Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Maybe the Ottawa Senators finally have good free agency plan

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If social media is any sort of barometer, fans of the Ottawa Senators were running hot and cold on Day 1 of NHL free agency.

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If social media is any sort of barometer, fans of the Ottawa Senators were running hot and cold on Day 1 of NHL free agency.

It wasn’t so much a consensus as it was a debate.

Some thought it was a throwback to the reign of error of Pierre Dorion, others thought general manager Steve Staios, with a limited number of dollars to spend to remain under the salary cap, made some shrewd moves (the Senators traded for defenceman Nick Jensen and signed wingers David Perron and Michael Amadio, and centre Noah Gregor) on a day where some whopping contracts were being handed out.

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Restraint, in this case, isn’t a bad thing. This was about addressing need, while getting the numbers to add up. Fiscal responsibility or any sort of responsibility hasn’t exactly been a strength of the team in recent years.

“(The free-agent bidding) can get silly,” said Staios. “We feel like we were disciplined in what we were doing. We’re set up well for the team to take that next step.”

It’s a line Senators fans have, of course, heard before.

Michael Amadio
The Ottawa Senators gave Michael Amadio, right, a three-year deal ($2.5 million, $2.8 million and $2.5 million). Photo by Leah Hennel /Getty Images

But it seems like there is actually a plan in place, a road map where you may actually be able to get from point A to point B without getting lost.

While the Senators were tinkering, fixing the fixables, other teams were making headlines.

Tampa let centre/winger Steven Stamkos walk (he got four years and $32 million in Nashville) and brought in winger Jake Guentzel at $63 million over seven seasons. The Predators also landed Jonathan Marchessault at $27.5 million over five years and defenceman Brady Skjei at $49 million over seven years.

Boston paid centre Elias Lindholm $54.45 million over seven seasons and bruising defenceman Nikita Zadorov for six years at $30 million.

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Seattle grabbed defenceman Brandon Montour at $50 million over seven years.

Defenceman Matt Roy got $34.5 million over six years from Washington.

Noah Gregor
Noah Gregor, left, will add some speed to the Ottawa Senators’ lineup. Photo by Megan Briggs /Getty Images

Winger Jordin Martinook might have been a nice fit in Ottawa, but Carolina got him for $9.15 million over three years. Another potential good fit, defenceman Calvin de Haan, got one year, $800,000, to play in Colorado.

For the Senators, this off-season is about overhauling a roster that was full of square pegs in round holes.

Any frustration, disappointment, maybe anger from the fan base is understandable. This is a franchise that hasn’t participated in a playoff game since 2016-17.

Starting with the acquisition of goalie Linus Ullmark from Boston, the Senators are trying to add experience, leadership and past success to the mix.

Maybe it’s hard to understand why the return on the trade of defenceman Jakob Chychrun to Washington was JUST Jensen (a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009) and a third-round draft pick in 2026. It seems like a mediocre haul when you consider the Senators gave up a first-round pick and two seconds to get Chychrun from Arizona a bit more than a year ago.

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A couple of things: First, the trade was not a good idea for Ottawa at the time and it grew into a worse idea. The addition of Chychrun meant the Senators were top heavy in left-shot defencemen. Adding his offensive skills also hurt the team in its own end. Realistically, the Senators had to know they were never going to get Chychrun signed beyond this coming year. With Jake Sanderson and Thomas Chabot each at a cap hit of around $8 million, they were never going to be able to keep Chychrun long term. There’s also this: Now a year from free agency, Chychrun’s trade value has dropped. Ottawa could have targeted more in the way of draft capital in a return, but what sense would that make? The team needs help now.

Nick Jensen
Nick Jensen, right, is a right-shot defenceman with more than 500 NHL games played. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

Back to the 33-year-old Jensen, a right-shot defenceman who has two years left at $4.05 million — he has only 134 points over 562 NHL games. There’s that experience Staios was talking about. He’s also played in 27 playoff games.

It looks like the top two defence pairings will be set with Sanderson, Artem Zub, Chabot and Jensen. Staios figures Tyler Kleven is a good bet to fill one of the third-pairing spots.

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“(This trade) gives us an opportunity to balance out the defence,” said Staios. “The market on right-handed defencemen is pretty lean. This deal, in particular, where we were getting a good, experienced right-shot defenceman, we felt like it was our best approach. You look back at all the talks and the offers; this one made sense and the timing was right.”

Perron, who had 17 goals and 30 points in 76 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season, will be paid $4 million each of the next two seasons. Along with an offensive touch that’s seen him score more than 15 goals in each of the past eight seasons, the 36-year-old adds a bit of feistiness to the lineup.

The Senators gave Amadio a three-year deal ($2.5 million, $2.8 million and $2.5 million) and Gregor a one-year, $850,000 deal. The speedy Gregor was added at the expense of Parker Kelly, who did not get a qualifying offer and became a free agent.

Internal growth will also be expected under a new head coach, Travis Green.

“It’s amazing what a bad year does and how much you can learn from that,” said Staios. “Our players have had a good chance to reflect and prepare for next season.

“Going back to our core group of players and their age and experience, when you’re wrapping them around the players we brought in, this is hopefully going to take them to the next level. (Today), we got depth and we got experience.”

Maybe it’s not enough. Maybe it doesn’t work.

But at least it seems like there’s a well-thought-out plan. Not sure you could say that much in recent years.

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