It was an outstanding, out-of-the-blue run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Ottawa Senators.
Riding the hot play of rookie Mark Stone, the unreal goaltending of Andrew Hammond, and the dominant two-way play of captain Erik Karlsson, the Senators entered the playoffs as the NHL’s hottest team and dragged the Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens through six tight games before bowing out.
Few saw this coming. The city of Ottawa embraced their resurgent Sens and kept the Canadian Tire Centre rocking right through until the Sens finally skated away and into their 2015 off-season.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 27, 2015
Now the hard work starts.
Key players like Stone and Mike Hoffman head the list of ten organizational restricted free agents, including five on the NHL roster. Hammond is the key unrestricted free agent, though others among the nine organizational free agents will force some important decisions to be made as well.
Here’s a look at some of the key roster changes and challenges that face the Ottawa Senators as the team looks ahead to the 2015-16 campaign.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 29, 2015
Before breaking GM Bryan Murray’s April 29th interview down further, it’s important to note two things:
- The man is remarkable for continuing to work with such vigour despite his battle with colon cancer.
- Murray’s candor and forthright commentary throughout the conference makes for interesting analysis and debate. The Ottawa media is spoiled by working with Murray and the ever-quotable Dave Cameron.
The interview with Murray lays a couple of questions to rest right away. He intends to return as GM and Cameron has already been offered an extension to coach the team.
However, Murray does point to changes for the team, including; goaltending, players “who would rather be elsewhere,” the need for a “middle-aged veteran,” and Erik Condra and Colin Greening specifically.
Here are the UFAs and RFAs the Sens are dealing with, along with a thought on the likelihood that each is re-signed or allowed to leave via free agency:
|Name||Status||Previous Salary||Sens Fit in 2015-16|
|Erik Condra||UFA||$1.3 mil||With a 50.7 Corsi For percentage, Condra is a handy third-line winger. The Sens don’t appear likely to pay up.|
|Andrew Hammond||UFA||720K||Hammond’s play as the Sens streaked towards the post-season was other-worldly. Murray suggested in the press conference that, if Hammond agrees to stay, the Sens will move Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson.|
|Chris Wideman||UFA||700K||A classic in-betweener, Wideman is a little small for the NHL but has excelled in the AHL (61 points in 75 games this season). A one-way deal is probably the key here but the Sens already have eight NHL d-men.|
|Aaron Johnson||UFA||800K||Posted 35 points in Binghamton this season but is 32-years-old. Shouldn’t factor into NHL roster decisions.|
|Brad Mills||UFA||750K||The 32-year-old didn’t do much with his time in the AHL. Shouldn’t factor into NHL roster decisions.|
|Alex Grant||UFA||700K||With 33 points in 58 games, the 26-year-old blueliner has earned another two-way contract.|
|Derek Grant||UFA||700K||The 25-year-old centre potted 21 goals last season in Binghamton and is likely to return to the B-Sens.|
|Patrick Mullen||UFA||700K||28-year-old defensemen doesn’t figure into the Senators long-term plan at the NHL level.|
|Carter Camper||UFA||600K||26-year-old scored 52 points in 75 games with Binghamton but doesn’t seem to have the size to be a factor at the NHL level.|
|Mika Zibanejad||RFA||833K||Closest comparable overall last season was Eric Fehr, who earned $1.6 mil. Expect Zibanejad to re-up for more money than that as he is already capably manning the second-line centre role.|
|Alex Chiasson||RFA||900K||Never really found a groove in Ottawa, registering a disappointing 26 points in 76 games. Likely to receive a qualifying offer but not likely a long-term fit with the Sens.|
|Mark Stone||RFA||575K||Nominated for the Calder, Stone finished 47 points over his last 45 games to lead all rookies in scoring. The Sens are likely to pay up to keep the takeaway king in Ottawa.|
|Mike Hoffman||RFA||750K||Hoffman’s production slowed as the season went on but the 25-year-old scored 48 points in 79 games and almost reached 30 goals (finished with 27). Likely a long-term keeper in Ottawa.|
|Jean-Gabriel Pageau||RFA||660K||JG Pageau has developed a strong following in Ottawa and was lauded in the media for his play late in the season and in the playoffs. The hometown boy looks like a keeper who should come at a reasonable price.|
|Cole Schneider||RFA||750K||Schneider is only 24-years-old and has scored 102 points in his last 138 AHL games. He’s earned another spin with Binghamton and maybe a fourth-line look in the NHL.|
|Shane Prince||RFA||900K||THe 22-year-old starred as an Ottawa 67s player and has developed his scoring touch over three strong AHL campaigns. Played two NHL games last season. He’s a keeper.|
|RFA||620K-925K||Due to age, lack of production, cost, and replaceability, all four of these farmhands are candidates to move along next season, making room for the next way of development prospects.|
*all salary information courtesy of NHLNumbers.com here.
What can we make of all of this? Murray wasn’t ready to tip his hand about roster holes. Let’s see if we can piece it together:
1st line – MacArthur – Turris – Stone
MacArthur and Turris showed some great chemistry this season – Turris assisted on 33 percent of MacArthur’s goals, MacArthur assisted on 25 percent of Turris’ goals. Using Emmanuel Perry’s Similarity Scores tool at War-on-Ice.com reveals that Jiri Hudler was Stone’s closest comparion last season. Hudler made $4 million last year . Sens fans expect the Calder-candidate to be re-signed but a deal between $2.5-$3 million might be more realistic for the first-year star.
2nd line – Hoffman – Zibanejad – Ryan
Ryan had an off-year, scoring 18 goals in 78 games. However, Ryan is a sniper and has been open about his love for Ottawa. Hoffman and Zibanejad are both RFAs who have become keys to the roster. Hoffman’s closest overall comparable last season was Corey Perry (huge praise). Zibanejad’s closest comparable was Eric Fehr. Expect Bryan Murray to settle under $3 million per season with both RFAs to keep this line in tact.
3rd line – Matt Halischuk – Pageau – Lazar
In line for a raise as a UFA, Condra seems to be on his way out of Ottawa. Veteran winger Milan Michalek could be a candidate to skate on the checking line, working with Pageau and Lazar. A free agent veteran like Carl Soderberg, Matt Halischuk, and Chris Porter all played for $1 million or less last season and could be a fit on the Sens’ third line.
4th – Matt Puempel – Chris Porter – Shane Prince
The Sens auditioned both Puempel and Prince in the NHL this season and both could be in line to play in Ottawa next season. The Sens are thin at centre throughout the organization and are likely to look for depth in free agency. As mentioned above, Porter brings good possession skills, NHL experience, and a reasonable salary level.
Ottawa Senators Defense Pairs
Erik Karlsson – Marc Methot
– spares: Phillips, Wideman
The Sens are largely set on defense. All of their top-six from last season are signed and Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen remain in the fold. Cowen earns $2.7 million per season and is a prime candidate to move along to create cap space for other signings. If Cowen moves, Wideman is ready to graduate to a spare defenseman role at the NHL level.
Goalie Depth Chart
Starter – Craig Anderson
Backup – Andrew Hammond
Murray stated his intention to offer Hammond a contract and deal Anderson or Lehner if accepted. Hammond has said he’d “love to stay” in Ottawa. A deal around the NHL average salary (about $2.6 million) seems about right for the man who saved the Senators’ season. Anderson showed late in the series versus the Canadiens that he can still carry the torch as an elite starting netminder. Expect that pair to return.
What Robin Lehner can fetch in return (still recovering from the late-season concussion) is debatable, but a team like the Edmonton Oilers or Buffalo Sabres might be willing to roll the dice.
For the Senators, an offseason spent securing their young RFAs to long-term deals is the key. Ottawa has depth on defense and can afford to move a player or two to create the salary cap space needed to retain Zibanejad, Stone, and Hoffman. What Hammond earns is the most debatable of the Sens’ offseason issues, but expect the Hamburglar to return as Anderson’s understudy in 2015-16.
What do you think, Sens fans? Do you expect Bryan Murray to make a bigger splash in free agency? Or at the Sens likely to keep their roster intact and hope for development within the organization to help the team return to the post-season in 2015-16?