right side as well. He’s totally versatile. He’s a top-end defenceman and we’re happy to have him,” Staios said. “Names and rumours come out at this time of year.”

The one big name Staios did move this week was Vladimir Tarsenko, although he received what appeared to be a rather pedestrian return for the scoring winger earlier this week. The Senators received a third-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick for Tarasenko from the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. But as the week unfolded it became evident this was a buyer’s market and not exactly the time for teams with rental assets to thrive. Consider that Jake Guentzel — believed to be the crown jewel of this year’s crop of pending UFAs — didn’t even fetch a guaranteed first-round pick in return for the Penguins.



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So when factoring that Tarasenko was only willing to waive his no-movement clause for the Panthers, Staios believes he made out with the best possible return.

“Completely comfortable,” Staios said. “The process that we took — under the circumstances with a no-trade clause — I think the timing was right and I think the return was right.”

Staios’ answers on a variety of topics still probably doesn’t quell the anger of a weary fan base back in Ottawa. The Senators are poised to miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, one of the longest postseason droughts of the salary-cap era. Staios was asked directly about his message to the fan base, considering it’s almost impossible for his franchise to sell either winning or hope right now.

“It’s hard to accelerate patience,” said Staios. “But if you look at the history of some team building, the ones that have tried to expedite things have fallen short. So we’re certainly keeping our mind on the future.”

Translation: This organization is no longer going to try and take a short cut to success. And when Staios mentions the history of team building, he may as well have been referring to the old regime in Ottawa. It was his predecessor Pierre Dorion who made huge gambles by trading for the likes of Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot in the summer of 2022, seemingly pushing the Senators into a “win now” window. With the benefit of hindsight, those deals have backfired in the face of the franchise.

In listening to Staios, it sounds like his goal is to supplement this roster with one or two more established veterans to help add some experience and stability to the dressing room. It’s likely a player with term could get shipped out, with someone of equal value coming in return. But the days of big game hunting for the likes of DeBrincat and Matt Duchene are over.

Staios is deliberate with his messaging and seems like he would like to see his team perform consistently for an extended period of time before he starts affixing a label on them. And it doesn’t sound like he’ll be proclaiming that his team is playoff bound for next season any time soon.

“There are so many factors that determine when a team is ready,” said Staios. “You saw what expectations did to our group this year. I think they were unrealistic. And it put an amount of pressure on this group. The expectations should come internally. And the fan base should expect we compete every night.”

In the weeks ahead, Staios will be analyzing this team, even though the games will be inconsequential from a standings perspective. On multiple occasions, the general manger openly asked, “How do we come together as a team?”

He’ll be looking for clues to answer the question over the final several weeks of the regular season. The general manager will be trying to figure out exactly which players are the right fit for trying to move this program to the next level.

“A lot of that will come down to my judgement on players and how we approach that moving forward,” Staios said. “With this group, we really have to keep an eye on the future of it. It is a good group of players. But now a share of the responsibility is on the players to come together and play more consistently.”

There will be ample time for the fans and media to judge Staios and his hockey operations department. They’ve only technically been on the job for two months in their current positions. At some point in the months ahead, we should anticipate a significant move or two that shakes the core of this franchise and alters the dynamic of the roster. And just because Staios didn’t accomplish that goal on Friday, doesn’t mean his first trade deadline should be deemed an overwhelming disappointment.

“It was one opportunity for us to be able to support this group. We were in on a lot of different things,” said Staios. “And at the end of the day, we were very responsible with how we went about things.”

(Photo of Steve Staios in December 2023: Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

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