The Ottawa Senators have 19 players under contract among those that played in the playoffs for a total of $40.575 million in salaries (although the cap hit is $43.5 million). At $2.14 million per signed player, that currently ranks 30th out of 30 in the NHL for spending. Assuming the Senators re-sign Erik Condra, Daniel Alfredsson and Patrick Wiercioch for a total around $7M, Ottawa could round out the roster by keeping Andre Benoit as a seventh defenseman and sending in a team with a payroll under $50 million.
If the Senators do at least try to somewhat replace Sergei Gonchar's salary in their internal budget, who are some of the defenceman that can help improve a defence that ranked 29th in 2011-2012 and 23rd in 2013 in shots allowed per game? Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot and Chris Phillips are on one-way contracts and Jared Cowen is a lock to also play. Patrick Wiercioch has been tipped to take up Sergei Gonchar's spot on the power play, so he will likely play as well. That leaves Eric Gryba, who struggled as a rookie and really would not have been in the NHL had it not been for injuries to both Karlsson and Cowen. It is Gryba that the Senators should look to upgrade this offseason.
Realistically speaking, the Senators will not trade for Keith Yandle, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang or Brent Burns. It is also difficult to know what second-tier defencemen might be available on the trade market, so let's a look a look at some of the unrestricted free agents.
Ian White had a disappointing season, finishing with just 4 points in 25 games for the Red Wings, ranking third among the club's defencemen in 5-on-5 ice time and facing the fifth easiest competition out of seven defencemen. Despite that and a 55% offensive zone start, White came out with roughly neutral possession numbers.
However, in 2011-2012 he faced the second toughest competition on the club behind his partner Nicklas Lidstorm. Again he started 57% of the time in the offensive zone but came out with a Corsi Relative of +5.7 despite the tough competition faced. He also tallied 32 points in 77 games but playing with Nicklas Lidstrom obviously helps a little bit though right?
In 2010-2011, White played on three different teams (Calgary, Carolina, San Jose) and without Lidstrom, faced pretty easy competition and came out slightly positive in the possession numbers with a 49% offensive zone start.
White wasn't been used on the penalty kill this season but has averaged about a minute a game in previous seasons. Ideally, the Senators would want to keep Karlsson off the penalty kill and Wiercioch would not kill penalties either. The new addition should be able to handle some second unit minutes on the penalty kill. While White hasn't been used in this role, it doesn't necessarily mean he isn't capable of handling these minutes. His contract with the Red Wings was for 2-years $5.75 million in total at an average of $2.875 million per year.
Grant Clitsome is a good kid from Ottawa, Ontario (*thumbs up*) and is friends with Methot. He spent the last season with the Winnipeg Jets and had simple stats of 16 points in 44 games. On the fancy stats side, he faced the fifth easiest competition out of eight defencemen, had an offensive zone start of 49% and had a slightly above average Corsi Relative of +2.3. His most common partner was Dustin Byfuglien and he played 1:27 per game of shorthanded time and just over 16 minutes overall.
In 2011-2012, he had similar fancy stats and had 17 points in 63 games split between Columbus and Winnipeg. His usage and performance would imply that he is more suited to a third pairing partnership with Chris Phillips. That wouldn't necessarily be horrible and it shouldn't take too much to get him with Clitsome making just over $1 million in the past season.
Leopold split the season between Buffalo and St. Louis, playing on each club's second pairing but still faced pretty tough competition (Corsi Relative QoC of 1.014) and had an offensive zone start of of 53% and came out as a neutral possession player. He faced tougher competition than anyone on the Senators except Gryba. Having performed far better than Gryba with similar usage, he would seem to be an ideal replacement for him. While the Blues didn't use him on the penalty kill, Leopold did have over two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game with the Sabres.
While Leopold had only two goals and 10 points in 39 games this season, he hit double digits in goals in each of the previous two seasons with the Sabres and would be an option for the second power play unit as well.
The competition faced by Leopold was a little bit easier in 2011-2012 and 2010-2011 but he managed to hold his own in 22 to 23 minutes a night with the Sabres.
He is coming off a three-year contract paying him $3 million a year. He may be in line for a slight raise, although the decline in his offensive production might lower the cost a little bit. Another three-year deal for the same amount could be excellent value for a budget team like the Senators.
Adam Pardy is a big guy which should appease management and fans alike. On a more important note, Pardy played only the fifth toughest competition but at a Corsi Relative QoC of 0.559, it wasn't that far from the second toughest. He started in the offensive zone 46% of the time and still had a Corsi Relative of +5.3.
Unfortunately he's played only 17 games this year in the NHL, 36 in 2011-2012 and 30 in 2010-2011. At a salary of $2 million, he costs more than Clitsome but did show some promise this year.
Would Bryan Murray take a chance on him?
Like Pardy, Foster is a big man. He had 5 points in 23 games and was used in defensive situations (44% offensive zone start) against weak competition (Corsi Relative QoC of -0.3). His usage was flipped the other way last season starting in the offensive zone 60% of the time in his time between New Jersey and Minnesota, and he was a negative possession player despite facing very easy competition (Corsi Relative QoC of -0.6)
Foster doesn't appear to have a lot in his game aside from his size. He played only 13 minutes per game this season and has played a total of 65 games in the last two seasons.
Not an overly fantastic free agent class this year even if the Senators were able to spend more money. The ideal player to target would be Jordan Leopold in my eyes, with both Ian White and Grant Clitsome also worth a look if the Senators can't obtain someone better via a trade. If Ottawa chooses to go with the same defensive group, they are going be likely counting on a bottom four that contains two players that have never consistently played against second lines, one aging player and another young player that looked overwhelmed when playing in the top four. Young players improve but that could be expecting a bit too much.
Here is a brief description of some of the terms used:
Corsi: Difference between attempted shots for (including goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots) and attempted shots against by the team while a specific player is on the ice. This is typically given in per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.
Corsi relative: Difference between Corsi when a player is on and off the ice.
Corsi relative QoC (Quality of Competition): The Corsi relative of the opponents a player plays against, weighted by the percentage of time against each opponent.
Offensive zone start: The percentage of face-offs that a player starts in the offensive zone as compared to the defensive zone.