The Ottawa Senators have a handful of players that are set to become restricted and unrestricted free agents this upcoming offseason. Currently, the Sens only have three forwards signed to a deal for next season. While that’s problematic for now, there’s no doubt that Ottawa will have a ton of guys signed and ready to go before training camp.
The question now being, who will they sign? The Senators currently have a projected cap hit of $38.2 million. After Ottawa announced earlier last week that they will not be bringing back longtime goaltender Craig Anderson, the Sens now find themselves looking at just getting to the cap floor. With roughly $20 million to spend at minimum, they will have a ton of options on how to use that money. While there are trades and UFAs to spend that money on, there are also internal players Ottawa has the rights to that they should be looking at extending.
Ottawa’s 3 Best RFAs
Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair, and Chris Tierney are among the six RFA forwards the Senators have. These three are quality NHL players, and bring a lot of different tools to an NHL lineup. Ottawa should do whatever it takes to bring all three back for next season, but some more than others. Looking back to last season, there were a lot of RFAs that caught market attention. Marc Bergevin, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, tried to lure in Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes, but was unsuccessful. It was the first time since Ryan O’Reilly that we saw an offer sheet go across the table.
I’m not here to say that any of the three players mentioned would draw an offer sheet. However, what I am saying is that with the way the global pandemic has hit the NHL and affected owners’ pockets, it wouldn’t surprise me if the offer sheet talks heat up again. Owners and GMs will be reluctant to spend big dollars on star players in free agency or in trades given the flat cap for, at best, the next three years. Tierney, Brown, and Duclair are cost-effective pieces and I think teams would be interested in any of their services to fill their needs. I don’t believe an offer sheet or a trade proposal will come Ottawa’s way, but these are good players to think about.
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In any case, the Senators should consider re-signing Tierney before, and more so than Brown, and/or Duclair. Brown has a $1.6 million qualifying offer attached to him and can offer up solid play in the bottom six of the lineup. But, how much do you want to spend on a winger in your bottom six? Ottawa has a bunch of young guys coming up and they’ll be looking for some ice time. If they truly stand by what they said in regards to Bobby Ryan, saying they want to open up a roster spot for younger players, then maybe they let Brown go as well. I still think they should hold onto him, but, if not, they’ll save a bit of money and can add in younger guys at a cheaper price.
Who doesn’t love an underdog success story? That’s what Duclair is in Ottawa. In 66 games this season, Duclair banked 23 goals and 40 points. After not even coming close to that since his 44 points in 2015-16 in Arizona, the Senators got the best out of Duclair and it paid off. At a $1.65 million qualifying offer, I would expect Duclair to ask for just over $2 million and a couple years of security. If you can trust that Duclair has finally found a fit in Ottawa, I would definitely take him on for another few years.
Ottawa also has guys like Alex Formenton, Vitaly Abramov, and Rudolf Balcers, but Duclair has experience and is coming off a good season that can give coach D.J. Smith some confidence.
Tierney Tops the List
While Duclair is a good player to re-sign, I still think Chris Tierney is at the top of the list.
If you look back at the San Jose Sharks’ run in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, Tierney was a contributing factor. That’s what general manager Pierre Dorion was looking to get when he brought Tierney into Ottawa. Tierney had a career-high with 48 points a year ago, and 39 of them were assists. This season, not having players like Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel to help out Tierney hurt his production, but it’s not like the team did him any favours as well.
There are no excuses of course, and the advanced stats actually show that Tierney had a better season than previous. Take stats for what you will, but they do mean something in the game. Tierney’s percentages in high-danger Corsi, expected goals, and goals above replacement improved, the latter being the best on the Senators.
At just 26 years old, Tierney can still trend upwards as an NHL player. He is a solid two-way centreman who fits the role of a middle-six player, especially in Ottawa. The fact that Smith has trust in Tierney is a good indicator they would want him to stay. The center position is one in Ottawa that is still growing. Cemented guys like Artem Anisimov, and sometimes Colin White, are everyday players, but players like Josh Norris and Logan Brown will develop and seek plenty of ice time this year.
If they are struggling early, it becomes easier to hide them lower in the lineup with guys like Tierney who are more qualified to handle a bigger role. Furthermore, Nick Paul, Filip Chlapik, and J.C. Beaudin, who are also RFAs, will be knocking on the door as well for that ice time.
The discussion then moves towards, how much will it cost? At $2.975 million for the qualifying offer, it might be a bit steep. However, with Ottawa needing to get to the cap floor, it’s not a terrible idea. If you can lock Tierney into a two to three-year deal at just over $3 million, while it may be a bit much, it comes with potential value. If the aforementioned Norris and Brown are fitting in nice, and Tierney is playing well, he becomes an asset. You can trade him for more prospects and late-round picks and then move one of Paul, Chlapik, or Beaudin up the depth charts.
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The Senators should consider bringing back all three of these RFAs. I just think with the player that Tierney already is, the fit in Ottawa, and his future asset value make him a higher priority. Duclair is too much of an unknown, but there are positives with him. Brown is a replaceable player and a little too expensive, but once again there’s a fit for him. For Ottawa, it’s about moving forward and progressing in player development. They have their eyes on the draft and their system, but these players are important for the franchise development, and act steady fill-ins for now.