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What the Ottawa Senators Have Done (So Far) in Free Agency

The Ottawa Senators 2023 off-season hasn’t been quite as action-packed as it was last year during the “Summer of Pierre,” as it’s often called. In the summer of 2022, Sens GM Pierre Dorion acquired forwards Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, along with goalie Cam Talbot. With Talbot now gone for nothing and DeBrincat not wanting to sign long-term right now, the S.O.P. isn’t celebrated quite as loudly anymore.

 

So far in free agency this year, Dorion has been all about shoring up the defence. 

 

His big signing was a goaltender, the last line of defence. Just minutes into free agency on July 1st, the Senators signed Joonas Korpisalo to a five-year, $4 million AAV contract.

 

 

 

After the ill-fated trades for Matt Murray in 2020 and Talbot in 2022, this is Dorion’s third attempt at trading for a veteran goalie. Murray was bought out by Ottawa and Talbot was allowed to walk into free agency after one injury-filled season. Ironically, Talbot signed with the LA Kings, who had just parted company with Korpisalo.

 

Korpisalo split his time between the Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets last season. He had a phenomenal finish to the year after his trade to LA and will now ride shotgun with Anton Forsberg in Ottawa. It’s a reunion of the two goalies from the 2016 American Hockey League Calder Cup champions, the Lake Erie Monsters. Korpisalo and Forsberg were both on that team and, at the time, were hailed as possible goalies of the future in Columbus.

 

So while neither goalie has been a bonafide number one in the NHL before, we do know they make a pretty good team.

 

Korpisalo actually holds the modern day NHL record for most saves in a game with 85. It happened in a five-overtime playoff loss to Tampa Bay.

 

 

The move provides the Senators with a little more veteran stability in goal and allows 22-year-old Mads Sogaard more time to develop down in Belleville.

 

On the morning of free agency, the Senators re-signed both Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Branstrom got a one-year contract worth $2 million and Bernard-Docker got a two-year contract with an average annual value of $805,000. 

 

Brannstrom had a breakthrough season this year, especially in the second half.

 

 

“Erik took a big step forward last season,” Dorion said in a club statement. “Over the year’s second half of games especially, he demonstrated a strong ability to raise his game to the level where he’s using his confidence as an asset. We’re happy to have him under contract for another year.”

 

Brannstrom played in 74 games this past season and had two goals and 18 points – all NHL career highs. With a plus five, he led all Senators in that category (tied with Mathieu Joseph). 

 

Bernard-Docker played just 19 games this season in Ottawa registering just one assist. The 23-year-old was chosen by Ottawa in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft, the same round they chose Brady Tkachuk. While Tkachuk is an NHL All-Star, Bernard-Docker is still trying to establish himself as a full-time NHL player. For a couple of days, it looked like JBD was in the lead spot for the number six role in Ottawa. 

 

But then, suddenly, Travis Hamonic was back.

 

The final free-agent signing, at least to this point, was a two-year deal for Hamonic. Hamonic became a free agent July 1st but never wanted to go anywhere. He definitely left some money on the table to get a second year on his deal, along with a no movement clause. He will earn $1.1 million in each of the next two years. 

 

Right now, Dorion still has to deal with restricted free agents like Alex DeBrincat, Shane Pinto, Egor Sokolov and Kevin Mandolese. While Pinto, Sokolov and Mandolese should be a fairly easy negotiations, DeBrincat has made it clear that he’d like to go to unrestricted free agency next summer. So he’s not interested in signing long-term right now with anyone. The Sens will either trade him this summer or sign him to a one-year deal and then revisit the option of a trade at the deadline in March.

 

Alex Formenton just passed his one-year anniversary of being an unsigned restricted free agent. It will be interesting to see if the NHL’s investigation into the 2018 Team Canada World Junior Team finally concludes at some point this summer, removing the speedy winger from limbo, one way or another.

 

The Sens also signed three other free agents, primarily for organizational depth.

 

 

As of July 5th, Austin Watson is a UFA and still available to any team including the Senators. Dylan Gambrell (Toronto), Julien Gauthier (Islanders), Derrick Brassard (unsigned) and Dylan Ferguson (unsigned) did not receive qualifying offers and won’t be back.

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