Senators 2021 Free Agent Targets: Wingers

The 2020-21 NHL season is officially over. The Tampa Bay Lightning captured their second Stanley Cup in a row (third in franchise history) over the Montreal Canadiens last Wednesday at Amalie Arena. While the Lightning continues to celebrate and bask in the glory, other teams have the rest of July to get ready for what’s ahead. Organizations have less than a week remaining before they have to hand in their protection lists for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21. After the Expansion Draft, the Entry Draft begins on July 23 and free agency opens up on July 28.

It will be a busy couple of weeks for everyone, but teams are ready to start a new chapter. For the Ottawa Senators, the rest of July and the summer is going to be huge. Other than the aforementioned dates coming up, the Sens still have other things to work on. For starters, the Brady Tkachuk contract talks have been oddly quiet, and regardless of who gets taken by the Seattle Kraken, the roster will have some holes to fill.

With the salary cap remaining stagnant for the foreseeable future, trades in the offseason once again might be harder to pull off. This leaves the door open for general managers to see what’s available on the open market for improvements. Over the last few weeks, Ryan Shuvera of THW wrote about which defensemen the Sens should target, and I analyzed which centremen they should look to sign when free agency opens. This week, we’re going to go over a few wingers that I think could help the Senators improve next season and in years to come.

Jaden Schwartz

Schwartz has played the entirety of his NHL career to date with the St. Louis Blues. They drafted him 14th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and he’s one of the longest-standing players in the organization alongside Vladimir Tarasenko. With Tarasenko now asking for a trade and Schwartz looming as a pending unrestricted free agent, general manager Doug Armstrong has a lot on his plate. It’s not clear if the Blues want to bring back Schwartz on any sort of deal and if they don’t, Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion should look to sign the veteran left-winger.

Jaden Schwartz St. Louis Blues
Jaden Schwartz is a pending UFA with the St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At 29-years-old, Schwartz has missed a fair amount of time throughout his career due to injury. That would be my only worry to any team, not just the Senators, if they’re looking to sign him. Injuries aside, because, for the most part, it’s an unlucky circumstance, Schwartz is a proven NHL player who can contribute on both sides of the puck. Even when he has missed time due to injury, he is still able to produce offensively. In the 2015-16 season, Schwartz played just 33 regular-season games but still managed to get 22 points. During that same season, the Blues played 20 playoff games and he recorded 14 points.

Although Schwartz has never played a full 82-game season, he still maintains a 0.68 points-per-game (P/G) average for his career and was a big part of their Stanley Cup championship with 20 points in 26 games. This where things get interesting for the Blues and Schwartz, though. What kind of deal is he seeking out and what kind of deal are the Blues looking to get in return? Schwartz’s current contract was a five-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.35 million and it’s hard to argue that he should get more or less this time around. He kind of falls in around that same amount, in my opinion. However, are the Blues willing to go down that road again?

Jaden Schwartz,Brayden Schenn,Jordan Binnington
St. Louis Blues’ Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn mob goaltender Jordan Binnington, in Game 7, 2019 Stanley Cup Final (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Other than the more noticeable names like Alexander Steen and Alex Pietrangelo, most of the team that won the Cup in 2019 is still there. However, with five restricted free agents that need contracts for next season (Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn), and no one other than five players (Jordan Binnington, Brayden Schenn, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Marco Scandella) under contract after the 2022-23 season, which includes their captain, Ryan O’Reilly, a big roster shake-up could begin and Schwartz might be the next to go.

For Ottawa, he could be the perfect player for their left side. As it’s currently constructed, the Sens have Tim Stützle, Nick Paul and Tkachuk manning the first three lines. They do have an eventual plan to move Stützle to his natural position down the middle, and a signing like Schwartz could accelerate that idea. With the center ice position having more flexibility for movement, other than Josh Norris, as I mentioned in my centremen targets piece, this could benefit head coach D.J. Smith.

The Sens have the capital to make a run at Schwartz for around the same price tag of $5 million per year and could maybe entice him with a longer-term. It would be a gamble providing his injury history, but a player of his caliber and championship experience could be integral for a growing team like Ottawa.

Nick Foligno

Here’s a name that might sound familiar to Sens fans. Foligno hasn’t played a game for the Senators since he was traded to Columbus Blue Jackets for Marc Methot on July 1, 2012. Originally selected 28th overall by the Sens at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Foligno hit the ground running the following year splitting time between Ottawa and the Binghampton Senators of the American Hockey League. The Senators got some solid play out of him before he was eventually moved to Columbus, where he captained them for the next six seasons.

Nick Foligno Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Foligno, former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Foligno had great success in Columbus. In his third season with the team, he reached a career-high in goals with 31 and points with 73. He even got past the first round on two different occasions, one being against the Lightning in 2019 after Tampa had put together a historic NHL regular season. While Foligno’s best days in the NHL are probably behind him, I would imagine that all 32 teams would be lined up to have a crack at getting him signed.

Foligno was excited to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, even though it was for a very short period of time. He missed a few games during the remainder of the regular season and a few in the playoffs. Most people in Toronto felt like they never got the real Foligno for that stretch. While that may be true, and it’s been suggested that he could return to the Maple Leafs for another shot, but with a higher salary, there’s a pretty good chance the Leafs can’t make that happen. So, where could he end up? A reunion in Ottawa doesn’t seem too far out of the realm of possibility.

Nick Foligno Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Foligno with Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

At 33-years-old, he can still bring a lot to the table. He was never going to be a guy expected to pot 30 goals and 70-80 points every year, but the physicality, grit, heart and leadership he brings to a team leaves room for his teammates to have more success. With Ottawa being such a young team with very little veteran presence at the moment, Foligno can be another voice, on and off the ice, they need. Not only does he bring a bunch of intangibles to the table, but he’s also versatile. We saw him play both the wing (his standard position) and center in Columbus and Toronto, so we know he can play anywhere in the lineup.

There’s a good chance that Foligno re-signs in Columbus to be back with his family and a place he’s called home for the last seven years, but he does spend a ton of time in Northern Ontario during the offseasons. It’s where he grew up and played his junior hockey, so it’s not like he is completely unfamiliar with the territory. There are also rumors that he could be looking to play with his brother, Marcus, with the Minnesota Wild. That is just speculation, but if Ottawa is going to attempt to sign him, they’re one of the only teams that can offer him the dollars and terms he’s looking for, as well as an organization and location he’s familiar with. If he’s willing to take a lesser role and shorter-term with a high dollar amount, I don’t see why Ottawa wouldn’t want him in the fold.

Zach Hyman

Another player that most likely will fall out of the Maple Leafs’ lineup due to the salary cap is Hyman. At 29-years-old, this might be his only chance at cashing in a big deal. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the fifth round (123rd overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft but didn’t enter the league right away. After playing collegiate hockey at the University of Michigan, where he had 89 points (35 goals, 54 assists) in 151 games, he declined to sign with the Panthers. The Panthers then traded him to the Maple Leafs, his hometown, where he has spent the last six seasons and the entirety of his NHL career to date.

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Born and raised in Toronto, it’s been a dream come true for Hyman, but it might be coming to an end. It remains to be seen if the Leafs can finagle their way around the salary cap to keep a player like him in the lineup. According to Elliotte Friedman, when speaking on Sportsnet 590, talking about what the Maple Leafs are looking to do this summer, he’s under the impression that Hyman will be leaving. It’s not set in stone and most believe that he will stay at home. However, the rumor mill surrounding Hyman includes the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings so let’s add Ottawa to the list for argument’s sake.

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman against the Montreal Canadiens (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Hyman is the kind of player that you don’t see too often in the NHL anymore. Much like Foligno, he’s versatile and can play anywhere in the lineup. Most of his playing time in Toronto has seen him on the top-line left side with Auston Matthews and one of Mitch Marner or William Nylander. Some pretty good company. When he missed time due to injury this season, he came back and played on the third and fourth lines for a period of time and still produced as he always has. His ability to grind out pucks in the corner, generate plays in the defensive zone, and do the dirty work for his linemates is something you can’t measure.

Just like Schwartz, placing a guy like Hyman on the second line left wing in Ottawa with Stützle in the middle and former Maple Leaf teammate Connor Brown on the right would be quite a second line scoring unit. With Stützle eventually moving to center and the emergence of Brown this season, most Sens fans could probably get behind this idea, much like with Schwartz. Hyman has had an ACL injury in the past, so durability going forward will be taken into consideration. In any case, Hyman is a solid option if the Sens want to improve on the wing.

Final Word

The Senators definitely wouldn’t be the only team interested in these three players. In fact, Schwartz has been linked in rumors with the Los Angeles Kings very recently and talks are intensifying about Hyman staying with the Maple Leafs. That doesn’t mean Dorion and the Senators organization shouldn’t be doing their due diligence in finding ways to improve this team. They still have a few years to play with in regards to their up-and-coming stars needing contracts and other players coming off the books. All three of these players can jump in, take important roles and have an impact right now.


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