As the season winds down, the Ottawa Senators find themselves in an unfortunately familiar spot. Clearly out of the playoffs with the argument that losing as many games may actually be a good thing. However, that doesn’t stop players from trying to show why they deserve a spot in the NHL. One of those players would be Colin White. White missed a large part of the season due to a shoulder injury before the year even started. However, since returning, he has quietly been one of Ottawa’s better forwards. With so much uncertainty about his future, let’s take a look at the possible outcomes for Colin White and the Ottawa Senators this offseason.
Colin White Playing Very Well, Despite Uncertainty
The Money Issue
The year has been a tough one for White. Even entering into camp, there were lots of talk about whether or not it would make sense for Ottawa to move away from him. The Sens signed White long-term to a deal with a $4.75 million AAV in the hopes he would continue to improve. However, White’s development stagnated and he never really became the true top-six guy they had hoped for. Regardless, White is a very useful NHL player who can slide up or down a lineup as needed. He can play on the wing or at centre and is more than capable of driving the third line.
The issue? He makes too much money. Ottawa isn’t near the cap, but there has been no secret that for years now they have been one of the cheapest teams in the league. Can they afford to pay a player that much to play in the bottom-six of a lineup? It might be possible, but with such a friendly out option, it can also be argued that his money could be spent smarter. Buying out White would save the Sens over $10 million in actual money, costing just $5.25 million. They would also only have a cap hit penalty of $875,000 for five seasons, with a season where they even get $625,000 in cap space.
All of this leads to the question, is Colin White worth it or should the Senators move on?
Again, entering this year, White’s numbers were underwhelming overall, but not bad. 18 points in 45 games aren’t anything to write home about. But when you consider he wasn’t placed in a scoring role, you can take 10 goals from a bottom-six player. White has been a defensively responsible forward who can chip in here and there when needed. If you accept that his price tag is a little high, this is a useful player to have. Guess what? That hasn’t changed this year either.
White currently has 10 in 22 games played. That’s an 82 game pace of 37 points. Once again, for a third liner, not bad. However, where White has really succeeded this year is helping elsewhere too. White currently leads all Senator forwards in CF% with 56.00% and second in xGF% with 51.86%. Those are both very solid numbers that help to show that so far when White is on the ice, the Senators control play.
This is something that is crucially needed as it is the one area where Ottawa has constantly lacked. They clearly have high-end skill players with the likes of Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot and more. But even these guys haven’t become possession machines yet, which is what most playoff teams need. Having depth that can help out and win their matchups lower in the lineup makes everything easier. White is a known commodity and can help out with that.
This might be the best argument for keeping White around. He is a defensively responsible forward that any team needs in his bottom six. Oftentimes, when people think defensively responsible, they think of guys who hit and block shots. In reality, the best defence is preventing those shot attempts from even happening in the first place. This is what White succeeds at the most, especially compared to other Sens players. With White on the ice this season, the Senators have given up 48 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5v5. That is the lowest of any Senators player. More to that, below are his impacts from EvolvingHockey.
As you can see, White is above average when it comes to his defensive play. The quality isn’t as good as the quantity, but both are positives. If you have this type of player on your fourth line it can be extremely valuable. You know they won’t score much, but nothing will be going in your net when they are on the ice either.
Can You Upgrade?
This is the ultimate question the Senators will need to ask. If we’re looking at a pure cash standpoint, can the Ottawa Senators find someone who makes MORE of an impact over the next three seasons at a total cost of $10.5 million or less? That would be a cap hit of $3.5 million per season. Unfortunately, there is no way to know this for sure. There are absolutely options to buy out White and replace him, but they come with risk. The Sens could look for a player similar to Mathieu Joseph. An RFA who has fallen out of favour with his team and take a flyer on them. That could be a high risk but a high reward. Maybe they work out as well as Joseph, but it’s also possible they fall flat as free agent pickup Evgenii Dadonov did.
Another option could be trading him. Ideally, you do this without eating any money yourself. This would truly free up $4.75 million per season in cap space AND save the team just under $16 million in real money over three years. Doing this would allow them to spend up to $5.33 million replacing his money. With that, you could almost guarantee you’d find more value. The issue is finding a trade partner who wants to take on his whole salary. The Montreal Canadiens were rumoured to be interested in him, even if you don’t get much back in return, could you convince them to take him?
The final option would be an internal promotion. With Shane Pinto slotted as the 3C next year, maybe they view White as a winger. We saw looks at Egor Sokolov and Mark Kastelic play at points this season. Ridly Greig is another name that is very intriguing too. Depending on White’s project role, maybe one of them slots in. Even so, they need to use the saved money to improve. Staying put isn’t a feasible option at this point in time.
Up to the Options
Ultimately, what happens with Colin White may come down to outside factors the Sens can’t control. If they can find a trade partner to take on his whole salary and not take a bad contract back, that probably frees up a bunch of money and gives them more options. If there is no ideal trade, they may then look to buy him out. That decision would rest on whether or not the Sens see a player available they feel could do what White does at a fraction of the cost.
However, the one thing that should be clear. The Sens shouldn’t be just trading or buying out White simply to do so. It’s one thing if there is a clear upgrade for the price he comes at. But if the other option is to play a fourth-liner who isn’t ready more, White can still bring value to this team.