The Ottawa Senators sit second in the Atlantic Division and are heading in the right direction for a playoff birth this spring. This is a major turnaround from last season. Is it possible the Senators are beginning to open their window of opportunity to make a run for a Stanley Cup championship? Given where the team is with player development, contracts, and some top blue-chip prospects, there is plenty of reason to believe that this team will be a serious contender in the not so distant future.
Over the next season or two, some of the Senators most productive players will be set to become UFAs or RFAs and are likely due for pay increases. Re-signing all these players may present some problems and there could be a scenario where some players decide to test free agency if they can’t come to terms with the team. The bottom line is that the Senators need to take advantage of having their top producers on manageable contracts.
At the top of the list is captain Erik Karlsson, who is set to be a UFA at the start of the 2019-20 season. Everyone expects the two-time Norris Trophy winner to be in for a significant pay raise from his $6.5 million AAV salary. Looking at a comparable contract in the NHL, Brent Burns recently signed an eight-year, $8.0 million AAV contract with the San Jose Sharks. It may be expected that Karlsson would command a bigger deal than Burns, especially given Karlsson will be just 29, two years younger than Burns was when he signed his extension.
There are two scenarios that could play out. One is that Karlsson gets the pay increase he deserves from the Senators, eating into the cap space and the ability to give more players salary increases. The second is that he and the Senators fail to agree on terms and Karlsson departs Ottawa to test the free agent market. The latter would be devastating for the team and its ability to challenge for a championship and therefore seems unlikely.
One of the Senators top-six forwards is Kyle Turris, set to be a UFA at the end of the 2017-18 season. Turris is on pace for his first 30-goal season but already has two 20+ goal seasons since he started playing for the Senators in 2011-12. The Senators have Turris for a bargain, as he is under contract for $3.5 million AAV. One can expect him to receive a significant salary increase when his contract expires if he is still in the position as the club’s first line centre.
The Senators are also getting a bargain with Mark Stone’s contract. He has been one of the Senators most consistent players and is on a three-year bridge deal that pays an AAV of $3.5 million. Given his current level of play and consistent productivity, it can be expected he will command a big pay raise when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.
In goal, Craig Anderson, now 35 years of age, isn’t getting any younger. He may be limited with the number of seasons he has left under his belt as the Senators number one goaltender. Prior to taking a personal leave of absence from the Senators this season, Anderson posted his best goals against average since the 2012-13 season – an impressive 2.46. In the meantime, Mike Condon has done a superb job at filling in for Anderson as the starting netminder. When Anderson does return, the Senators may be faced with a stacked crease in the short term as the playoffs loom. However, in the longer-term, the Senators must be mindful of who will be guarding their crease. Condon, at only 26 years of age, may be making his case now for that opportunity.
Not only are the Senators fielding a very competitive roster in the NHL; the team also has three top prospects excelling in their development as well.
Logan Brown, son of former NHL’er Jeff Brown, was the Senators 2016 first round selection. A current member of the Memorial Cup bound Windsor Spitfires, Brown is playing above a point per game pace with 33 points in 25 games played. Although he needs to add some weight, all signs point to him being a top-six forward once he’s ready for the NHL.
— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) January 6, 2017
Thomas Chabot was selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Playing a leadership role for Team Canada at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship, Chabot was awarded the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. At the best-on-best international tournament, he was scoring over a point per game with ten points in seven games – and this was as a defenceman. If Chabot can translate his skill and talents to the NHL level, the Senators will be able to play both Karlsson and Chabot on their blueline; a tantalizing prospect.
Colin White was also selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Like Chabot, White had a great showing at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship. Playing for Team USA, White was dominant and, like Chabot, scored over a point per game in the tournament. White had eight points in seven games and his play helped Team USA win the gold medal. Dorion has hinted that White may get the opportunity to play some games for the Senators this season once he finishes his season at Boston College.
The Senators could be on the verge of opening their window of opportunity to challenge for a Stanley Cup Championship in the near future. The team must take advantage of the current opportunity it has with some elite talent under reasonable contracts for the next few years while embracing star prospects and managing contracts of their established talents. All in all, Senators fans should be excited for what’s ahead.