Ottawa Senators, Shane Pinto

Senators’ Latest Offer Is Pinto’s Best Option

Ottawa Senators general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion recently offered presumed star centreman Shane Pinto a one-year, $1 million contract according to Hockey Night in Canada’s (HNIC) Elliotte Friedman. The Pinto camp should take that offer and get the 22-year-old back to training camp. Pronto.

Before Pinto fans start to light their hair on fire and Dorion haters start burning him in effigy because of this, hear me out. I do not expect Pinto to be pleased with the offer. Nor do I expect the good burghers of Bytown to think it’s fair. 

Related: Senators Disrespect Pinto with 1-Year Contract Offer

Even so, this isn’t about what’s fair. It’s about what’s possible and neither do the Senators have the cap space now to pay Pinto the salt he’s worth nor Pinto any other option that’s better than accepting the team’s latest offer.

Why you ask? Let’s take a look!

Pinto Has No Bargaining Power

Pinto lacks the required number of games in the NHL to qualify as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) or a Group 2 restricted free agent (RFA). He finds himself a 10.2(c) player as defined by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and this puts him in a very poor bargaining position. He may only negotiate and sign a contract with Ottawa and may not even consider an offer sheet from another team. He is ineligible for arbitration. What’s more, the Senators are only legally obliged to give him a qualifying offer of $875,000.

Dorion has offered Pinto all the money he has under what now remains of the team’s cap space. And the fact that it’s a reported one-year offer is a strong signal to the Pinto side that the Senators know $1 million is well below what he’s worth and that they’ll make that right next year once more cap space opens up. At the same time, a one-year deal protects the Senators’ interests in that it keeps Pinto as an RFA next year.

Yes, it’s true that ideally Dorion should avoid rubbing the Pinto side’s nose in their sorry circumstances in 10.2(c). It’s also true that while the Senators may hold all the cards now, they can’t keep Pinto captive forever. In an ideal world, Dorion would find a way to give Pinto and his agent Lewis Gross their dignity without leaving themselves with no other option but to dump salary, willy-nilly, to sign him.

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators
Shane Pinto, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Yet we all live in the real world, and in that world, if Pinto doesn’t accept the Senators’ offer then what choice does he have other than sitting out a year? 

That puts him in a $1 million hole and isn’t good for his development. What’s more, if he played in Europe to continue his development and keep himself sharp, he’d risk injury – perhaps one that could end his career. 

Should the Senators Dump Salary to Sign Pinto?

A case could be made for the Senators to sign Pinto to a three or four-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) approaching $3 million. Recent RFA comparisons include the Montreal Canadiens’ Alex Newhook ($2.9 million for four years) and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Noah Cates ($2.625 million for two years). 

Related: Senators’ Pinto Contract Should Be Similar to Newhook’s with Habs

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Is Pinto worth that much? Sure he is. Yet right now, the Senators don’t have to pay him in this range and couldn’t even if they wanted to.

Money in the $2.5 million per year range is doable if Dorion moves enough salary out. Even so, that’s easier said than done. As Brad Treliving once put it in his days as GM in Calgary, “I can’t click my heels and make things happen. You have to have a trade partner. Nobody is ever done in this business — you’re always looking for ways to improve. But it has got to make sense. It doesn’t make any sense for us to give a player away for 50 cents on the dollar. Problem is, this isn’t fantasy hockey.” 

There is a long list of players that Senators fans want traded to create enough cap space to sign Pinto. Almost everybody was in agreement that winger Mathieu Joseph should be sent packing – that is until they saw his performance in training camp this year. One bad year the likes of his last season (three goals and 15 assists over a 56-game injury-shortened season) does not make a career. Dumping a player of his calibre in a panic to sign Pinto just doesn’t make business sense. 

Mathieu Joseph Ottawa Senators
Mathieu Joseph, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Some armchair GMs on the Rideau Canal like the idea of moving Dominik Kubalik perhaps along with Erik Brannstrom to create enough money to sign Pinto. Yet how does dumping Kubalik make sense before Dorion and company at least get a look at him in a Senators sweater in a regular season game? 

Related: Senators Fans Weigh In on Clearing Cap Space to Sign Pinto

Not only that, but given the Senators’ cap space limits they could only accept picks and prospects for him in a trade. How does a team whose time is now and in need of proven roster players trade a player like Kubalik for picks and prospects? 

As for punting Brannstrom, how does throwing a serviceable point man like him overboard, especially one whom the team has invested so much time and energy in developing make sense? Lassi Thomson is gone now and as good as Jacob Bernard-Docker is, he has not demonstrated an ability to crack the lineup on the blue line as a regular roster player much less replace a skater like Brannstrom. That leaves bringing in an old journeyman defenceman playing for the league minimum to replace him. It’s hard to see how that helps in the upcoming campaign.

Erik Brannstrom Ottawa Senators
Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What’s rarely talked about is whether Pinto will meet the expectations so many have of him. He’s just out of his rookie year and a bottom-six centre. Dumping proven roster players to sign a player like him to a long-term deal is risky.

What if Dorion Makes the Pinto Camp Angry?

Some observers say Dorion can’t risk refusing to give Pinto what he wants now lest the young man become so insulted, angry, and disillusioned with the Senators that he outright refuses to sign with the Senators next year. Or worse still, demands a trade immediately.

Come on! This is business and whether Pinto refuses to sign the Senators’ latest offer or accepts it and laces up for the 2023-24 season in a Senators sweater won’t change a thing at the negotiating table next year. As for demanding a trade, all I can say is demand all you want, Dorion won’t trade Pinto unless he’s offered a deal that helps his team now. And there’s fat chance of that.

Ottawa Senators Pierre Dorion
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Pinto and his team are business people and both they and the Senators know that next year he will have bargaining power and be able to get what he’s worth. If the Senators offer him the most money, he’ll sign in Ottawa. If they don’t then he’ll be gone, but that will hurt because the Senators will be a Cup contender for a few years to come and everybody including Pinto wants to play for one.

Dorion Guilty of Mismanagement in Not Being Able to Sign Pinto

Can pundits make the case that the Senators are unable now to sign Pinto because Dorion has mismanaged the club? Sure they can. They’ll point to $5 million in dead cap space tied up with Matt Murray, Colin White, Michael Del Zotto and Bobby Ryan. They’ll also lay on Dorion what they feel are a few unnecessary player signings this year.

But what of it? Nothing can be done about these contracts and pointing to them is a waste of time when it comes to solving the Pinto problem. At best, they’re all discussion points in some future Dorion performance review with team owner Michael Andlauer.

Besides, there are plenty of GMs around the league who have made deals they come to regret and struggle to manage their cap space. If they weren’t, I’d say they’re not trying hard enough to win a Cup. Dorion deserves no special condemnation on this count.

Pinto Will Sign Dorion’s Deal for 2023-24

I’m not arguing that Pinto will be happy signing the contract proposal Dorion has put before him. But he will and he’ll do it before opening night on Oct. 11. That’s a certainty and you heard it here first!

The reason is simple – it’s because any other option he has before him right now is far less attractive than committing to Dorion’s deal. Look for an announcement that the two sides have come to terms sometime during the next seven days.

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