UFA Jesse Winchester's situation will force Senators GM Bryan Murray to make a difficult decision this off-season. Winchester is a likeable, and more importantly, serviceable fourth line centre. He's a reliable faceoff man, a good forechecker, and useful penalty killer. But with the plethora of centres in the organization, the Senators have depth at Winchester's position. In addition, Ottawa has plenty of bottom-six forwards, not to mention rookies vying for a space in the lineup, and Winchester's future in Ottawa starts to look murkier. Of course, the big question surrounding Winchester is his health: shoulder injuries have slowed Jesse in the past, but it was the two concussions he suffered in 2011-12 which weigh heavily on his next contract.
#18 / Center / Ottawa Senators
Oct 04, 1983
|2011 - Jesse Winchester||32||2||6||8||2||22||0||1||0||52|
Contract status: Winchester is an unrestricted free agent who was on a two-year, one-way contract last season, in which he made $750,000/season.
Season in review: Winchester had settled into his standard defensive forward role on the 4th line before his season was derailed by a questionable hit from Paul Gaustad, then of the Buffalo Sabres, six months ago, on December 20, 2011. Winchester would miss the next 44 games. Jesse returned and played for the Senators in the playoffs against the Rangers, where he suffered a second serious concussion.
Comparable players: It's hard to find players who play a similar game to Winchester and have a similar injury history. Here are some players who match up as defensive fourth line centres with minimal offensive upside and also have several years of NHL experience like Winchester.
#71 / Left Wing / New York Rangers
Jan 13, 1980
|2011 - Mike Rupp||60||4||1||5||-1||97||0||0||2||31|
Obviously, Rupp is a much bigger and much more physical player than Winchester. Rupp's physical play is one of the reasons he has commanded a higher salary than Winchester has average over the past five seasons. Rupp signed a $4.5 million, three-year, front loaded contract in 2011-12. He made $1,700,000 in 2011-12 and that figure will be reduced to $1,200,000 by 2013-14.
#0 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Nov 06, 1981
|2011 - Andrew Murray||39||1||3||4||3||4||0||0||0||33|
Murray's size better compares to Winchester's. Murray signed a one-year $575,000 two-way deal for 2011-12. This was after having a three-year, one-way deal from 2008-09 to 2010-11 in which his average payday was $625,000. Could Winchester take a similar hit in terms of salary and length on his next deal?
#34 / Center / San Jose Sharks
Mar 06, 1985
|2011 - Daniel Winnik||84||8||15||23||-11||52||0||1||1||184|
Daniel Winnik is also similar in size to Jesse Winchester. Winnik has the most offensive upside of the group, but still plays a defensive, bottom-six role. After spending four seasons on two-way deals (2006-07 to 2009-10) and averaging a little more than $540,000 per season, Winnik cashed in on a two-year, one-way deal in 2010-11. Making $900,000 in 2010-11 and $1,000,000 in 2011-12, his offensive contributions helped bump his salary.
Conclusion: I can't see Winchester being re-signed for more than what he made this season ($750,000) nor would he get more than a one-year deal. He might even have to take a pay cut to stay a Senators, with a salary somewhere in the $600,000 to $650,000 range perhaps. However, in Winchester's case, it's more a question of "if" he'll be re-signed rather than for how much. His injury history and the team's glut of centremen are both working against him. Even if prospects like Mika Zibanejad don't make the team or are moved to the wing, the Sens could fill the bottom-six centre positions with Z. Smith, Jim O'Brien, and Nick Foligno. Hopefully Winchester will fully recover from the concussion he suffered in the playoffs and land another contract somewhere in the NHL.