The Ottawa Senators have never really warmed up to the concept of signing impact players via unrestricted free agency. Sure, the NHL allows them to spend $82.5 million on their roster. But they don’t. Historically, the Sens tend to set their own budget, go their own way and can usually be found among the bottom five spenders in the league.
As such, they rarely try and compete for unrestricted free agent stars – not even their own, the ones their fans have bonded with. A few months before their contracts expire, the Sens generally trade them away for picks and prospects. In most cases, in a short-term-pain-long-term-gain kind of way, it’s actually worked out nicely for the club.
Even when they’ve tried to go big free agent shopping outside the organization, it generally doesn’t go well (Evgenii Dadonov) and you suddenly realize there’s sometimes a reason these UFAs are still available.
Finally, for the star UFAs around the league – the ones with a wealth of choices – it’s also fair to say the Sens aren’t the NHL’s most attractive option.
But with new ownership and a young entertaining team emerging, it’s possible the times are changing. Maybe. Perhaps the Sens will re-engage with the UFA market sooner rather than later. With players like Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle and Alex Formenton to get re-signed, it certainly won’t be easy, but let’s look at 5 realistic unrestricted free agent options the Senators should at least be interested in this summer. With $61 million invested in 16 players next season, the Senators do have the cap space to do something.
Claude Giroux – Florida
By the time he’s done, Giroux’s resume could be Hall of Fame worthy. And he’s showing in Florida – with 30 points in 25 games so far (including playoffs) – he has lots left in the tank. Anyone in the NHL with cap room should be interested and even the Sens could be in on this discussion if they want to be. The 34-year-old Giroux has lived in Ottawa since he was a teen, spends his summer here, and may have interest in coming home to play his final three or four seasons. The way his deal was structured, Giroux made just $5 million in actual money this season and maybe, if he doesn’t want a ton more than that next season, Ottawa could be in play.
Fiala erupted in Minnesota this season with 85 points in 82 games. But the Wild are badly cap-strapped and will struggle to re-sign him at market value. At 25, he’d fit in really nicely with the young Sens. But he’ll be looking at a healthy raise from the $5.1 million he made this season, probably Tkachuk money and term, and that may be too rich for the Sens’ blood this summer. But anything’s possible. The same might be said about Fiala’s old Nashville teammate, Filip Forsberg, also a UFA that’s likely to fall in the same salary range.Bryan Rust – PittsburghWith 24 goals and 58 points in 60 games this season, Big Goal Bryan has proven he can play in anyone’s top 6. The 30-year-old has been an underrated commodity, skating in the shadows of players like Sidney Crosby and Evgenii Malkin. If Pittsburgh wants to hang on to their star power (Malkin and defenceman Kris Letang are also UFAs), it’s going to be hard for the Pens to find an extra $2-3 million a year to retain Rust.
Josh Manson – Colorado
A 6 foot 3, 220 pound right shot defenceman, Manson could ride shotgun with either Thomas Chabot or Jake Sanderson, giving them a hall pass to comfortably jump up into the play. Manson plays a physical game, eats up a lot of minutes, kills penalties and fearlessly blocks shots. After 8 seasons in Anaheim, Manson was traded at the deadline to Colorado, so the 30-year-old may soon be able to bring a little championship pedigree to the table as well. Not to mention a big goal now and then, like the overtime goal he scored to open the second round against St. Louis this week.
Klingberg is also a right shot defenceman, which should be the Sens’ top priority. The 29-year-old has played all eight years of his career in Dallas. He handles the puck well, has some serious offensive swagger (374 points in 552 regular-season games and 35 points in 59 playoff games), and while he’s not a fighter by any stretch, he doesn’t back down and has an underrated mean streak.
Klingberg said this week he would like to re-sign with Dallas, but if the Stars were sure they wanted to align with that wish, they probably would have locked him by now.
Other interesting, realistic UFA targets for the Sens to consider include: Ilya Mikheyev, Vincent Trocheck, David Perron, and Rickard Rakell.
The Sens definitely need a top 6 forward and a top 4, right shot defenceman. Perhaps, against all odds, they can be found in unrestricted free agency.