As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The first batch of Offseason Primers will feature Atlantic Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Ottawa Senators offseason.
Ottawa Senators Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
General manager Pierre Dorion and his fledgling Sens have a busy road ahead over the next few months. Ottawa has multiple young players whose contracts need to be extended, while a couple of veterans will depart via unrestricted free agency too.
Unfortunately for the frugal spending habits of Eugene Melnyk, the Sens have multiple arbitration-eligible RFAs this summer. They include Chris Tierney, Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Jayce Hawryluk, Nick Paul, Andreas Englund, and Christian Jaros. Their non-arbitration eligible RFAs are Rudolfs Balcers, J.C. Beaudin, Filip Chlapik, and Joey Daccord.
The Senators’ UFAs are Mikkel Boedker, Craig Anderson, Ron Hainsey, Matthew Peca, Scott Sabourin, Ryan Callahan, Clarke MacArthur, Mark Borowiecki, Jordan Szwarz, and Hubert Labrie. Morgan Klimchuk is a Group Six UFA.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Senators have almost 50% of their cap space available this summer, boasting a cap space of $39.6 million. Ottawa likely won’t spend anywhere near this number, as their financial strains and their rebuilding status don’t make it feasible.
Other than depth pieces and veterans who are long past their day in the sun (see: Mikkel Boedker), Ottawa likely won’t see their major free agents depart this offseason. Most are RFAs who Ottawa see as long-term building blocks, and some are older veterans who curated a valuable leadership role with the club.
Acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the fabled Erik Karlsson trade, Tierney has brought his dependable middle-six game to the Sens. After a career-high 48 points in his first year with the Sens, he dropped to 37 this year in a shortened season. However, Tierney’s now had three straight years of at least 35 points. He’s demonstrated not only playmaking acumen but responsible defence, making him an ideal third-line centre on any team. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts a four-year term for Tierney, netting him $4.3 million a season. It still gives the Sens $35.3 million in space.
It’s not often that getting traded to Ottawa is the key to realizing one’s potential, but that was the case with Brown. Traded to the Sens this past summer by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brown exploded for a career-high 43 points. He’s been used in a pretty taxing role due to Ottawa’s scant depth and is more suited for a third-line scoring role. EH projects that he’ll be paid as such, receiving a four-year pact worth $3.94 million a year. Ottawa would still have $31.36 million to play with, still soundly in their financial comfort zone.
One of this season’s All-Star surprises, Duclair netted only the second 20-goal season of his career this year in Ottawa. It was a much better personality fit for him, as he’s struggled to stick around in past markets such as Arizona, Chicago, and Columbus. While Duclair provided a solid glimpse into his future with a 40-point campaign, his offensive totals have been wildly inconsistent over the years, once dropping from 44 to 15 points. Duclair wants to stay and Ottawa wants to invest, but it likely won’t be for a long term due to his inconsistency. Evolving-Hockey suggests a two-year, $3.35 million deal, leaving Ottawa with $28.01 million in space.
Every rebuilding squad needs a father figure on and off the ice, and Hainsey excelled in that role for the Senators this past season. A 39-year-old veteran of 1,132 NHL games, Hainsey spent most of this season in a top-pairing role with Thomas Chabot. He was a mentor to the budding star as well as the rest of Ottawa’s emerging young defence core.
At his age, Hainsey won’t be able to command much term or value. Evolving-Hockey projects a one-year deal at $2.18 million. Ottawa is left with $25.83 million in space after retaining their own Zdeno Chara.
For most of his career, Paul only projected to be a cheap depth option for the Sens who would barely even make it into the NHL. However, Paul took a giant leap forward this season and surprised a lot of people. He attained his first 20-point season in the NHL, and in only 56 games. He was a solid two-way force as well, being one of the few ‘plus’ players on the team.
While Paul hasn’t done anything to prove himself as a long-term piece of the future for the Sens, he’s proved that he deserves another shot at the NHL level. EH projects a short-term two-year deal at $1.19 million a season, leaving Ottawa with $24.64 million in cap space.
Sharing a similar role with the aforementioned Hainsey, Borowiecki is younger at 31 years old and is a likely candidate to be the team’s next captain. ‘Boro-Cop,’ as he’s affectionately called, had the best offensive campaign of his career, posting 18 points in an injury-shortened 53-game campaign. His leadership is invaluable. However, the rest of his game is rather subpar, so EH suggests only a one-year deal of $1.15 million. Ottawa is left with $23.49 million in space to do their bidding.
Potential Free Agent Additions
While Ottawa will have in excess of $20 million to spend this offseason after retaining their own pieces, it’s unlikely that a good portion of it gets spent, if any. The Senators are in a prime position to transition their younger players into larger roles (Erik Brannstrom, Drake Batherson, etc.). Signing older players who are hitting free agency will only take roster space away from developing talent who Ottawa wants to give a chance at the NHL level. Don’t expect the Sens to turn any heads this offseason.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Atlantic Division:
Detroit Red Wings
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
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