The offseason has arrived for half of the league’s teams not destined for the playoffs, plus a few that were eliminated early in the playoffs. It is time to examine what you will need to accomplish in the coming months. Next is a look at Ottawa.
Before last season, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion declared the rebuild complete. The team posted a lower points percentage and finished seventh in the Atlantic Division after finishing sixth in the North the previous year. However, they’re still on the right track to try to get back into the playoff picture and their checklist follows that mindset with a mix of retaining their current core and trying to add to it.
prop up the goal
One area that hasn’t been pretty in recent years is between the pipes. Anton Forsberg he exceeded expectations as a waiver claim and did well enough to earn a three-year extension just before the trade deadline. After him, however, there are question marks; even Forsberg is something of a question with just 104 games under his belt.
matt murray he has struggled a lot in his two seasons with Ottawa, posting a 3.23 GAA and a SV% of just .899 in that stretch. He suffered a concussion in early March, the third documented of his career after having two in quick succession with Pittsburgh. At this point, it’s hard to trust him to provide much despite the fact that he has two years left on his contract with a $6.25MM AAV, one that is effectively non-tradeable.
Your other internal option is Filip Gustavson. Once seen as a key goalkeeping prospect for Ottawa’s future, he has so far been disappointing in his limited NHL action. He’s waiver-eligible next season, so it’s likely he’ll be on the list, though trusting him would be risky, too.
This is not a trio of goalies that will inspire a lot of confidence in a team with playoff aspirations. Finding a capable second goalkeeper to team up with Forsberg would give them a huge boost. That will be easier said than done with Murray on the books and Gustavsson’s trade value not exactly at its peak, but Dorion would be wise to try to bring an upgrade between the pipes.
Flip the switch
Regardless of whether or not they are capable of shoring up the goal, Dorion needs to start focusing on some winning moves now. They’re not going to go from near the basement to a contender right away, but the time has come to start looking for veterans who will help in the process of turning things around.
Up front, that means looking for a winger in the top six. The Ottawa front line appears to be set up with Brady Tkachuk Y drake batherson flanking Joshua Norris. However, with Team Stutzle anchoring the second line, his options on the wing aren’t as strong and have been a collection of youngsters looking to establish themselves in the NHL or a veteran like connor brown who has been more of a two-way player than a constant offensive threat. Bringing in a quality scoring winger would elevate Stutzle’s game and really give the Senators a second line capable of consistently producing.
There is also work that needs to be done on the back end beyond the no bid Victor Mete and say goodbye to Michael Del Zotto. travis hamonic he was brought in to try to stabilize a back end that allows bloody shots (33-plus per game after allowing just over 32 per game the year before), but while he’s a stable veteran, that alone isn’t going to change. your luck. A full season of Jake Sanderson probably won’t hurt, but another impact defender would make a world of difference.
Ottawa still doesn’t have $60 million in commitments for next season and while that will change once they re-sign their restricted free agents, they’ll have plenty of room to try to add. If they choose to buy white colin (with a maximum charge of $3.75MM total spread over six seasons), they’ll also have almost an additional $4MM to work with this summer.
Re-sign with Norris
Last summer, it was Tkachuk who was in line for a big contract coming out of his entry-level deal. This year, it’s Norris. The 23-year-old had a breakout campaign, leading Ottawa in goals with 35 and finishing third in points with 55. Dorion’s preference has been to sign long-term deals with expiring entry-level deals like he did with Tkachuk, Batherson and Thomas Chabot so you probably want to do the same thing here.
One of the challenges both sides will have here is Norris’ shorter track record. His first season was only three games and he only has 125 NHL appearances in his career, the equivalent of a year and a half. That’s not a large sample size to start with and it has no arbitrage eligibility, so it has the potential to be a particularly long trade. If Ottawa wants to skip the bridging deal and pursue a long-term deal, the Norris camp is likely to target nick suzukiMontreal’s contract (eight years, $7.875MM AAV) would also remain within his salary structure as he would be slightly below Tkachuk and Chabot.
Speaking of long-term contracts handed out to players coming off their entry-level contracts, Ottawa could be in that situation next summer with Stutzle’s deal coming to an end. After a stronger second year, Dorion will likely want to test what an extension might cost now, knowing that a stronger platform season would result in a higher asking price the following year. He is likely to fall in the range of Tkachuk, Chabot, and probably Norris in terms of AAVs.
Ottawa also has a couple of intriguing players who will be unrestricted next summer and thus eligible for extension talks at the start of the new league year in mid-July. Brown has been a solid performer since he arrived from Toronto, but is his role more likely to stay where he is now or do they see him as a third line in the future? The answer to that will go a long way in determining whether discussions about a new deal make sense or not.
The other UFA to highlight in 2023 is the defender artem zub. His numbers don’t jump off the page (22 points in 81 games), but he logged more than 21 minutes a night and is a right-shooting defender who will hit the open market in 2023 at the age of 27. In other words, there is going to be very interesting if he gets to that point. Dorion moved quickly to extend Zub when he finished his entry-level contract and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him try to get an early extension again. If so, your teammate Nikita ZaitevThe ($4.5MM AAV) contract is a possible comparable.
For the past several seasons, the Senators have been near the bottom in salary-cap spending. As his young core matures and other veterans are added or brought in to deepen the roster, that will change quickly. The more certainty they can have on the spending front, the better, which is why being proactive on the contract discussion front should be a priority for Dorion.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Salary figures courtesy of CapFriendly.