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Should the Ottawa Senators Bring back RFA Defenceman?

The 24-year-old, left-shot defenceman Erik Brannstrom will see his current contract expire July 1st, and is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration eligibility. Furthermore, previous Ottawa Senator General Manager Pierre Dorion had signed Brannstrom to a one-year deal with $2 million last offseason. Moreover, as we approach the NHL’s free agency period, and Brannstrom remaining unsigned, there is debate on what direction the club will take on him. So, let’s have that debate. However, before we begin, and the relevance of the timing of this discussion, is it could very much depend on the status of Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun is currently being mentioned in trade rumours, most frequently as part of a package to help acquire the services of Linus Ullmark from the Boston Bruins in net. We will touch on that later, but first, let’s breakdown the Brannstrom conundrum.

Summarizing the Latest Rumours Targeting the Ottawa Senators Goal

Will the Ottawa Senators Be Offering RFA Defenceman Erik Brannstrom a New Contract?

Erik Brannstrom came to the Ottawa Senators with very high expectations. He came over in the Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights 2019 trade deadline acquisition. Therefore, right from the hop, anything short of 23 minutes of top pair ice time can be a hard pill for Senator fans to swallow. Of course, Sens fans have been patient. You’d think he would be a good fit with the group. Like many of the Senator players, he has a father that also played professionally. But so far, it just hasn’t come to fruition.

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Reviewing Brannstrom’s statistical body-of-work, it is probably safest to call it inconclusive. It starts with his stature at 5’10” and 185 lbs, so already he’s behind the eight-ball as an NHL defenceman. In contrast, as we mentioned, given his age, it is still possible he is developing. In 2023-24, he played in 76 games for the Ottawa Senators. He compiled three goals, 17 assists, and 20 points, along with 111 blocked shots, all of which were career-highs. Furthermore, he has a career average ice time of 16:52. He has generally been under that number except in his career-high season of 2021-22 when he played 19:46 a night.

If you were to say in that year it was a by-committee scenario, it may have been an understatement. That season the Sens’ blueline was decimated with injuries. Only Artem Zub and Nick Holden played in more games than the 62 played by Nikita Zaitsev that year. Therefore, when Branny was in the lineup, he was relied upon heavily. So, it is possible he could front a bigger load, but Ottawa, for whatever reason, has never felt comfortable doing so.

Exploring Some of the Downsides of a New Erik Brannstrom Contract With the Senators

One problem with Brannstrom and his level of comfort in the Sens defence group is the fact that he is a left-shot, offensively-minded proto-type. Similar traits to Chychrun, Thomas Chabot, and Jake Sanderson, who were all over 22 minutes a night in 2023-24. Also, their up-and-coming defence prospect, Tyler Kleven, is also a left shot. He’s not the offensive type, but does possess a booming clapper, and could fit on the power play.

That’s the problem for Brannstrom. He would benefit tremendously, in terms of confidence, from regular power play time. He has played there at times. But the regularity is something that he is yet to receive in the Canadian capital city. Conversely, his ability to block shots, and take the hit to make a play does make him an asset in his own zone. As a result, he has played the penalty kill with a little more regularity, but still not as regular as he would like.

Finally, perhaps the argument to having Brannstrom on the Sens in 2024-25, is one pairing in particular. When Brannstrom and Chabot were paired together in 2023-24, they had a 61.5 xGoals% according to in not an insignificant sample size of 231 minutes. That could potentially be tremendous value for General Manager Steve Staios to consider with Branny’s expected price tag. If you can pay someone much less than normal top-line minutes command, and still get a top-pair defenceman like Brannstrom, the Sens need to bring him back. However, was the pair as good as the numbers suggest? Perhaps you have to factor in quality of opponent, or the fact the Sens were out of the playoff picture early.

Will the Senators Bring Him Back

To really narrow in on whether or not to bring Brannstrom back, and if so, at what cost, Steve Staios and staff needs to get busy number crunching. They still have to sign RFA Shane Pinto. Furthermore, it seems that landing a big time, NHL starting goalie might come at the cost of one of their top-minute munching defencemen, in Chychrun. Again, bringing in a big name goalie will cost money regardless.

Conversely, that is one advantage of moving on from Brannstrom is that it would save some money given his price tag having some dislocation from the minimum salary range. What it boils down to is whether or not Ottawa brings Chychrun and/or Brannstrom back. If they want Brannstrom to play with Chabot on the top pairing, this allows Tyler Kleven a spot on the third pairing. That is assuming that they move on from Chychrun. They would still leave a couple million to spend on cheaper free agent options for one defenceman and one middle-six forward. Perhaps Matt Dumba and Tyler Toffoli come to mind.

Main photo: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports


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