The Ottawa Senators are in the midst of a great roster turnover. Their 2020-21 season has had many ups and downs, but with their recent play, the future looks very bright. It all started at the draft back in October where they had two selections in the top five and another eight picks that followed throughout. It became clear the organization was trying to acquire as much young talent as possible and put themselves in a prime position down the road.
The Senators have actually done a very good job over the course of the last five drafts, starting back in 2015. Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot were the two big fish they reeled in during this stretch, but it doesn’t stop with them. They now have guys such as Joey Daccord, Colin White, Alex Formenton, and Drake Batherson who have taken on bigger roles and it now looks like Jacob Bernard-Docker (drafted in 2018) and Shane Pinto (drafted in 2019) have started to break through, as well. Not to mention, this year’s third-overall selection Tim Stützle and fellow forward Josh Norris are both having outstanding rookie campaigns.
It’s becoming clear the Senators are heading in the right direction. It’s not wise to dress a team full of rookies and sophomores, so general manager Pierre Dorion went out and acquired multiple veterans to surround the young core. Some have worked out and some haven’t, which led to trade deadline deals to bring in more draft picks. Next season, we can expect to see the same trend of youth in the lineup continue surrounded by veteran pieces, but the question remains — which ones?
Should Ottawa Re-Sign Dzingel?
The Senators currently have eight unrestricted free agents (UFA) pending in their system. A few of them, such as Derek Stepan and Micheal Haley, most likely will not be returning next season, but then it gets interesting. Artem Anisimov and Ryan Dzingel are among the eight UFA’s of peak interest to Ottawa. Dorion has made it known that he will be sitting down with Dzingel and his counterparts this offseason to discuss a potential return to the nation’s capital.
Dzingel started this season in Carolina before he was re-acquired by the Senators on Feb. 13 in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette. He had played 75 games for the Hurricanes in a year and a half and accumulated 33 points with 10 goals. He was originally drafted by the Sens in the seventh round (204th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft but didn’t suit up in the big league until the 2015-16 season.
It wasn’t until the following season, 2016-17, that he started to show that he could be a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL, but it was pretty short-lived. He was one of the players involved in the Senators’ sell-off of 2018-19 that saw him go to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he hasn’t found his original form since. He has played 24 games this season for Ottawa and has only been able to manage six goals and a total of nine points.
He’s not too far removed from his peak form, but the sense from general managers around the league at the trade deadline was that he may only be effective in Ottawa and other teams weren’t willing to take a flyer on him. At 28 years old, Dzingel is considered a veteran on this team, so this is why the organization wants him to stick around. He even spoke about his previous tenure in Ottawa and how former players in Dion Phaneuf and Chris Neil were essential to his growth and keeping him grounded in the league.
“When I look back at that time and all the guys who helped me, at the time you don’t think it’s necessary or you get a little down, but those things they told you and those things you learned from them you build off in the summer and then in the summers that follow. As long as they continue to build off (what they’ve learned) in the summer and continue to improve, instead of taking four months off, these guys will have a huge year next season.”(from ‘GARRIOCH: With 10 games left, Ottawa Senators want to make sure the youth continue to improve’, Ottawa Sun, 2/14/21).
With this being said, there is a case to keep him in Ottawa but there are question marks that come with it. What would it cost them? He’s currently in the final year of his two-year, $3.375 million deal, so he would have to take a pay cut. His play since signing that deal has declined, so anything more than $3 million is a bad deal, in my opinion. Next up would be the length of the deal. How many years would Ottawa be willing to sing him to if they need to have open cap space available to sign a bunch of their prospects coming off of their entry-level deals? These are the biggest concerns Sens fans should have, but there’s also one more.
Let the Kids Play
As previously mentioned, the Senators are clearly heading in the right direction. The emergence of Stützle, Norris and Batherson have been great surprises for the organization, and it feels as if this has turned their rebuild into another gear. On top of those three players, it’s also noticeable that Tkachuk is going to be the next captain of this team, as his play has just elevated year over year. This goes to show that the youth is taking over and the next generation has arrived.
While the case has been made to keep Dzingel in the fold for next season at the bare minimum because of his tenure playing in Ottawa and the fact he’s a veteran to this group, the organization just has too many up-and-coming players who now deserve their shot. Another aspect to look at is where would he play? Head coach D.J. Smith has juggled the lines a fair bit over the course of the season, but as of right now, Dzingel is set up on the fourth line.
Just by looking at the lineup as it’s currently set up here, Dzingel isn’t where he should or would like to be. He is only effective when he is on the top-two lines and it’s obvious there’s just no room. Next season, he will have tons of competition fighting for that final spot, too. Vitaly Abramov, Clark Bishop, Egor Sokolov, Logan Brown, Ridly Greig, Mark Kastelic, Roby Jarventie, and we can’t forget veteran Austin Watson, who currently is out with injury, will all be eyeing down final roster positions.
Seeing as how this season’s rookies have taken the reins, management might have more confidence in letting them continue and insert more youth and new faces into the lineup. To me, it just doesn’t make sense to bring Dzingel back after laying this out. The fact that he would hinder one of these prospects from getting into the lineup for potentially more than one season at $3 million-plus — I just don’t see the upside. Sure, the veteran presence and leadership he brings to the group is not something to look past, but there will be better and cheaper options available.
The Senators are well on their way to becoming a competitive team once again, so it’s best to let them keep growing and bring in fresh faces. A top nine seems to have already started to take shape for next season and Dzingel is nowhere to be found.