As the Ottawa Senators begin to develop the young prospects in their system and transition them to the NHL, stability is needed to keep them grounded. A great way to keep those rookies from becoming overwhelmed is having a veteran presence on the team. While the Senators have some veterans, they are all skaters. With current goalie Craig Anderson entering free agency on July 1, a place has opened up for a new netminder, and that should be a focus for the team when the time comes.
They need a goalie who can give them a chance to win every night, as the Senators still want to remain competitive. This allows the younger players to make mistakes as they adjust to the pace of play in the NHL. This leads to why the target this offseason should be a better veteran goalie on a short-term deal.
Who Should The Senators Target?
Unlike in years previous, the 2020 free-agent class is filled with many capable goaltenders. They are headlined by Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. While he is an excellent goalie, whose value has been diminished by a below-average season, he is not someone the Sens should target.
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The Senators should be looking at goalies who are likely to sign shorter-term deals, with teams who are not going to compete for a few years. Adding an older goalie gives the team someone who is used to an environment where he needs to be the veteran that the younger players look to for guidance.
Choosing the right goalie is important, and it is vital to have him understand what his role on the Senators will be. There is no need to waste time on a goalie who wants to join a team just for a Cup ring. With that said, we need to look at who specifically the Senators should look at this summer.
The first target is Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders. He has been pretty consistent in his last five seasons on Long Island, establishing himself as an excellent secondary option and backup. He made quite the impact in New York, leading the Isles to several playoff appearances, and a potential for a deep run at the time the season was paused.
However, with the Islanders signing prospect Ilya Sorokin this season, Greiss’ spot may be in limbo. If the Islanders decide not to retain him, the Senators can offer him a starting role.
At 34 years old, Greiss’ career is reaching his twilight years, and he has never had a ton of consistent playing time. His career high in starts was only 49 during the 2016-17 season. Ottawa can give him 55-60 starts a season should he so desire. His arrival to the Senators would make him the best goalie in the system by far.
The Senators can offer Greiss a starting job, but it will come at a cost. He will demand a large salary, but considering his age, likely only for two or three seasons. If the team can nab him at the right price and term, he can be a major stepping stone for the franchise. He can provide stable goaltending and be a mentor to Filip Gustavsson and Marcus Hogberg as they develop. Greiss should be the Senators’ top priority this summer and they need to devote their resources to him.
The Senators’ second choice for a veteran goalie this summer should be Vancouver Canucks’ netminder Jacob Markstrom. The 30-year-old saw reduced playing time this season as Thacher Demko began to establish himself as an NHL goalie. With the Canucks’ goalie depth being a strength and Michael DiPietro beginning to transition to the pros, Markstrom may have become the odd man out.
Markstrom is three years younger then Greiss, so there is the chance that he will command more money and/or a longer term. However, with a larger goalie class, the market is weaker, and his value may be smaller than it normally would. His role would be less of a mentor and more of a goalie who would secure the starting position until Gustavsson or Hogberg is ready to take it. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as rushing young goalies is never a good idea.
The Senators will need to make a bigger commitment to Markstrom than Greiss, and that may alter future plans. With that said, he is still an excellent goalie and would fit well in Ottawa for the near future.
The final goalie Ottawa should be looking at is Cam Talbot from the Calgary Flames. He shares aspects with both Greiss and Markstrom, and Talbot can likely be signed at a lower cost and term than both Greiss and Markstrom.
Talbot is 33 years old — younger then Greiss and older then Markstrom. While he can be inconsistent, he has the experience of being in a situation like Ottawa’s. His career peak came with a young. but transitioning Edmonton Oilers team from 2015 to 2018.
While the Senators currently don’t have a superstar like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, after the 2020 NHL Draft, there is a chance the Senators could walk away with two. There are certain similarities between today’s Sens and Oilers, and with the return of Talbot to that environment, the team could have the biggest steal of the free-agent class.
Talbot is likely also the cheapest of the three, as his year in Calgary was good, but plagued by inconsistency. If Calgary allows him to go to free agency, he’ll likely be undervalued by many teams. Ottawa could get him cheap, and while inconsistent, he is still a capable NHL goalie who can provide mentoring to the younger goalies.
The Senators’ Future in Net
It’s important to understand the end game in Ottawa in regards to goaltending. Unless something changes drastically, either Gustavsson or Hogberg is the goalie of the future for the Senators. With the team still a few years away from being competitive, the coaching staff has no need to rush either of them into the job. Getting that veteran goalie in free agency allows the Senators to be patient, while allowing their current NHL players to take chances and make mistakes without worrying about the confidence of either of their young goalies.
There are a few scenarios here after signing one of these goalies. If they fizzle out, it’s not a huge deal. The Sens have the cap space to make a mistake or two and they can simply use the contract as a development expense before their major players’ contracts run out. If one of the goalies works out, they can either keep them and allow the Senators to develop quicker then expected, or in the best-case scenario, trade him to a contender for picks/prospects.
Overall, getting a goalie like Greiss, Markstrom or Talbot would be a major step for an organization striving to step forward from rebuilder to contender.