Cody Ceci is the perfect poster boy for the Ottawa Senators. Not only did he grow up in Ottawa, he has been a life-long Senators fan and even was a youth participant in the 2003 Ottawa Senators’ Skills Competition. The simple public relations value of showing a ten-year old Ceci standing next to former Senator Mike Fisher is almost enough to justify his place on the roster. Ceci’s local connection runs even deeper though, as he was a standout defenceman in the OHL, playing for his hometown Ottawa 67’s for three and a half seasons. Even his first NHL goal was an overtime winner against St. Louis in front of the hometown crowd at the Canadian Tire Center. The fact that Ceci could potentially become a top four defenseman with an offensive upside is a further bonus for the Senators. Yet, despite all these positives, it is worth investigating what the future holds for the young Senators’ defenseman and if it involves a move away from the Nation’s Capital.
Trading Cody Ceci
Bryan Murray has made it clear that he won’t trade Cody Ceci for Jonathan Drouin. Whether that means that Ceci is untouchable in Murray’s eyes is unknown, but it is clear that Senator’s management think quite highly of the young defenseman. However, given his health concerns, Bryan Murray’s future in Ottawa is unclear. If this season is indeed Murray’s last as Ottawa’s GM, then substantial changes could be coming to Ottawa’s roster. If current assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel Pierre Dorion takes over, fans can expect little to no change. Dorion has spent seven years with the organization and has been responsible for drafting many of Ottawa’s current players, Ceci included. It is thus reasonable to assume that Dorion and Murray are on the same page regarding Ceci. However, if Ottawa choses to bring in an outsider who has no previous history with players like Ceci, then it is reasonable to expect the new GM to reshape the roster to fit their vision for the team.
If said new GM does want to make substantial changes, Ceci is a valuable trade chip. With Thomas Chabot, Mikael Wikstrand and Andreas Englund already in the system, Ceci could be moved to fill other holes in Ottawa’s roster without substantially affecting Ottawa’s blue line. While Ceci alone won’t land Ottawa a blue chip prospect like Drouin, it is clear that other NHL GMs such as Steve Yzerman rate Ceci quite highly and he could garner a substantial return if placed on the trading bloc.
Cody Ceci’s Next Contract
Complicating matters is that Cody Ceci’s entry-level contract expires July 1st. While Ottawa will have all the power in contract negotiations, as Ceci will be a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, contract negotiations could still be quite difficult. In particular, what length of contract does Ottawa offer? Do they seek to sign Ceci to a long-term deal, paying him above market rate for next season, with the hope that he will provide good value for money by the end of the contract or, does Ottawa sign him to a short-term bridge deal for the next two seasons and then decide whether to lock Ceci up long-term after assessing his development for another two years?
The biggest concern with signing Ceci on a long-term deal is that he won’t develop into the top four defenseman Ottawa projects him to be. In that case, Ottawa will be stuck with a large contract for a bottom pairing defender, known in Ottawa as the Jared Cowen problem. Ottawa signed Cowen to a long-term extension with a cap hit of $3.25 million in the hopes that he would provide good value for money in the final years of his contract. Obviously, that isn’t what happened and Cowen now plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs. One has to imagine that Ottawa is scared of a repeat of the “Jared Cowen Saga” and so will act cautiously when it comes to Ceci. Ceci’s rather uneven play this season will only further Bryan Murray and company’s caution when it comes to Ceci.
However, there are obvious dangers when it comes to a bridge contract. If Ceci becomes the player many Ottawa fans hope he can be, he could easily command a salary of $5 million a year and, as an RFA with arbitration rights, would have greater leverage in contract negotiations. The problem for Ottawa if they resigned Ceci with a cap hit of $5 million is that they would have $13 million tied up in two defensemen -Dion Phaneuf and Ceci – with Erik Karlsson due to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Karlsson will be able to demand upwards of $12 million a year. That means that Ottawa, assuming they resign Karlsson, will have almost $25 million tied up in three defensemen. Plus, the team will still have to offer new contracts to top six forwards Mark Stone and Kyle Turris. Absolutely, the cap will rise over the next three years, however, committing $25 million for three players, only one of whom is a clear star, will cause all sorts of problems for the Senators.
Cody Ceci’s Future
Given his potential and his local connections, expect Cody Ceci to stay in Ottawa long-term. Given his relatively poor play this season, Ceci will not command a large salary and Ottawa will most likely sign him to a bridge deal for the next two or three years at a cap hit similar to Patrick Wiercioch’s $2 million per year. If Ceci does develop into the player Ottawa thinks he can be, the Senators will have a pleasant problem.
If they chose not/can’t afford to resign him, Ottawa will be able to trade a top four defender who is still in his mid-twenties for a substantial return. If Chabot does mature as expected, Ottawa will either be able to use Ceci as trade bait to fill roster holes or, if they have cap space, resign Ceci and solidify what should be a strong defense corps. Either way, if they manage their roster assets correctly, Ceci may well help Ottawa become a contender in the future, whether he is playing for the Senators or not.