Lost in the hype of the Ottawa Senators’ offseason is top prospect Tomas Hamara, a potential second-pairing defender drafted in the third round of the 2022 NHL Draft.
Hamara spent important development years in the Finnish system playing for Tappara and for Czechia at international tournaments. The Finnish development system has been near the top of the international competition for many years and is a more fluid skill transition to the NHL than the Czechia pipeline.
It’s not common to see a top-quality European draft pick play in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) after they’ve been selected by an NHL team. The CHL-NHL transfer agreement is a stain on North American hockey development and prevents the movement of players back and forth between the NHL and Canadian major junior. In Hamara’s case, the CHL is likely the best option from a development and contractual standpoint.
Senators’ Current Defensive Construction
Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub are the set-in-stone first defensive pair, likely to be followed by Jake Sanderson and Travis Hamonic. The third group should be a selection of Nick Holden, Erik Brannstrom, and Nikita Zaitsev.
Until the Senators make a move or a swath of injuries occur, there isn’t likely to be much change on the blue line. With Hamonic, Zub, and Holden playing for their next contracts – in Ottawa or elsewhere – it’s a safe bet that these three players will be looking to put forth their best efforts to date in a Senators uniform.
In Belleville, the minor league Senators have Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson primed for big minutes and injury call-ups, as well as veteran minor league players ready to compete for their salaries. The development minutes that Hamara would receive in Belleville certainly wouldn’t help acclimate his offensive talents to the North American game.
The Entry Level Slide & Expiring Contracts
Article 9.1 (d) (i) and Article 9.1 (d) (ii) of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement says:
“In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a
Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season
under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry
Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year…”
“In the event that a Player signs his first SPC at age 18 and has had his SPCNHL CBA
extended pursuant to Subsection (i), and such Player does not play at least
ten (10) NHL Games in the second season under that SPC, then the term
of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be
extended for one (1) additional year.”
Assuming the bottom doesn’t fall out of the Senators’ defensive corps, and they don’t need to dig deep into the contract pool, there is a two-year entry-level slide option for Hamara’s contract. If Hamara doesn’t play 10 games for the Senators this season, his entry-level contract (ELC) will move to the right by a year.
For the 2023-24 season, the Senators have Chabot, Zaitsev, and Sanderson under contract at the NHL level, Bernard-Docker as a restricted free agent, and Thomson is still under contract, as well. Given Pierre Dorion’s renewed energy at his position, we can assume that the Senators will be making defensive adjustments between now and the start of the 2023-24 season.
If the Senators don’t need to rush Hamara into action, they can slide his ELC another year to the right and maximize the term and value of his first NHL deal.
The Senators’ Best Option
Hamara stands to play big minutes and a big role for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League this season. The situational minutes he’ll get on a North American-sized rink in Kitchener will be significantly more than the minutes he’d receive playing pro in Belleville, and much more valuable than the minutes he’d receive playing pro in Europe.
The Senators have carved a team-beneficial path for a potential second-pairing defender. Their roster construction leaves the door open for Hamara to develop un-rushed and in a controlled environment before potentially joining a Senators roster in 2024-25 as an extremely valuable entry-level contract during a three-year stretch where the Senators project to be contenders.
Tim Chiasson is a 36-year-old father, military veteran and youth sports coach. He writes about the Ottawa Senators and Women’s Hockey as a freelance contributor at THW, and has previously written at Hockeybuzz and FanSided.