During his season ending press conference, Senators General Manager Bryan Murray made reference to a group of UFAs to be at the end of the 2014/2015 season and the important decisions the teams is going to have to make on each one of them.
For a budget conscious team that will hopefully soon see an end to their excessively frugal ways, these are decisions that will set the direction of the team for years to come. As Murray has acknowledged, not everyone can stay but making the right decisions with these five players is going to be one of the biggest challenges of Murray’s time here in Ottawa.
Jason Spezza. Bobby Ryan. Clarke MacArthur. Marc Methot. Craig Anderson. Three top six forwards, a top pairing defenceman and a starting goalie all up for contract renewal on July 1, 2015. And while each of those contracts won’t expire until next summer, the tough decisions will have to be made well in advance of that frantic Canada Day, just 420 days from now.
It seems strange to say it but let’s start with what looks like it will be one of the easier decisions. Jason Spezza. With one season as the team’s captain under his belt, it certainly seems as though Spezza’s time in Ottawa is coming to an end. Spezza will be looking for a new long term deal when his current one expires and it just doesn’t seem like the Senators are willing to do that right now. So the decision becomes fairly obvious. Murray has to see what the market for Spezza is like this summer and be prepared to make a deal. They won’t give him away but with a few teams already rumoured to have interest; this is a trade that should get done this summer.
Let’s have a look at the other four.
Bobby Ryan. Ryan has already made comments suggesting he is open to extension talks and is willing to start that conversation this summer. I’m of the belief that the Senators need to be aggressive here and get a deal done. It’s going to be expensive. It’s going to be long term. But if Ryan is genuine in his desires to stay here in Ottawa, Murray and the organization need to get it done. After giving up significant assets to acquire him last summer, he needs to stay put.
Three to go.
Clarke MacArthur. After the season MacArthur just had, this should be another no-brainer and a deal the team should look to get done sooner rather than later. MacArthur said all the right things off the ice and seemed to always be doing the right things on it. He’s a perfect top six forward and a guy that seems to have interest in staying here beyond the final year of his contract. Another season like the one he just had should put Clarke in line for a nice little raise from the $3.25 mil he’s earning in both years of his current two year deal.
Marc Methot. Acquired as part of a deal for Nick Foligno back in the summer of 2012, the Ottawa native has been a key piece on the team’s blueline. Like many others back there, Methot took a bit of a step back this past season but he’s still clearly an important piece for this team moving forward. He seemed to have a couple run ins with Head Coach Paul MacLean this past season but the two seemed to be on the same page by season’s end. While Ottawa’s blueline is becoming a little crowded, it’s primarily with 5/6/7th defenceman kind of guys. There’s clearly still a place for Methot in the top two pairings. Again, this is a conversation the team should look to start sooner rather than later. Seems like Methot could land something in the $4-5 mil a season range. Is Ottawa willing to do that on a 4-5 year deal? If not, they need to start to explore other options.
Craig Anderson. This is going to be a tricky one. After a remarkable lockout shortened season, Anderson took a step back this past season and opened the door for Robin Lehner. Lehner had his moments but sort of struggled during his first real chance to take the ball and run with it. Lehner’s time is fast approaching and if not this coming season, certainly the year after, he should be ready to make the bulk of the starts. Murray likes the idea of having two capable goalies but does he like it enough to sign Anderson to a new contract? I’m not convinced. So as is the case with Spezza, the Senators have to be ready to explore the trade market for Anderson. Whether it’s this summer or during the season and towards the deadline, Murray has to be aware of the market for Anderson.
As fans, we really have to hope that each of these decisions can be made with one thing in mind- winning. If like past summers, the money becomes a major issue, this has potential to be a disastrous situation for the Senators. Complicating matters a little bit is the fact that Erik Condra (UFA), Mika Zibanejad (RFA), Jean Gabriel Pageau (RFA) and Mark Stone (RFA) all need new contracts that summer as well.
As exciting as this summer figures to be, next year should be just as intense as the organization makes critical decisions on the future direction of the franchise.
How do you expect Murray to handle this group of UFAs to be?