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Ottawa Senator Free Agents: Who Will Stay and Who Will Go This Summer?

It’s hard to believe it’s already been over a month since the Ottawa Senators last played an NHL game. While the players are enjoying their summers away at cottages, backyard pools and golf courses, it certainly won’t be “all play” for general manager Pierre Dorion. Summers never are.

By Steve Warne

As Dorion takes stock of his team and what it needs, he’s probably realized by now the Senators aren’t quite as good as they showed in the final month of the 2021 regular season (a record of 10-3-1). Not yet anyway. And they’re certainly not as bad as they showed in the first month (2-12-1). So, there’s work to be done and Dorion is focused on the NHL entry draft, who he’ll protect in the Seattle expansion draft, the free agency scene and maybe even a big trade or two.

If all that weren’t enough to deal with, Dorion has a whole slew of his own players looking for new contracts this summer.

On that front, Brady Tkachuk’s re-signing is job one. If Tkachuk wants to commit to Ottawa long-term, he’s probably well within his rights to ask for Thomas Chabot money. Chabot has just started an eight-year contract worth $8 million per season – a deal signed in better days. Coming off a season without a single paying fan, owner Eugene Melnyk may not be in the mood right now to throw that kind of money at another player.

But Melnyk did say on a recent podcast he wouldn’t be giving the captaincy to someone on a shorter-term bridge deal. And since Tkachuk is Melnyk’s favourite to be captain, it sounds like Melnyk wants him to sign a long-term arrangement.

“I think we’re on the same planet with Brady’s agents and him,” said Melnyk last month on the Bob McCown Podcast. “We really believe that he’s a leader of the team and is a pivotal part for us. But these things come down to sometimes things that you can’t even understand.”

What everyone understands is that the money needs to be right to make a long-term deal work and it’s doubtful that Tkachuk will go for Chabot term without Chabot money.

If it’s a shorter-term deal, that could also make sense for the player because, for everything he brings, Tkachuk isn’t an elite scorer yet. He finished 85th in NHL scoring with 36 points in 56 games. If he can further boost his stats for another year or two, then his next deal will be all the richer. It also makes sense if Tkachuk wants to keep his options open and get to unrestricted free agency – now just four summers away – as soon as possible.

Short term also makes some sense for the team, allowing the Sens to see for certain that Tkachuk can score like a superstar before they pay him like one. They’ve made mistakes like that before (see, Bobby Ryan and Colin White).

Working in the Senators’ favour right now: Tkachuk is still just a kid and appears to love Ottawa, his teammates and their potential to be competitive. But that can change quickly if this summer’s negotiations don’t go smoothly.

Other Notable Senators Who Need New Deals

The Senators have several other restricted free agents to sign, including Tkachuk’s linemate, Drake Batherson. Batherson finished just two points behind Tkachuk for the team scoring lead. He’d probably like to see Tkachuk sign first and then use him as a comparable. But you can’t hand everyone long term deals. A 3-to-5-year deal at around $4 million will probably get it done for Batherson.

23-year-old defenceman Victor Mete was claimed off waivers from Montreal this year. He played well at the end of the year and probably just wants a chance to prove himself in Ottawa. Look for a short-term deal under $1.5 million.

Goalie Filip Gustavsson is also an RFA. After two mediocre seasons in Belleville, Gustavsson was elite in his 9 games with Ottawa this year, to the point where he may be the one the Sens protect in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft next month.

Finally, five years after being drafted, former first rounder Logan Brown is coming out of his entry level contract. Brown is blessed with high end passing ability, as good as any in the organization. But he’s been hampered in the show by a lack of health and NHL level speed. It seems a waste to turn the page on Brown before he’s had a good long NHL look and while he’s still under club control. There still might be something there. The Sens would be wise to hang on to him, give him a one-way deal and see what the fall brings.

Dorion also needs to start thinking about players with one year left on their deals, all eligible this summer for extensions. This includes Josh Norris, Erik Brannstrom, Alex Formenton, and Nick Paul. If they play like the Sens hope they will next season, they’ll all be in for sizeable raises by this time next year.

Players that will not return include RFA goalie Marcus Hogberg and probably UFA forward Artem Anisimov. The Sens will likely turn the page as well on fellow UFAs Derek Stepan, Ryan Dzingel, and Michael Haley. Dzingel seems to be at his best in Ottawa, so he’s worth keeping on if the price is right.

The Ottawa signings so far this off-season:

  • RFA defenceman Artem Zub signed a 2-year deal worth $5 million
  • RFA forward Clark Bishop signed a one year, deal worth $800,000 (NHL); $200,000 (AHL)
  • UFA Goalie Anton Forsberg signed a one-year contract worth $900,000
  • Forward prospect Viktor Lodin signed his entry level contract (ELC)
  • Goalie prospect Leevi Merilainen signed his ELC

After four straight years of missing the playoffs, the Senators now have the depth they need to start at least thinking about them again. But depth doesn’t come cheap and Dorion has big job ahead of him, getting contracts signed and keeping his core players happy.

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