By the nature of their rebuild, the Ottawa Senators were never going to be as vulnerable as the veteran NHL clubs making their protected lists for the Seattle expansion draft.
Some of Ottawa’s best and brightest players didn’t have to be protected because they are in their first two professional seasons. For example, forwards like Josh Norris and Tim Stützle and defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker were automatically protected.
And yet, there remain some intriguing names on the Senators' list of available players, from goaltenders Matt Murray and Joey Daccord to winger Evgenii Dadonov, who was brought in from the Florida Panthers last season to boost Ottawa’s power play (Determination: Fail). Journeyman defenceman Josh Brown is another possibility.
Drake Batherson, Connor Brown, Logan Brown, Nick Paul, Brady Tkachuk, Auston Watson, Colin White.
Thomas Chabot, Victor Mete, Nikita Zaitsev.
Possible Seattle targets
G Joey Daccord
My hunch is that the Senators really hope the Kraken take a pass on goaltender Daccord for one of the other Ottawa players available, but the Senators felt compelled to protect Gustavson, 23, who played so well last season when injuries hit Murray and his backup Marcus Hogberg. It might have been Daccord’s net to lose if the 24-year-old out of Arizona State had not suffered a high ankle sprain in mid-March, which kept him out for the rest of the season. Daccord, a real battler with a ton of personality, is loved by his teammates and would be a good depth addition for Seattle. Daccord comes dirt cheap with an AAV of $750,000 over the next two years. He would earn $300,000 in the minors in 2021-22. His final contract year is guaranteed at $800,000.
Murray is also available but his difficult start to last season combined with a $6.25M cap hit for the next three seasons will likely keep him in Ottawa, at least for now.
F Evgenii Dadonov
Last October, when Ottawa signed the free-agent winger to a three-year contract at a $5 million AAV, no one imagined he would be made available to the Kraken in July. But there are a few reasons it made sense for the Senators to leave the 32-year-old "Daddy" off their protected list. For one, Dadonov, a three-time 25-goal scorer with the Panthers, produced 11 power goals in his last Florida season, 2019-20. With Ottawa, Dadonov didn’t score a single power-play goal and had just one assist with the man advantage. Overall, Dadonov had 13 goals and 20 points — tied for seventh in Senators scoring with defensive winger Nick Paul. That has to go down as a major disappointment, although no one had any concerns with Dadonov’s effort or attitude.
The Senators are pursuing more scoring via free agency and trade and can probably find better value than Dadonov’s two-years remaining at $5 million. Seattle assistant coach Paul McFarland was with Dadonov in Florida and could influence the Kraken decision one way or the other.
If Seattle is looking for a proven, steady-Eddie type of veteran centre, then Tierney, 27, could be a fit. While he won’t win any fastest-skater competitions, Tierney is dependable, has good hockey sense and can kill penalties. Tierney is only under contract for one more season with a cap hit of $3.5 million. With Ottawa, Tierney slipped down the depth chart this past season and missed a ton of scoring chances while producing six goals and 19 points. Tierney’s faceoff work really tailed off, which didn’t curry any favour with the coaching staff. Tierney won just 45.5 per cent of his draws, and only 42 per cent on the road. In 2019-20, Tierney had been an above-average face-off performer at 51.18 per cent.
Salary cap outlook
With a projected cap hit of just $53 million, the Senators have the luxury of cap space, at least for now. That will change when contracts are handed out to RFA forwards Tkachuk, Batherson, goaltender Gustavsson and defenceman Victor Mete this summer — and even more so down the road as Norris, Stützle and others grow into big contracts. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has said publicly that Ottawa needs a skilled scoring forward and a shutdown defenceman, either via free agency or trade. The Senators are rumoured to have interest in centre Ryan Strome of the New York Rangers. Strome, 28, has one year left on his deal at $5M, but his cap hit is lower than that, at $4.5 million. Strome is on the Rangers’ protected list.
Will the Senators sign any of their own unrestricted free agents? The pickings are slim. There’s a remote possibility that one of the UFA wingers Ryan Dzingel or Artem Anisimov, could be re-signed, if they are unable to sign new contracts elsewhere and return to Ottawa on inexpensive contracts. Both players were a decent fit here. Anisimov never complained about being a healthy scratch and Dzingel has been humbled by his NHL travels and seemed to appreciate what he had in Ottawa — in two separate stints here. I don’t see Ottawa touching a new contract with UFA forward Derek Stepan.
All in all, expect a busy summer for the Senators, weighing free agent possibilities, signing their own key RFA players Tkachuk and Batherson and looking to make trades to improve their roster for the here and now.