The Ottawa Senators completed their off-season checklist, agreeing to terms with restricted free agent Cody Ceci late last month. General manager Pierre Dorion felt confident that both sides would come to an agreement before training camp and he backed that feeling up, signing Ceci to a bridge contract with a duration of two years. Now the Senators are ready to go into the upcoming season with their defensive corps complete.
The Bridge Deal
The bridge contract has its fair share of critics as a major risk for teams negotiating with good young players. It is likely that the Senators chose to give Ceci a bridge deal because he was asking for more money on a multi-year deal than the team was willing to pay. Ceci did not want to commit to a longer contract that he felt would undervalue him in a few years’ time.
One factor going against Ceci is that it is unlikely that he will surpass Erik Karlsson on the depth chart. Both players are right-handed defencemen, so Ceci will likely remain a second-pairing defenseman for as long as he is in Ottawa.
Looking at other second-pairing defensemen around the NHL, there are a few comparables that help predict Ceci’s value to the Senators. Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1 million), St. Louis’s Kevin Shattenkirk ($4.25 million), Calgary’s T.J. Brodie ($4.65 million) and Colorado’s Tyson Barrie ($5.5 million) are some of the best examples of great players in second-pairing roles. If Ceci continues to improve over the next couple of seasons, he could be worth close to $6 million.
His camp may have been asking for near that amount already on a longer-term deal, considering both sides agreed that he will be making $3.5 million in this deal’s second year. It is possible that he was originally asking for $4-5 million per year for at least six years.
There were other players this off-season also faced with signing a bridge deal or a long-term deal. Minnesota’s Matt Dumba ($2.55 million) and Columbus Ryan Murray ($2.825 million), both young defensemen, opted for bridge deals like Ceci.
These next two seasons will be important for determining the luxury of his next contract. Under the tutelage of Dion Phaneuf, Ceci could become one of the league’s best second-pairing defencemen.
Ceci-ng the Opportunity
Because he will be playing behind Erik Karlsson, Ceci may have to prove his worth through special teams’ play. During the 2015-16 season, he played on the second-unit powerplay, logging the third most minutes of ice time among defenseman, behind Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf. Many powerplay units use four forwards and one defenceman, so Ceci will likely continue to spend most of his powerplay time on the second unit; and with Guy Boucher beginning his first season as the team’s head coach, we can expect the powerplay to be much more successful.
Where Ceci tops the rest of his Ottawa teammates is the amount of time that he spent on the penalty kill last season. This speaks to the importance of his defensive game within the Senators’ lineup, as the coach trusted him to do more in certain situations that the team’s star players. Whether or not Boucher will do the same remains to be seen.
In a hockey world where advanced statistics are increasingly prominent, Ceci will have to improve his if he wants more bargaining power for his next contract. Over the past two seasons, he has ranked near the bottom amongst the team’s defensemen in Corsi For percentage at 46.73%. It will be interesting to see how his game develops under Boucher.