This is the first of a two-part series. Come back tomorrow to see a list of some of the players available to be signed.
The free agent market opens up this Friday, and it's understandable if you're a little nervous. The last two years have seen the Senators sign Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar to deals with cap hits of $5M or more, putting them near the cap ceiling and making GM Bryan Murray look fairly foolish.
Of course, this year should be different because:
- The Senators are not expecting a playoff run, and therefore won't be searching for a piece to put them over the proverbial top.
- Owner Eugene Melnyk wants to keep salary low during the team's losing days.
- This year's free agent crop is abysmal.
- Murray has (hopefully) learned his lesson after the Kovalev and Gonchar debacles.
Although the Senators shouldn't be looking to grab a big name on Friday, they do have a couple of holes to plug up.
Right now, the Senators have only nine forwards on one-way contracts, and it's likely that all make the squad. Tim Murray said on the Team 1200 yesterday that he expects Erik Condra and Bobby Butler to play their first full season in the NHL next season, so we can bump that number up to eleven even though they don't have contracts. That leaves the Senators looking something like this (obviously, the line combinations are going to change, but this is at least in the ball park):
Michalek - Spezza - Butler
Foligno - Regin - Alfredsson
Condra - Z. Smith - Greening
X - Winchester - Neil
Nikita Filatov will get a long look at training camp to make the team's top six and add some much-needed skill to the roster, while Stephane Da Costa and Mika Zibanejad are also names that Tim Murray has mentioned as players who could potentially make the team to fill that second-line centre spot. There's also soon-to-be unrestricted Ryan Shannon who I'd love to see back, as he is versatile enough to fill in a spot on either the second or third line, as need be.
Even though the Senators can probably find enough forwards within their ranks to fill all the spots, the lack of skill in the top-six gives one the feeling that Ottawa will be looking to add someone else. Although they could use a first-line forward, that's unrealistic given the team's situation, and I don't anticipate Murray signing anyone to a long-term deal or a big-money contract. At best I'd expect a second or third line forward -- probably a centreman.
The team's defense is completely full. In fact, it's too full. I'd be shocked if the Senators signed a defenseman on July 1st (and probably a little angry, too).
Finally, the Senators need a back-up goalie for Craig Anderson, as Curtis McElhinney (remember him?) and Pascal Leclaire have not been re-signed, and there does not appear to be much interest from the Sens in retaining either. Unless the Senators think that Barry Brust is now ready for a back-up NHL job, it's probably a free agent signing that will be used to fill that hole.
So, who could the Senators get to fill out their forward ranks or goaltending situation? Check back tomorrow for my take on it.