The Ottawa Senators are once again a "must watch" team early in the season. Any team that such a decisively positive summer would be. How are all the changes going to come together, and could they challenge for a playoff spot? Just what does Jake Sanderson do in his rookie season, and will Tim Stutzle take another big step in Year 3 after signing a big money, long-term extension?
But there is one big area of potential concern here. All of Ottawa's splashy upgrades came up front and even the goaltending was upgraded with Cam Talbot. The blue line is where the issues may begin. Ottawa allowed the sixth-most shots against per game in the NHL last season and rookie Jake Sanderson was their only notable addition. As Adam Vingan pointed out this week, turnovers and clearing the defensive zone was an issue for Ottawa's defencemen in 2021-22.
GM Pierre Dorion admitted in his pre-camp media session that finding ways to improve the blue line is a priority this season and pointed out they have the cap flexibility to make a move. According to Cap Friendly, the Senators have a projected $5.6 million in cap space right now.
Dating back to last season, one of the players most mentioned with Ottawa in trade rumours was Jakob Chychrun.
"The team that's been hot in the Jakob Chychrun rumour mill all summer has been Ottawa," Elliotte Friedman said on the 32 Thoughts podcast. "I don't think it's wrong. I think I've said before I'm not convinced it's ever been close. I've had some people say it's never been as close as it's been hinted at times. But the conversations have been there off and on."
Chychrun scored 18 goals in 56 games two seasons ago, but was limited to 47 games last season to injury. He needed to have bone spurs removed from his ankle and have wrist surgery in the summer, so Chychrun wasn't ready to start camp with the Coyotes last week. It's not yet clear when he will be cleared to hit the ice.
There is intriguing upside here with a 24-year-old defenceman who can play top pair minutes, produce, and still has three years left on a contract that pays just $4.6 million against the cap.
What would the price of acquisition be? Jeff Marek mentioned that Arizona was believed to be hoping for something along the lines of the 2011 Brent Burns-to-San Jose trade, which was 22-goal man Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick. At the time that was one established 24-year-old NHL player who was taken in the first round, a first-round prospect from the year before, and a fresh first-rounder. Three first-round picks, if you will.
Would the Senators meet that price?
"I think one of the players Arizona liked was Shane Pinto from Ottawa and I think Ottawa has made it very clear they're not doing that."
The Senators surely won't be the only team in on Chychrun and while we could rhyme off a list of other possible suitors from St. Louis to Toronto, Vancouver and beyond, there are probably a few others quietly lurking in the weeds.
This rumour won't be going anywhere soon. Though currently injured, Chychrun did confirm last week that his preference was to find a trade out of Arizona.
"I don't want these years to keep going by and be 10, 12 years in and not had a real good chance at not only the playoffs, but winning the Stanley Cup," Chychrun said. "That's really my mentality and where I'm at and I think the team understands that, to get moved to a situation with a chance to win and a team that's fighting for the Stanley Cup."
Ottawa's not there yet, but seem to aggressively be moving in the desired direction.
ARE THERE CUT-OFF NEGOTIATION DATES FOR ANY BIG UFAs?
Not every player likes to keep talking contract once a season as started. Just last season Johnny Gaudreau set a pre-season deadline to negotiate with the Flames before opening it back up in the summer, and he stuck to that. Others don't mind.
On the podcast, Jeff and Elliotte discussed a few big pending UFAs and if there was a thought that any one of them may have a deadline of regular season puck drop to get an extension in.
Beginning with Calgary's MacKenzie Weegar, the underrated and hugely impactful part of the Matthew Tkachuk trade. He arrives making $3.25 million against Calgary's cap and, if left unsigned, could become the best and most sought-after defender on the open market at 29 years old. Last week Weegar said the two sides were trying to get something done before the start of the season.
Is that a hard deadline?
"From what I understand right now I believe Weegar's goal is to say 'we have this done by the start of the season or we stop talking,'" Friedman said. "Even he said at the beginning of training camp that there was reason to believe it was worked out, and I do think the two sides are taking a run at it. But one of the things I’ve heard is that his preference is once the puck drops, shelve it."
How about Bo Horvat in Vancouver?
The Canucks captain is coming off a career-high 31-goal season and with the Canucks having already spent tons on re-upping J.T. Miller instead of finding a trade for him. In conversation with Iain MacIntyre, GM Patrik Allvin said he was "maybe" optimistic something would get done with Horvat before the start of the season, that "deals like this take time," and that he was still communicating with Horvat's side.
It's unclear if those talks could continue into the season if no deal is struck first.
"I've heard mixed things. I thought at the beginning of the summer, and I think he did too, that this one was going to get worked out in the summer," Friedman noted. "I've heard he won't talk once the puck drops, but I've heard that's not completely set in stone. So I'm not committing to this one yet. I still want to believe this one will get done, but I think there's a lot of uncertainty in terms of where this is going."
The biggest pending free agent of all, though, resides in Boston, where 26-year-old 40-goal winger David Pastrnak has a decision to make. Yes, the Bruins brought back the band and are pushing forward, but will that make Pastrnak more likely to sign for maximum term? Would he consider something less?
It may take time for this one to play out.
"One of the things I heard about Pastrnak is he's not afraid to continue discussions into the season," Friedman said. "I don't believe there's a hard deadline here."