With some excellent drafting, some smart trades for young players and some great work in general within the organization to develop from within, the Senators now find themselves with one of the deepest and strongest prospect pools in the NHL.
And while it's a nice problem to have, there will be some tough decisions to make in the next few years in terms of players needing new contracts. Needless to say, things can change dramatically through trades, injuries or if a player suddenly hits the wall, but here's how the next few seasons look as of now in terms of potential renewals. (source for all contract info: Capgeek.com)
- UFAs: Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin, Peter Regin, Andre Benoit, Hugh Jessiman and Nathan Lawson.
The captain looks rejuvenated this year despite a bit of a slow start. His comments about how much fun he's having and the jump in his step seem to make retirement a silly question. I personally think we'll see Alfie back next year and wouldn't even be shocked to see him sign a two year deal. Making only $1M this season (cap hit $4.875M), Alfie can pretty much set his price in a new deal. Though given his history of signing hometown discounts, I would expect his cap hit to drop slightly going forward.
Nobody can deny that Gonchar has stepped up this year. Debate still rages over the idea of bringing him back though (or even moving him at the deadline). At $5.5M in the final year of his 3-year deal, I have to assume that even if he comes back it will be for less money. Which probably means he takes his chances elsewhere. That should mean we have $5.5M of "cap floor/budget" to spend elsewhere.
Despite a horrible start (or lack thereof given his injuries), Latendresse has shown a bit of promise in a very small sample size since coming back from injury. Still young (only 25 years old) it's possible that Murray looks to extend Latendresse beyond next season. Given his injury history and the notion that we already did him a favor giving him a contract this year, I can't see him getting any kind of raise if we do bring him back.
Lundin was another off-season signing that had an injury-plagued start of the year. At best, he lived up to the 6/7 depth signing he was thought to be. Given the emergence of several younger players I'd be surprised if Lundin is back next year.
Ottawa seems to have a bunch of pending free agents that haven't played well enough (or often enough) to draw interest from other teams as rentals but who have been showing tiny flashes that might tempt Murray to resign them. Regin was a bit of a gamble signing going into this year (a small one given the $200k pay cut he took) but one would have to call it another gamble to extend him at this point. With so much depth up front I would expect Regin is wished good luck in his future endeavors.
Now a fixture on the Senators NHL roster, Benoit was originally brought in to add some stability to Bingo and potentially be an emergency D that could step in and not hurt the club. Little did anyone know what "emergency" really meant. Benoit's smart move would be to test his luck on the free agent market and see if some GM will sign him to a multi-year deal. Murray might beat them to it if he has no plans to bring Gonchar or Lundin back.
Jessiman probably earned himself another contract in Bingo (depending on roster space) but with the Hammond signing, plus two junior goalies in the fold, I would imagine Lawson will be allowed to walk.
- RFAs: Patrick Wiercioch, Erik Condra, Ben Bishop, Dave Dziurzynski, Stephane DaCosta, Mike Hoffman, Mark Borowiecki, Corey Cowick and Louie Caporusso.
Bishop will get moved before the next season is underway, so he's not part of the contract discussion really. Wiercioch is the interesting one in this group. He's had an excellent season but is still "unproven" enough that he'll likely sign a transitional deal (2-3 years, under $2M per year). Murray might take a risk here and try to lock him up longer but with so much youth on the blue line I'm not sure it's worth the gamble.
Condra seems like a guy that will be around for a while. Coaches love him, he's versatile and if there's one positive to being snake-bitten it's that he should come cheap. With Zack Smith signed comfortably under $2M per year, Condra shouldn't expect much over $1.5M per year. Though he showed up nicely this season while in Ottawa, I imagine Borowiecki will be looking at another two-way contract, as will the rest of the RFA forwards in Bingo. Even if Hoffman plays some NHL games before the end of the year there's just not enough time to force a one-way deal for himself.
2014-2015 Season Planning
- Potential UFAs: Milan Michalek, Chris Phillips, Colin Greening, Matt Kassian, Pat Cannone and Tyler Eckford
Kassian, Cannone and Eckford aren't likely in the long-term plans of Bryan and Tim Murray (though I suppose they have some time to change that). Michalek is an interesting case however. Most "experts" will point out that he's a bargain at his current cap hit of just over $4M, but injury problems continue to haunt him. If he plays every game before the deadline next year then I expect Murray will look into another contract. Maybe Michalek will sign another cap-friendly contract. He'll be pushing 30 though and potentially looking for a bigger deal. Will Chris Phillips be looking to retire at the end of his current contract? He'll only be 36 and while he's clearly not the same as he was in his prime, he's been a key piece this season. Many Sens fans balked at the last contract renewal but if he's willing to sign another 2 year deal at $2.5M per year would you keep him in your third pairing? Greening could go either way as well. On any given night he's a top line winger or a fourth line grinder. If there's room in our bottom six I'd expect him to be resigned to a cheap deal but of course if he's spent some time between now and then tipping in Jason Spezza's passes he might look for more money and be sent packing.
- Potential RFAs: Robin Lehner, Jakob Silfverberg, Jared Cowen, Jim O'Brien, Eric Gryba and half the Bingo roster
So here's where it gets really interesting. Lehner is the heir apparent and backstop of the future. Craig Anderson will have one more year on his deal when Lehner is an RFA. It's hard to imagine that Lehner won't be an NHL #1 by then (even if it's a 1A/1B situation). On the surface, it might look like that's a year too soon to be convenient, but I submit that with Anderson still having a year left on his deal at just over $3M (and hopefully still one of the best in the NHL) that Murray's actually in a very good negotiating position. Any long-term deal would seem to promise the #1 job to Lehner eventually but there's no rush to pay through the nose. Silfverberg is a guy many Sens fans think will somehow be the next Alfie. More impartial predictions have him as an excellent two-way winger who might provide more secondary scoring than most. But certainly by this point the Senators will have a good idea what they've got.
It's hard to predict what will happen with him or with Cowen, who missed the entire season but was expected by most fans to emerge as our #2D. If Cowen picks right up where he left off he'll be in line for a decent raise for sure. But a full year off can derail even the most promising young player. What we might see with one or more of these three players is the Smith/Kyle Turris treatment. Murray signed both players to extensions a year ahead of schedule. By doing so, most feel he got a discount but of course took a bit of a risk that they'd continue to develop. So far it looks like the risk paid off somewhat, though we won't know for another season or two.
Might Murray sign Silfverberg to an extension this summer before he plays a full season next year (presumably against lesser checkers than he's faced this year on an injury-riddled team)? Might he trust his training staff and coaches during training camp in 2013 and ink Cowen to an extension before he can increase his value on the ice? Or are agents getting wise to that tactic and might they encourage their clients to hold out?
If the Murray's can navigate all the potential complications over the next 18 months, their work doesn't get any easier. Jason Spezza's contract is up at the end of 2015. Will we have a new #1C by then? Mark Methot will be looking for a new deal that same summer. Will he still have great chemistry with Erik Karlsson? Mika Zibanejad's ELC expires in 2015 as do some players that might (by then) be key parts of the future in Mark Stone, Fredrik Claesson, Shane Prince and J.G. Pageau.
And then there's the matter of Craig Anderson. Will he be traded before his contract expires? Or will he be just too dang good to move? Thankfully the contracts of Cody Ceci, Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel will have slid a year (or maybe two in Ceci's case), postponing some more potentially interesting contract negotiations.