As the regular season comes to a close, the Ottawa Senators have quite a few decisions to make. In this weekly series, we will be exploring and projecting what some of those key player decisions will look like. This week’s focus is on the players confirmed to be leaving the team.
In his regular-season exit interview, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has indicated that the team will be moving on from a few players as they look to clarify and solidify their main group. Dorion explained in his year-end presser that pending restricted free agent defenceman Victor Mete would not receive a qualifying offer. Pending unrestricted free agent Chris Tierney will not be receiving an offer either and will be free to see if he can sign elsewhere in the league. Slightly puzzling is the decision to be made with Tyler Ennis. Dorion has indicated that the forward won’t be offered a contract until the free agency period hits.
Victor Mete – Not Returning
Mete was picked up by the Senators off waivers from Montreal in April of 2021. Following the pickup, the two parties entered into arbitration ultimately with Mete getting a one-year $1.2 million contract. Mete had a disappointing season with Ottawa. Appearing in just 37 games, he picked up seven assists while averaging 14:37 of ice time per game. Mete is a smaller defenseman standing just 5-foot-9 and he was known for his dynamic two-way play and driving the rush. Unfortunately, he never saw those opportunities materialize in Ottawa.
With Erik Brännström playing a similar game but at a better level, it simply doesn’t make sense to keep Mete around. The Senators boast a robust defensive prospect system of players ready, or nearly ready, to make the jump. Freeing the cap space and roster spot are the right decision for the team.
Chris Tierney – Not Returning
Tierney came to the Senators via the Erik Karlsson trade. Following the trade, Tierney went through arbitration and came away with a two-year, $7 million contract. Tierney has played an important role with the team since signing, helping to stabilize their center depth. His offensive production has dipped in recent seasons despite still getting quality time on the second power-play unit.
As Tim Stützle continues to develop at center, and with Josh Norris elevating his game this season, the Senators are much more solid down the middle. Shane Pinto will be returning from injury next season and the team has some flexible prospects in the system capable of playing at the faceoff dot or on the wing. As their center depth continues to develop, there’s simply no space for Tierney.
Tyler Ennis – Unlikely to Return
Ennis first came to Ottawa through free agency. He had a strong showing in his time in Buffalo but had shown some regression in his skills towards the end of his contract. Once with the Senators, Ennis was traded in 2020 to the Edmonton Oilers. Following his run with the Oilers, Ennis again signed with the Sens in free agency. A veteran presence in the room, Ennis helped to provide some guidance to the team’s young core and was able to contribute offensively, but not to a high level. While there is likely still a place for Ennis in the league, the Sens have physical, fast forwards waiting in the wings and as such, there likely isn’t a spot for him on the roster come October.
That being said, Dorion has indicated that the door is not completely closed and wants to see what happens during the free agency period. Indicating during the same press conference that he would like to bring in a veteran presence, it makes little sense that Dorion would let Ennis walk without at least attempting a contract. Unless another team steps up to the plate, expect to see him back on the team with a one or two-year deal with a sub $1 million cap hit.
Related: Ottawa Senators’ Offseason Projections: Josh Norris
While there are other transactions likely to take place, these are moves that are mostly confirmed by Dorion. A disappointing early exit for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Belleville Senators, doesn’t help the club know which prospects are ready to make the jump. The team is entering a critical phase. This offseason, more so than others, will stand to define the direction the team takes.