In just a few short weeks the Stanley Cup will be awarded, bringing an official end to the 2019-20 NHL campaign in what was one of the single most memorable seasons in history. Then, it’s on to the offseason. Enter, the Ottawa Senators.
As they prepare for next season, the Senators will have a few important decisions to make as they attempt to further refine, bolster, and tweak their roster with hopes of building a true contender capable of competing for the Stanley Cup. The decisions facing the club are crucial not only for next season but in the years that follow as the club continues its rebuild. In this article, I headline four critical offseason decisions facing the Senators. What are they and what impact both short and long-term will they have? Let’s read on and find out.
1. Who to Select With the 3rd & 5th Overall Picks
In less than four weeks’ time, the NHL Entry Draft will take place with the Senators slated to pick third and fifth-overall (among other selections). Although their dream of selecting talented winger Alexis Lafreniere is highly unlikely, the Sens should end up with a very good player with the third-overall selection either in the form of German sensation Tim Stutzle from Adler Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, or the ever-dynamic Quinton Byfield from the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). It’s hard to really go wrong with either pick now, isn’t it?
Then, it gets a little more intriguing with the fifth-overall pick with high-profile, game-changing names such as Lucas Raymond, Jamie Drysdale, Alexander Holtz, Cole Perfetti, and Marco Rossi all in the mix. How the draft floor shapes out remains to be seen, but one thing we know for certain is that Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion and his staff will be one of the most fascinating teams to watch. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.
2. Who Plays Between the Pipes
Our second major offseason decision appears in the form of who exactly mans the pipes in the Ottawa crease next season. With Craig Anderson set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and at least test the waters on the open market this fall, there are certainly some spots up for grabs in the Sens net. At the moment, the Senators have both Anders Nilsson and Marcus Hogberg signed through the 2020-21 season, aged 30 and 25 respectively, and both should be competing for the number one starting job heading into camp.
Should the Senators opt for a change (or upgrade) in goal, there are indeed some viable names available on the free-agent market that they could pursue. With almost $40 million of available cap space at Dorion’s disposal, the Sens could entertain offers on Jimmy Howard, Anton Khudobin, Corey Crawford, Thomas Greiss, Anton Khudobin, Jacob Markstrom, and Braden Holtby. Does Dorion stay the course and opt for one of his home-grown goalies, or does he pursue a goaltender via free agency? Only time will tell.
3. Pending RFA Contracts: Anthony Duclair, Nick Paul, and Connor Brown
The Senators have some internal housekeeping matters to contend with in the form of Anthony Duclair, Nick Paul, and Connor Brown, who have all shown promise, flare, and a willingness to be part of the solution in Ottawa. With that being said, the trio are in need of new contracts as pending restricted free agents (RFAs) heading into next season.
Related: Senators’ 2009 Draft Review
Pointe-Claire, Quebec native, Anthony Duclair, spent this past season on a one-year, $1.65 million (prove it) deal after being traded to Ottawa from the Columbus Blue Jackets in February 2019. As a Senator, Duclair has put up some good numbers tallying 31 goals, 23 assists, and 54 points over 87 games. This past season saw him score 23 goals in 66 games while averaging 16 minutes of ice-time per game. I don’t envision the Senators locking him up long-term, but after looking at his body of work, coupled with the fact that he’s still only 25 years of age, he would be a nice top-nine forward for the club over the next few seasons.
Nick Paul tips the scale at 6’4, 230 pounds as one of the biggest third-line centers in the NHL. I’m a big fan of Paul because of his size, heavy shot, offensive upside, and strong two-way play. Although he only tallied nine goals and 20 points this past season, I project Paul to have a big campaign in 2020-21 as he starts to feel more comfortable in his role as a shoo-in to center the clubs’ third-line. He’ll have to show a bit more jump and offensive production before he can see a massive salary increase, but I’m confident the Sens will extend him for another season or two in and around a team-friendly deal in the ballpark of $1.5-2 million.
Connor Brown was everything the Senators had hoped for and more when they acquired him from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last summer. In 71 games for the club this season, Brown scored 16 goals and set career highs in assists (27), points (43), and average ice time (20:07). He played in every situation and emerged as one of the clubs’ leaders. I’ve always been a huge fan of Brown because he plays hard, does everything well, and can play on any team in the NHL. I believe he’ll garner a more significant salary increase in comparison to Duclair and Paul because he has a more proven track record, and the Sens should definitely fork out the cash to retain his services.
4. Who to Pursue in Free Agency
As Dorion and the Senators brass look towards free agency on October 9, I believe it’s unlikely they pursue a top-tier free agent such as St. Louis Blues’ defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Boston Bruins’ blue-liner Torey Krug, or Arizona Coyotes’ winger Taylor Hall. This decision comes with how this is a club that should continue along the course of the rebuild, with plenty of young players looking to secure an everyday roster spot ahead of the 2020-21 season such as Alex Formenton, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, and Alex Formenton.
With this being said, I believe that there are indeed some names that could be in play for Ottawa that falls under the “mid-range” tier that could be real, nice fits in Canada’s capital city. These players include Dallas Stars forward Mattias Janmark and Colorado Avalanche winger Matt Nieto.
As a team with a ton of young talent streaming down the pipeline, I believe the Senators will continue on with their rebuild, and methodically pursue players that will improve the club. With that being said, this is a team trending upwards (and in the right direction) because of the plethora of talent and viable assets at their disposal. It’s an exciting time to be a Sens fan, wouldn’t you say?