The Ottawa Senators won against the Hurricanes on Thursday, giving them a whopping two-game winning streak. Everything is rainbows and unicorns and the Senators are surely on their way to another miracle playoff run in which the city falls back in love with the team. Or...that might not happen.
As cool as that would be, I am certainly not betting that we'll see Ottawa in the playoffs this Spring. With that in mind, I think it's time we look towards the summer and what GM Pierre Dorion (I'm assuming?) will be able to do. I want to focus on the defense side of things, because this group still is not good enough to be considered a contender. Adding one impact name could change things though.
Let's go through some potentially realistic names and see who is the most popular target among the readers.
This is the apple of my eye. Demers has been one of the most under-appreciated defensemen in the league, most likely because he plays behind a star-studded Dallas team that isn't known for its defense. Take a look at his rates over the past three seasons:
Only his goals per 60 is defined as a second pairing player, and everything else makes him look like a legitimate top pairing player. He won't be relied on too much, meaning he can make the second or third pairing on Ottawa so much better from the right side. He may be pricey at upwards of $4 million per year, but it would certainly be worth it to me.
Hamhuis may not be a perfect fit for Ottawa at the age of 33, but he's still a solid defenseman. His cap hit is already $4.5 million this year, meaning that he'll most likely get around that much in free agency (albeit for fewer than the 6 years he got on his contract with Vancouver).
He's a left-handed shot as well, so there isn't an obvious spot for him, but there's nothing wrong with sheltering one of Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, or Hamhuis. He's certainly an option, even if he may end up being an expensive 3rd pairing player.
Ever since Yandle went to the New York Rangers, for some reason it seems like people have soured on him. But he's still a quality defenseman, and whoever ends up with him will be much better. Yandle is on pace for 47 points, and will turn 30 later this year, so he still has at least a few good years left in him.
He will surely cost a lot in free agency, as his cap hit this year is already at $5.25 million. Considering how crazy free agency can be, I wouldn't be surprised if he got a raise, which Ottawa may not be able to afford. Like Hamhuis, he is a left-handed shot, but there's no doubt that Ottawa would be a much better team with him in the lineup.
Vatanen is not a UFA this summer, instead he is an RFA. The thing is, Anaheim won't be able to afford one of their RFA's. They will have just over $17 million in cap space for next season, but Frederik Andersen, Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Rickard Rakell all need new contracts. Plus they have players like David Perron and Chris Stewart as UFA's who they may want to re-sign. They have an internal budget much like the Senators do, and with Lindholm and Vatanen most likely asking for upwards of $5 million each, they cannot afford both.
That's where Ottawa could come in. Either they could offer sheet him with a cap hit of $3.6-$5.4 million (and give up a 1st and 2nd round pick), offer him a cap hit of $5.4-$7.3 million (and give up a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick), or trade for his rights. Signing him for more than $5.4 million would most likely force Anaheim's hand into giving him up, but offer sheets are so rare nowadays. A trade would be likely, although I'm not sure how much Ottawa would be willing to give up. Whatever the return is, the good news is that he's still only 24 years old and would look great with Dion Phaneuf.
Shattenkirk is obviously the biggest name on this list. Acquiring him would instantly make the Senators defense look very good. However, he isn't a free agent this summer, meaning Ottawa would have to trade a lot to pry him from St. Louis. There were rumours surrounding him a few weeks ago, and Mike Hoffman's name came up considering Ottawa may not be able to afford him.
He is the kind of player that Ottawa would have to give up in a deal with Shattenkirk, or at least some very good prospects like Thomas Chabot and another NHLer or two. He's an RFA next summer, and he'll likely be just as expensive as Hoffman though, and it won't be easy to acquire him.
Who? Hear me out. Schlemko is definitely not a big name, but he's quietly been a very good defenseman in the NHL. He only has 281 games to his name at the age of 28, but he's very reliable at least on the bottom pairing. Take a look at his rates over the course of the season:
It's a small sample, but he's shown that he can more than hold his own on a third pairing defensively. Furthermore, he's making a measly $625,000 this season. At the most, I'm thinking he'll have a cap hit of $1.5 million for next year, and even that may be a stretch. He might not make Ottawa's defense amazing, but he would certainly stabilize the bottom pairing (plus he's cheap and Eugene Melnyk will love that).
Trouba's name has been floated around recently, as if Winnipeg keeps Andrew Ladd along with Dustin Byfuglien, they may not be able to keep Trouba as he will need a new contract next summer. This could be a good buy for the Senators, as Trouba would certainly be a part of the team's long term plans. The only question would be how much they would need to pay him for his next deal.
I wouldn't bet against him being moved in the summer or in the next week.
Maybe you think that Ottawa's best option comes from within. Chabot has definitely opened the eyes of many, and he may be ready for the NHL next year. However, it may be better to be cautious with him, as the last thing we want to see is him being rushed. Still though, the thought of him coming up and playing well right away is so appealing because the Senators need him to develop.
You may think the Senators blueline is fine as it is. This would be an odd choice, but there are always a few.
So there are a few very good defensemen that could make Ottawa much better for next season. Let's get a debate going!