With three of their defencemen heading to free agency this summer, the Senators have some tough decisions to make. One that shouldn't be that tough, is resigning Restricted Free Agent Cody Ceci... but for how much?
Ceci has been referred to as the first home-grown Sens fan to grow up and play with the big club. Not only that, but he possesses the rare "hometown hat trick": growing up in Ottawa, playing for the OHL Ottawa 67s, and being drafted by the Sens. Of course for a team that values local players, Ceci is a marketing dream for the Sens.
Since seeing his first NHL action back in 2013, Ceci's offence has gradually increased each season and is now on pace for a 25-point season. Ceci looked to struggle early on this season as he seemed unsure as to what type of defenceman he actually is.
In the past month, there have been a couple rumours circling around a possible trade between Ottawa and Tampa Bay involving Jonathan Drouin. Also rumoured was that Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman would want Ceci back in any deal with Ottawa. Senators management was quick to come out and essentially rule out any possibility of Ceci being on the move. Further to that, they have been active in the trade market to track down a defence partner for Ceci. A nine-player trade later, and Cody Ceci has a new defence partner in Dion Phaneuf.
For those among you who aren't fans of advanced stats, the Ceci-Phaneuf pairing has yet to surrender an even strength goal in their limited time together. From an advanced stats perspective, the new pairing has a Corsi-For of 52.5% (vs. Ceci's 42.8% without Phaneuf). In the small sample size the pairing seems to have helped Ceci find his role on the team, allowing him to join the rush more regularly.
In his last year of a three-year entry level deal, he's earning $832,500 and can earn up to an additional $475,000 in performance bonuses. Through the rules of the CBA, this means that he's due for a qualifying offer of at least a 5% raise, $874,125. After Ottawa has made it obvious that Ceci is in their plans for the future, Ceci and his agent would definitely be looking for a sizable raise.
As Ceci approaches his 200th career game, the Sens have to be wondering whether to lock him in for the long-term or to offer him a short-term bridge deal. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and there is no shortage of examples of contracts gone wrong (Greening, Cowen, Legwand).
Ceci has four more years to go before unrestricted free agency, so it's likely that he would be offered at most a three-year deal. That would ensure that he is a restricted free agent at the end of the contract, allowing the Sens more flexibility in their future. I expect his contract will end up being somewhere in the range of two- to three-years at an AAV of $2.6M. A short-term bridge deal would likely be preferable for both parties. It's low-risk for the Sens because they aren't committing to spend big money for long-term. At the same time, Ceci would prefer this type of deal as it offers him an opportunity to continue his upwards trajectory to have an even bigger payday in his next contract.