One of the Ottawa Senators’ biggest issues this season was their lack of production from their bottom-six. If the team wants a chance to make the playoffs next season, they will have to prioritize this 一 and goaltending 一 during the offseason.
Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, Drake Batherson and Shane Pinto 一 arguably Ottawa’s top-six forwards this season 一 contributed 178 of the team’s 261 goals scored. Minus 30 goals scored by the defence, the statistics show that the bottom-six needs to be reworked.
Ottawa is set to have around $17 million in cap space next season, with only DeBrincat and Erik Brannstrom to re-sign. The team doesn’t have a pick in the first three rounds of the 2023 Entry Draft, so general manager Pierre Dorion should look at free agency to improve his forward group with the remaining cap space.
Here are three free agents who are unlikely to re-sign with their current club and who Ottawa should consider if the price is right.
The Senators are in a similar position to where the New Jersey Devils were before this season. They have high-end talent, but they need to find proven winners as depth pieces to help along the way. Just like the Devils did with Ondrej Palat, Dorion should look at another Tampa Bay Lightning player, Alex Killorn.
Killorn isn’t necessarily a depth player, but he checks many boxes for the Senators. Not only is he a proven winner, with two championships in four Stanley Cup Final appearances, but he can also play on any line and in any situation.
The biggest issue with Killorn could be the price. He put up 59 points in 2021-22 and 64 the following year, which are his two highest career totals, but the Lightning aren’t in a position to give him the money he’ll demand. While he has expressed his interest in retiring as a Lightning (from ‘Lightning’s Killorn on free agency: ‘I love everything about Tampa’’, Tampa Bay Times, 05/02/23), extensions for Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Nick Perbix all start next season, leaving only $1.6 million in projected cap space with restricted free agent (RFA) Ross Colton still to re-sign.
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If Ottawa wants to take a step in a winning direction, Killorn could help, but they can’t get caught spending too much money on him or offering too much term; while that is true of any free agent, it especially applies here.
The former St. Louis Blues first-round pick, Lars Eller, could be a cheaper alternative to fill in a bottom-six role for the Senators.
The 34-year-old Danish center wouldn’t solve the scoring issue as much as other candidates on this list, with 23 points in 84 games split between the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche, but he does play a strong defensive game 一 something the Senators could also use as the most penalized team in 2022-23.
While Ottawa still ranked 14th in the league in penalty-killing percentage this season, there is always room for improvement. Eller would be useful in that area and is strong in the faceoff dot.
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While he might not have as much of an impact as Killorn, he is also a proven winner, having won the Cup with the Capitals in 2018. He also fills a necessary role at a cheaper price, which could leave Ottawa with extra money to spend – or save for later.
The last player on this list also happens to be the youngest. At 32, Erik Haula has already played for seven teams in his career, a total that could go up if he doesn’t re-sign with the Devils.
The Devils would surely like to keep the speedy player, who came over from the Boston Bruins in a trade for Pavel Zacha last summer. He’s an efficient two-way player who knows his role and who plays in many situations. His main contributions come defensively, but he can also provide offence when needed, with 41 points last season.
The Devils have about $34 million in free cap space for next season. While that seems like a lot, they have an extensive list of players to re-sign, including newly acquired winger Timo Meier who is an RFA with a qualifying offer of $10 million.
They also have Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod, Jesper Boqvist, Nathan Bastian, Kevin Bahl and Mackenzie Blackwood, who are also RFAs. Between the many UFAs they can choose to sign or let go, it’s unlikely they’ll keep Haula.
This is an opportunity Ottawa shouldn’t miss. His contract would likely be cheaper and shouldn’t have much term on it. Plus, he was a big part of the Vegas Golden Knights’ magical inaugural season, which not only gives him valuable playoff experience but also a will to win it all.
Pressure’s on Dorion
The Senators have many options to make their team better this summer. Whether they look at trades or free agency, Dorion is likely feeling some pressure. The team is as close as it has been to making the playoffs since their loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Finals, and the right offseason moves could get them there.