The Ottawa Senators have five players on the NHL roster that will be unrestricted free agents on 1 July 2015. Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur play on the team's first line, Marc Methot is on the top pairing with Erik Karlsson while Craig Anderson is currently the starting goalie. The fifth name is bottom six forward Erik Condra. So it isn't just that the Senators have a lot of expiring contracts, but also that they are in very important positions.
How long should the Senators wait to trade each of these players if a contract isn't signed? For each player, let's assume the possibilities are:
- trade before training camp starts
- trade during the first half of the season
- trade at the deadline
- don't trade and let them walk
Condra is on a cheap contract with a cap hit of $1.25 million and being paid $1.3 million in salary for 2014-2015. He has little trade value to the Senators aside from creating space for a younger forward. The Senators can pretty safely keep him to the end of the season, and if they still can't sign him after the season ends, he is not irreplaceable in the free agent pool.
In Robin Lehner, the Senators appear to already have a replacement that is as at least as good as Anderson. Lehner's age suggests that he still has room to improve while Anderson appears to be set as a league average starting goalie. With the large number of goaltenders available this offseason, it doesn't appear that anyone is still looking for a goaltender so the value in trading Anderson right now would be minimal. There is little harm in the Senators holding on to Anderson to start the season and even up to the deadline. If Lehner is playing at least as good as Anderson, Ottawa could probably trade Anderson to a team looking for a goalie due to injury. If Ottawa is out of the race at the deadline, Anderson would likely be traded to the highest bidder. It would be very surprising to see Anderson on the team after the deadline without an extension unless the Senators are in a playoff spot and Lehner has a poor season.
For most people, Methot is the second (or the third in some rare cases like myself) best defenceman on the team. He is immensely popular and from Ottawa as well, with all of these things pointing to him being a strong candidate to be re-signed. For this reason, the Senators are unlikely to given up on being able to re-sign him early on and with the lack of defensive options on the team, they cannot afford to trade him unless it is for a similar player who is not on an expiring deal. Defensive defencemen rentals always tend to be in demand at the deadline, so I would expect Methot to be at the club at the very least until the deadline. At that point, if they still cannot reach a deal with the player, it is probably best to move him if the club is out of the playoff race.
MacArthur was signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer and while he has performed brilliantly, the Senators didn't give up any assets to acquire him. I would suspect the Senators will hold on to him as long as possible as there won't be as much pressure to keep him from walking for nothing as some of the other players. Of all the players, he is the most likely to re-sign in my opinion.
This is really the big one and could decide the direction the team is taking in the near future. Can the Senators really afford to start the season without a new contract agreed? Every day that Ryan stays with Ottawa is one less day he won't be on the roster of a potential trade partner, thus lowering his value. The Senators will have to balance the risk of trading their marquee addition from last summer with holding on to him with the hopes of being able to re-sign him and seeing his value decrease with time.
With the club announcing that they will meet with the representatives of MacArthur, Ryan and Methot this week but not Anderson or Condra, it is clear where the priority lies. Ryan is the only player I feel could be traded before the season starts if he doesn't sign an extension with the club content to start the season without an extension for the other players. What do you think? How long would you wait with each of the players until pulling the trigger?