At the beginning of the summer, the Ottawa Senators were looking at six significant players coming into contract years. We discussed UFA priorities in detail back then. A lot has happened since the start of the off season, but a lot of questions remain. While management has locked down some impending unrestricted free agents, and traded another, two of the biggest names have yet to sign.
What's happened so far?
Well, Spezza was traded, taking care of one UFA. Then last week, the Senators signed Clarke MacArthur to a five year extension worth an average of $4.65 million per year. Sens fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief knowing that at least one major name was here to stay.
Earlier this week, Craig Anderson inked a three year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $4.2 million (although he will only make $3.1 million in the final year). Fans were not quite as relieved to learn about this signing, but rather torn. Some fans feel this is a safe deal that solidifies the team's goaltending for a few more years while Lehner continues to develop. Others worry that sticking with the same goaltending duo that struggled last year will yield similar results in the coming season. Regardless, Anderson is here for the time being, and the team has one less UFA to worry about.
With two impending UFAs locked down, that leaves three to go: Bobby Ryan, Marc Methot and Erik Condra. Could this indicate progress, as the team moves down the list one contract at a time? Or is it a sign that the major players, Ryan and Methot, are taking longer to sign than expected?
After signing Anderson, assistant GM Pierre Dorion indicated that talks with Ryan and Methot are ongoing. In Bobby Ryan's case, Dorion says that he and Murray have spoken with Ryan's agents very recently. However he does not anticipate anything happening until Ryan comes back to town. According to Dorion, negotiations have been very productive. This sounds promising, but it could just be PR speak for "nothing is close to getting done yet."
As for Marc Methot, Dorion indicated that as of last week, he and Murray had also spoken with Methot's camp, and that both parties were still talking. Dorion feels confident that they will get a deal done with both players.
However, a week earlier, Eugene Melnyk spoke about negotiations with Ryan and Methot, and his words were a little less encouraging. While he is not the one who makes these decisions, we assume, he seems to be fine with not signing either player until the season starts. Melnyk's interview led fans to believe that the team is farther away from a deal with Methot than they are with Ryan.
Although fans are anxious to sign both Ryan and Methot, I think what's happened so far is a good sign. Clearly the team wants to get deals done with all of these players. They can only negotiate with so many people at a time. It seems like they are making good progress so far. I believe they are working hard to sign Ryan and Methot. I just hope that management is willing to bend enough to give both of them what they need to stay here.
While they are not the only impending UFAs left to sign, the team needs to reach a deal with these two. If they wait until the season starts, they run the risk of injury, value fluctuation and decreased trade value. If either Ryan or Methot walks at the end of next season, it will be a major failure. The team gave up a lot of assets to get Bobby Ryan. Letting him walk is not an option at this point.
Methot is not only a fan favourite, but a solid defenceman and leader on this team. With such a young blue line, he is an essential part of helping players like Jared Cowen improve and develop their game.
We can't forget about Erik Condra. I don't want to diminish Condra's importance, but compared to Ryan and Methot, I highly doubt negotiations will be as complicated in Condra's case. If they are going to re-sign him, I would expect it to happen at some point before the season starts. Coming off a season where he made $1.25 million, he won't cost the team much, so they might want to get this contract out of the way.
As the season plays out, UFAs will not be the only thing this team has to worry about. Four significant restricted free agents (RFAs) are also entering contract years: Mika Zibanejad, Alex Chiasson, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone. Management will be busy leading up to July 1, 2015. Signing Methot and Ryan now would alleviate some of the pressure.
Needless to say, this team is going to be busy in the coming months.