The Ottawa Senators came into this off-season with the task of signing several important restricted free agents, trading a goaltender, and dumping some dead weight contracts. Much of this has already been accomplished in just the past week or so.
It started with re-signing Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a two-year deal that will pay him $700,000 in year one and $1.1 million in year two. Then new deals were announced for Ottawa’s two most critical free agents. Mark Stone signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract and Mika Zibanejad will get $5.25 million over two years.
Most importantly for the budget conscious Senators, all these players will receive relatively low salaries in the first year of their deals. Stone is coming off a 26-goal, 64-point season, in which he also led the league in takeaways and finished second in Calder Trophy voting. He will earn just $2.25 million next year. Zibanejad scored 20 goals and 46 points while establishing himself as a top line two-way centre. His salary in 2015-16 will be just $2 million. Stone, Zibanejad and Pageau combined will earn just $4.95 million next year, buying time for some other bad contracts to expire.
Now just a few question marks remain. Colin Greening and his $2.75 million salary for next season will be traded or bought out. Alex Chiasson will get a low-value, short-term contract. The biggest unknown is Mike Hoffman, who is an RFA that finished sixth in rookie-of-the-year voting and is coming off a 27-goal season. It appears likely he and the team will be going to salary arbitration. The team need not look very far to find relevant contract comparisons, given that Stone finished ahead of Hoffman in both team scoring and Calder voting. Stone’s contract essentially sets a ceiling for Hoffman’s arbitration award, or so the team will hope.
Lastly, Eric Condra is an unrestricted free agent. If he can be re-signed, the team’s forward lines will look very similar next season.
MacArthur – Turris – Stone
Hoffman – Zibanejad – Ryan
Condra – Pageau – Lazar
Michalek – Smith – Puempel
Reserves: Chiasson, Neil
Thank you @Senators for a great couple years! Its bitter sweet to be leaving. I am excited to stay in Canada and become a Oiler!
— Eric Gryba (@grybes02) June 27, 2015
The Senators kept eight defensemen on the roster for the entire year last season, amid constant speculation that one would be moved. On Saturday they traded Eric Gryba to the Edmonton Oilers, finally freeing up one spot. Bryan Murray was quoted as saying he wanted to make room for Jared Cowen to get back into the starting six. Despite fan frustration, management seems intent on giving him more time to live up to expectations.
Murray also stated he is trying to re-sign AHL all-star defenseman Chris Wideman. At age 25, Wideman is unrestricted and would be wise to test the free agent market to get as much term and security as possible. He has yet to play an NHL game after playing four years at Miami University of Ohio and three years with the Binghamton Senators. Ottawa may be unwilling to give him the term, dollars and roster spot that another team might.
Much like the forwards, Ottawa’s defense will look familiar next year.
Methot – Karlsson
Wiercioch – Ceci
Cowen – Borowiecki
GM Murray pulled off a small miracle at the draft. It was believed to be a buyer’s market for goaltenders, leading to speculation that the return for Robin Lehner would not be high, perhaps a second round draft pick. Murray also commented that he would insist on including the contract of either Greening or David Legwand in a goalie deal, negatively impacting the return.
Much to everyone’s surprise, it was announced before the draft that Ottawa had traded Lehner and Legwand to Buffalo for the 21st overall pick.
Lehner seemed never able to accept that he had to compete for the starting job in Ottawa. There was a sense of entitlement that he could not overcome as evidenced by his tweet on Friday saying he was “excited for the future and to get a fair chance to develop my game with a new team.”
As Bruce Garrioch wrote in the Ottawa Sun, Lehner said “there was something between me and Paul (MacLean) that didn’t click … when I’d start getting hot I didn’t get the chance to play.” Lehner will now get that ‘fair chance’ in Buffalo to be the number one guy. The Senators are just praying they didn’t trade the next Carey Price within their own division.
In exchange, Ottawa gets a $3.5 million salary off the books and the chance to draft a very good prospect in Colin White.
Craig Anderson, when healthy, is a top-10 goaltender in the NHL. He will avoid chicken and hard-charging Chris Kreiders in an attempt to play 65 games next year. Andrew Hammond will adequately back him up when needed.
A few weeks ago, we suggested Ottawa would trade a goalie and a defenseman, dump Greening and Legwand and have a salary budget around $63 million. Well, the Senators now have $60 million committed to 21 players. Buying out Greening would save $1.8 million. Signing Hoffman, Chiasson and Condra would cost approximately $6 million, bringing the roster to 23 players and a total payroll of $64 million. That would be an $8 million increase over what Ottawa spent last season.