The Ottawa Senators just had the kind of horrible season that could conceivably get high-level hockey personnel axed.
Instead, in the midst of a campaign that saw Ottawa finish second-last overall one year after coming within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup final, general manager Pierre Dorion received a three-year contract extension.
When owner Eugene Melnyk announced the new pact for Dorion a couple weeks ahead of the late-February trade deadline, he signalled that the GM who has been in Ottawa’s front office for over a decade will oversee a rebuilt — quite possibly a serious one.
Many still believe the turnover will start with the trading of star defenceman Erik Karlsson, who has one year remaining before he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. Dorion has a number of big decisions this off-season, but getting a boatload of tasty futures in any deal that involves Karlsson is far and away his most critical task.
Salary cap space: $14,624,167
Unrestricted Free Agents
Chris Wideman, D, $800,000
Restricted Free Agents
Mark Stone, RW, $3.5 million
Codi Ceci, D, $2.8 million
Fredrik Claesson, D, $650,000
2018 Draft Picks
1st, 1st (from Pittsburgh), 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th (from NY Rangers)
Biggest off-season need
If the Senators were trying to win next year, we’d be talking about how they require help everywhere.
Ottawa surrendered 3.46 goals per game, worse than every team in the league save the New York Islanders. Starter Craig Anderson was one of only two goalies — the other being Carolina’s Scott Darling — to play at least 40 games and post a sub-.900 save percentage. The Senators weren’t much better at the other end, either, with an offence that produced just 2.67 goals per game to rank 25th in the NHL.
But we don’t believe Ottawa is concerned with immediate results. That being the case, the organization’s most-pressing need is making sure its trade chips are swapped for a bevy of picks and prospects that can build a better tomorrow.
The most intriguing name rumoured to be heading out the door besides Karlsson’s is that of 28-year-old Mike Hoffman. The left winger has two years remaining on a contract with a very palatable $5.2-million cap hit. Hoffman has never scored 30 goals, but is a good bet to do that and more if positioned on a line with top-tier talent. Ottawa’s asking price will and should be high.
Centre Zack Smith is another asset Dorion figures to peddle and you have to think he’s listening on everyone save defenceman Thomas Chabot and, possibly, 26-year-old RFA Mark Stone.
Possible off-season targets
Sam Reinhart: Rebuilding teams should have an eye out for young players with pedigree who have not been a perfect fit with the franchise that drafted them. The 22-year-old Reinhart has been mentioned as a possible casualty of Buffalo’s own deck-shuffling and with two 20-goal seasons on his resume, he’s certainly worthy of a long look.
Jason Spezza: OK, maybe not actually Spezza — there’s a little too much history there. But like Reinhart, Spezza serves as an avatar for one type of player Ottawa should be monitoring — i.e. an overpaid guy his current team could move as opposed to buy out provided its willing to include a draft pick of some kind in the transaction. We know Melnyk doesn’t like spending money, but rebuilds call for creativity and hard decisions. If you only have to pay a guy for a year or two — Spezza, for what it’s worth, is owed $7.5 million for one more season — you must consider it.