Senators 2021 Free Agency Preview: Needs, targets, issues

The Ottawa Senators used their 10th overall pick to select Tyler Boucher in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

It isn’t every hockey organization that would have its summer shopping program set out by the team owner.

But that is exactly what happened with the Ottawa Senators this spring. In a podcast interview with Bob McCown and John Shannon, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said he had identified the Senators' two immediate needs after speaking with head coach D.J. Smith: a veteran, first-line centre and a good defensive defenceman.

As far as we can tell, that top-down thinking still stands. With the free agency period set to launch Wednesday, the Senators will aim to fill those needs, either through UFA signings or trade.

Keep in mind that last off-season, which leaked into December due to the pandemic, Ottawa made nearly all of its acquisitions via trade, NOT free agency. Goaltender Matt Murray, defencemen Erik Gudbranson and Braydon Coburn plus forwards Derek Stepan, Austin Watson and Cedric Paquette were all added in trades.

Forward Evgenii Dadonov was the big free agent signing in 2020 -- the UFA from the Florida Panthers was given a three year, $15-million deal. That move may not exactly embolden Ottawa to rush back to the UFA pool, considering Dadonov was signed to help the power play and failed to score a single PP goal. On the bright side, he is due for a rebound year.

Out of all these players above, only Murray, Watson and Dadonov remain on the roster -- and Murray and Dadonov were both exposed in the Seattle expansion draft. Neither was taken.

The Senators do not have a history of making major splashes on “free agent frenzy” day, but tend to weigh in with lower-profile signings. And more recently, as cited, have opted for the trade route, acquiring veteran players with a year or two left on their contracts. We will soon see if 2021 is any different. Also, keep in mind the Senators have some major RFA business to attend to -- getting forwards Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson signed to new contracts.

Salary cap space: $29M
Roster size: 21
Salary committed to forwards: $23M
Salary committed to defence: $18M
Salary committed to goalies: $7M

Potential free agent targets

Some of these are pie-in-the-sky for the historically UFA-timid Senators, but general manager Pierre Dorion will be kicking the tires on many scenarios this week. What follows are a few possibilities, depending on how the market shakes out.

David Savard, 30, defence

Savard brings everything the Senators could be looking for in a veteran defensive defenceman to provide stability to Ottawa’s young blue line corps. Unfortunately, the rest of the hockey world has also seen what Savard provided for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning -- a rock solid, physical presence.

After coming over from Columbus at the trade deadline, Savard worked nicely with Mikhail Sergachev as a third pair on Tampa’s embarrassment-of-riches D-corps, allowing Sergachev to play a more offensive style. Who couldn’t see the right-shot Savard fitting in alongside Thomas Chabot, allowing him to roam at will?

Despite Tampa’s depth, Savard actually saw his ice time climb from 19:38 per game with the Blue Jackets to 20:26 with the Lightning. Savard had a combined 132 hits and 109 blocks last season and he had nearly as many points in the playoffs (five) as in the entire regular season (six). There will be widespread interest in Savard, who had a cap hit of $4.25 million last season, in the final year of a five-year deal worth $21.25 million. Savard will be looking for a raise on a multi-year deal.

Montreal is expected to go hard after Savard to replace captain and defensive pillar Shea Weber who is confronting career-threatening injuries.

Ryan Murray, 27, defence

Murray is still young enough to provide some experience for a few seasons until Ottawa’s young guns like Jake Sanderson, Jacob-Bernard Docker and others mature into NHL regulars.

At six-foot-one, 206 pounds, Murray brings ample size and has developed into a decent defensive defenceman. In 48 games with the New Jersey Devils last season Murray chipped in 14 assists while playing close to 19 minutes per game. Murray has some pedigree. He was a second overall draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012 out of the WHL (Everett). Murray’s cap hit last season was $4.6M.

Mikael Granlund, 29, centre/ left wing

Nothing flashy here. Signing Granlund is hardly going to cause a stampede to the Senators' box office, but Granlund has been a pretty dependable and versatile two-way forward for Minnesota and Nashville over the years.

Though he has always left you wanting a little more as far as reaching his ceiling, Granlund was a 69-point player as a 24-year-old with the Wild and logged close to 20 minutes per game with the Predators last season while producing 13 goals and 27 points in 51 games with Nashville. His faceoff percentage was close to 52 per cent.

Granlund had a cap hit of $3.75 million last season and is believed to be looking for about $5 million per year on a three-year deal. That could be a bit rich for the Senators.

Phillip Danault, 28, centre

What could add more spice to an already hot rivalry with the Habs than signing one of their playoff heroes from Montreal’s stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final? Danault might not be a big point producer (24 points in 53 games), but the Senators have plenty of scoring potential with Tkachuk, Batherson, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle etc. that they could really benefit from Danault’s mastery as a defensive centre.

With young centres Norris and Shane Pinto still learning that side of the game, Danault would be a great fit as a two-way centre on one of the top two lines. Danault reportedly turned down a six-year, $30 million offer from the Canadiens before the season. It will be interesting to see where his next contract checks in.

Other calls to make: Defencemen Brandon Montour, Ryan Suter. Forwards Tyler Bozak, David Krejci, Paul Stastny.

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