The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is fast approaching, and teams have the majority of their focus on the draft. But teams will also need to keep an eye just past the draft, to July 1 and the start of free agency. The opening day of free agency is one of the biggest days on the hockey calendar, and that should be the case for the Ottawa Senators.
Related: Senators 2019 NHL Draft Guide
The team is entering the second year of their rebuild and there should be an influx of youth in the roster. However, thanks to the salary cap floor, teams can’t fill their rosters with entry-level deals. They need some players making more than that to be compliant. The Senators have a few of those players already in Bobby Ryan, Mikkel Boedker, Zach Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But in free agency, they can help get themselves to the cap floor.
It’s also important for the Senators that they bring in players that can help guide the team’s youth. They need some seasoned veterans who know what it takes to go far in the playoffs, having spent their own time going through the grind of post-season. Finally, the team needs to be relatively competitive. For the good of the young players on the team, they can’t go out every single night and lose by a big margin. That will kill their confidence as they start their careers and they’ll get used to losing. They need some wins under their belts, as few as they may be.
With all that in mind, here are five players that the Senators could look to sign in 2019 free agency.
Could the prodigal son return to Ottawa? The Senators drafted Jason Spezza second-overall back in 2001, and he helped them to some of their best seasons in franchise history. In over 11 seasons with the Senators, he collected 251 goals and 436 assists for 687 points. He added another 52 postseason points in 56 games. He was then traded to the Dallas Stars in 2015.
Spezza is coming off back-to-back eight-goal seasons with 26 and 27 points, the lowest totals of his career (in seasons with over 35 games played), and there’s no reason to think he’s poised for a bounce-back. If the Senators could get him on a one to two-year, $2 million deal, it would be the best-case scenario. Bring back a fan-favourite player on a low-term deal and he can mentor the kids.
Related: Senators Should Bring Spezza Back
Spezza could be the perfect addition to the young Senators. He has the veteran experience needed to mentor the youth, after declining seasons he’s not likely to get a very long or overly expensive deal, and if he does perform well, they could always flip him at the trade deadline. Although, Senators fans may not be able to handle two Spezza trades in one lifetime.
If Spezza doesn’t head to Ottawa, Brian Boyle could be another centreman that the team targets. Boyle would likely just be a fourth-liner, but could also chip in on the penalty kill, where the team was 23rd in the league (79.2%) in 2018-19.
Boyle’s biggest attribute would be his presence in the locker room though. He’s an established veteran, playing 14 seasons in the NHL to date. His value is well-known, after being traded for a second-round pick this season from the New Jersey Devils to the Nashville Predators.
Boye’s coming off of a deal with a cap hit of $2.55 million, but that number should come down a bit. Even if the Senators signed the 34-year-old to a two-year deal worth $2.25-2.5 million, it would be an expense well worth it for his leadership.
Justin “Mr. Game Seven” Williams has already shown what he can do for a young team. He’s coming off of a two-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, scoring 51 and 53 points and playing all 82 games each season. After missing the playoffs in 2017-18, he helped the team make the post-season in 2018-19.
They went on an improbable run, defeating the Stanley Cup-defending Washington Capitals and sweeping the New York Islanders before getting swept themselves by the Boston Bruins.
The veteran was also a big part of the Hurricanes’ “Storm Surge” this past season. Williams wanted to inject some fun into both the team and the fanbase, and he did that while attracting the attention of the entire league. For a Senators group that is coming off the least-fun season imaginable, they could use Williams’ attitude.
The three-time Stanley Cup winner is a proven leader as the captain of the Hurricanes, still has a knack for putting points on the board and would definitely help the Senators reach the cap floor. If the team could sign him to a one or two-year deal in the range of $3-3.5 million, it could be a great addition to the young squad. The Senators are light on the right wing, and Willams could help fill that void.
Speaking of right-wingers, Troy Brouwer could be another one that the Senators take a look at. He won’t help them too much in the cap department, as he’s coming off of an $850,000 deal with the Florida Panthers, but it’s a start. Williams would be the ideal signing for the wing, but Brouwer could be the team’s second choice.
Brouwer is a veteran forward and a Stanley Cup champion. He likely wouldn’t be a top-six player but would be a very good role model for the young players coming up. He is a three-time 20-goal scorer, so he could chip in offensively as well.
He has been through it all, from the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, being bought out by the Calgary Flames in 2018, he’s been traded (twice) and has been a free agent. Any questions the young players have, he’ll have an answer.
Brouwer wouldn’t be too expensive, likely $1 million max. He’s younger than the two above at 33 years old and could sign on for two to three years to provide that leadership to the prospects coming up through the ranks until they are ready to take over the team.
Finally, we come to Richard Panik. Panik is a bit different than the others on this list, starting with his age. He’s 28-years-old, but still a veteran compared to the majority of the current Senators players. The right wing player might be one of the most intriguing options for the Senators in free agency.
Panik is a good player when given the opportunity. With the Blackhawks in 2016-17, he had 22 goals and 44 assists in 82 games. This past season with the Arizona Coyotes, he played in 72 games scoring 14 goals and 33 points. He’s not a top-line guy, but he can provide offence.
As mentioned, the right wing is an area of need for the Senators. Panik could hold down a spot on that side for two or three years while the young players get a grasp at the NHL level. Signing him to a deal at that length for around $3 million would give him a small increase from his expiring $2.8 million cap hit and would help the Senators towards that cap floor.
He may be chased by other teams, so he might end up being more expensive than the others on the list due to his age and to entice him to sign in Ottawa rather than another city.
What to Expect From the Senators in Free Agency
The Senators are going to make some changes, and general manager Pierre Dorion is ready to do it. Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch recently reported that the team is interested in adding one or two veterans via trade or free agency. (from: “Dorion ready to make changes as Senators head to NHL draft” – Ottawa Sun – June 15, 2019).
This is a good sign, adding veterans will keep some young prospects with the AHL’s Belleville Senators and allow them to develop more. At the same time, the additions can help mentor those in the NHL.
As for who they might sign in free agency, they should be leaning towards forwards. They already have two veterans on defence in Mark Borowiecki and Dylan DeMelo. They also have plenty of young players at the position that have already been in the NHL or are ready to be. With Craig Anderson and recently re-signed Anders Nilsson in net, goaltenders aren’t needed.
Up front makes the most sense for the eventual newcomers. While it’s hard to imagine the Senators dishing out a great deal of money, they currently have $36 million in cap space and are far from the cap floor. They’ll have to spend some, and the five players mentioned above could be at the top of their list.