There are many vital components to the Senators' hopefully successful offseason, but one absolutely mandatory part is the signing of their own free agents. Or lack thereof.
Before we get started, take a look at how Ottawa's free agents matched up against each other last season.
|Goals||Assists||Points||CorsiFor% (EV)||+/-||Time On Ice|
|Hoffman (27)||Stone (38)||Stone (64)||Hoffman (52.6)||Stone (+21)||Stone (17:01)|
|Stone (26)||Zibanejad (26)||Hoffman (48)||Stone (52.1)||Hoffman (+16)||Zibanejad (16:26)|
|Zibanejad (20)||Hoffman (21)||Zibanejad (46)||Pageau (51.7)||Condra (+13)||Hoffman (14:33)|
|Chiasson (11)||Chiasson (15)||Chiasson (26)||Chiasson (51.4)||Pageau (+4)||Condra (14:27)|
|Pageau (10)||Condra (14)||Condra (23)||Condra (50.7)||Zibanejad (+0)||Pageau (14:11)|
|Condra (9)||Pageau (9)||Pageau (19)||Zibanejad (50.5)||Chiasson (-5)||Chiasson (13:22)|
So of the six free agents the Senators currently have, where should they be ranked on the must-sign list?
1. Mark Stone (RFA)
No one will dare argue with this selection.
Arguably Ottawa's best forward, Mark Stone burst onto the scene in October ready for his first full season as a Senator, and technically his rookie campaign.
And what a campaign it was.
Before it was announced he was a Calder Trophy nominee, Stone had put up an outstanding year. It truly was amazing seeing him excel in all qualities of the game and with such consistency. Not only did he lead the league in takeaways - a feat never accomplished by a rookie until now - but his turnover plus/minus was second only to Ryan O'Reilly. Also tied with Kyle Turris for the team lead in points, Stone was the outright offensive leader in Ottawa's late season push for the playoffs carting six game-winning goals.
In the unlikelihood that you are not familiar with the rookie sensation, here is Mark Stone in a nutshell.
A steal, dangle, assist and an enthusiastic celebration all in seven seconds? There might not be a goal that better describes him than that. (Well, maybe there is.)
2. Mika Zibanejad (RFA)
October and November were a bit of a hassle for Mika Zibanejad, but despite his slow start, the 22-year-old Swede found chemistry with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman midway through the season, and soon after, they became an offensive dynamo for the Senators.
A big thing Zibanejad's got going for him is the confidence of management. Bryan Murray has said numerous times that he expects the young centre to turn into the team's No.1 ahead of Turris very shortly. It didn't happen last season, but it would be silly to think the Senators are unhappy with that.
What everyone learned was that Ottawa now has a great deal of depth down the middle, regardless of whether Zibanejad is No.1 or No.2. But their top six isn't secure without him, and neither is their future.
3. Mike Hoffman (RFA)
It seems Hoffman never truly got the respect he deserved last year. Which is weird when you think about it because, like, he kind of lead the team in goal scoring. Y'know?
It's a bit frightening thinking about whether or not the Senators really appreciate Hoffman's abilities, especially when he was on the fourth line multiple times near the end of the season and in the playoffs.
But for a fouth-liner, Hoffman sure does score a lot. In fact, he was 12th in the league for goals per 60 minutes played, quite a bit ahead of a couple guys you might know: Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin.
With nine goals more than former 30-goal scorer Ryan last season, maybe Hoffman is that top-six forward Murray is looking for.
4. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (RFA)
Here's that depth down the middle we were just talking about.
Another 22-year-old, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is largely part of the team's youth movement that caught fire with the success of last season.
On the new and improved checking line alongside Erik Condra and Curtis Lazar, Pageau played a critical role in bolstering Ottawa's bottom six. Lines three and four didn't seem to be the Senators' strong suit near the beginning of the season, but when Pageau returned from his stint in the AHL with Binghamton, he brought with him balance.
That balance is much needed if the team is to see results next year.
5. Erik Condra (UFA)
If the Senators want to keep Condra around, it's almost certain they'll have to rid themselves of a few unnecessary contracts first. It has been reported to be a priority for management, but it's also been speculated that they might not be freeing space up for Condra.
It's unfortunate for Condra that most of Ottawa's free agents had career years, seeing as they have limited space and money for him. He already had the age factor going against him (Condra turning 29 this summer, while everyone else seems to still be below 24) and it doesn't help that though he is an extremely strong bottom-six player, he won't be cracking the Senators' top six any time soon.
But who knows, maybe we'll get a pleasant surprise this summer. Maybe Condra will be back for another round.
6. Alex Chiasson (RFA)
Forgetting about Nick Paul and Alex Guptill, Senators fans usually tend to refer to Alex Chiasson as the piece Ottawa received in the Jason Spezza trade. Which is why Murray and company might be pressured to keep the 24-year-old as a form of stubborn pride.
Or maybe they'll accept the fact that they didn't win the trade (though they haven't lost it yet) and thank Chiasson for his duties.
If he does earn a spot on the roster come October, Chiasson will likely be a frequent presence on the fourth line and sometimes in the press box. But couldn't that position be occupied by a young player that impressed on their brief promotion from Binghamton? Shane Prince and Matt Puempel (both 22) seem to be cheaper, more entertaining options than Chiasson, mostly when you ponder the team moving forward.
If either of them are done in the AHL, then maybe Chiasson is done with the Senators. Or at least, maybe he should be.