The Ottawa Senators have answered a lot of roster questions during this rare October “off-season.”
To the prevailing query -- “Where will the goals come from?” -- the Senators shot back on Thursday with the free agent signing of former Florida Panthers winger Evgenii Dadonov.
Dadonov, 31, signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $5 million. The contract is back-loaded, such that Dadonov will receive $3.5M in 2020-21, $5M in 2021-22 and $6.5M in 2022-23.
“He’s someone we targeted when free agency started,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said on a Zoom call. “For us he’s someone who brings great offensive baggage to the table. He’s someone that scores legit goals. He can really shoot it. He’s smart offensively and he competes to be able to score goals.”
In the Senators background checks, they discovered Dadonov is not a vocal player in the room but leads by example, including a strong practice ethic. He is also known for his physical conditioning, so Ottawa is not concerned about any dip in his play over the final couple years of the deal.
Asked where Dadonov might slot in on D.J. Smith’s lineup card, Dorion said he would leave that to his head coach, but added: “we know he’ll be on the first power play, because he’s got a proven track record on the power play.”
In fact, Dadonov scored a career-high 11 power play goals last season, many of them from the tight slot area.
As for the line combinations, some of those who like to chart lines online already have Dadonov on the right wing of a first unit, with Brady Tkachuk on the left side and Josh Norris at centre. That could work.
Somewhat surprisingly for a budget team like the Senators, Dorion has been among the busiest GMs this month, having traded for or signed via free agency such additions as goaltender Matt Murray, defencemen Josh Brown and Erik Gudbranson, and gritty forward Austin Watson. RFA centre Nick Paul was also re-signed. All this while also acquiring three first-round draft picks last week: forward Tim Stuetzle, defenceman Jake Sanderson and forward Ridly Greig. Add in such AHL prospects as Norris, Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson among others, and there is a buzz around this team.
With the signings, the Senators burst through the $60-million salary mark. Cap floor issues? What cap floor issues?
“We feel we’re significantly better,” Dorion said. “I’m excited for our fans, I’m excited for the product we’re going to put on the ice. I’m excited because I think we’re going to be harder to play against but at the same time we’re going to be just as talented.
“I don’t think we’re done,” Dorion added, with emphasis. “Not that we’re going to do anything blockbuster, but there is still lots of work to be done. We’re going to take it step by step.”
With the departures over the past couple of seasons of such proven scorers as Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene, the Senators were in need of a forward who could put the puck in the net. Winger Anthony Duclair, who led Ottawa with 23 goals last season, declined an opportunity to seek arbitration as an RFA and is currently a free agent.
In Dadonov, the Senators are getting a consistent 25-goal man. Wth the Panthers over the past three years, Dadonov had 28, 28 and 25 goals. In 69 games in 2019-20, Dadonov was fourth in team scoring with 47 points, including 25 goals, second only to Mike Hoffman’s 29.
At five-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Dadonov has been a durable player for Florida, missing just eight of the Panthers’ 233 regular season games dating back to 2017-18. A left-hand shot, Dadonov usually lined up on the right wing of the second line for Florida -- alongside Hoffman on the left side and Lucas Wallmark at centre. Hoffman and Dadonov both ventured into free agency this fall.
A native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, Dadonov was drafted in the third round (71st overall) of the 2007 NHL draft by Florida. His path to a regular job in the NHL was hardly routine. After three seasons of moving up and down between AHL Rochester and Florida, never scoring more than 17 goals in a single AHL season, Dadonov returned to Russia and rediscovered his scoring touch.
In five KHL seasons with Donbass HC and St. Petersburg SKA, Dadonov produced 101 goals. His best season was 2016-17, his final one in the KHL, when Dadonov had 30 goals and 36 assists in 53 games. He added 19 points in 18 playoff games with St. Petersburg.
That was good enough for seventh place among league playoff scorers and St. Petersburg was crowned KHL champs that season.
Dadonov is no stranger to international play with Russia. In 2014 he was part of the Russian team that won the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Belarus. He also won gold at the 2007 world junior U-18 championship in Finland. Dadonov twice participated in the U-20 world juniors, including in the dramatic 2009 tournament in Ottawa.
In the semi-final game against Canada, Dadonov and the Russians held a 5-4 lead late in the third period when Russia iced the puck, leading to a Jordan Eberle tying goal with five seconds left in regulation. Canada, coached by Pat Quinn, won the shootout and went on to beat Sweden for the gold medal.
Thumbs up on Stuetzle’s surgery
According to Dorion, Stuetzle’s surgery in Germany on Thursday to repair a hand fracture went well.
“I know our medical staff spoke to him directly,” Dorion said. “Everything is positive. At the same time we look forward to him rejoining Mannheim in six to eight weeks and coming to play for the Ottawa Senators in the upcoming season.”
Any concern about Stuetzle being able to break free of his commitment to play for Mannheim of the DEL will be worked out in an upcoming entry level contract, Dorion said.
“Once we start contract negotiations with Tim Stuetzle we’ll make sure everything is taken care of,” Dorion said.