The Ottawa Senators are a budget team. Eugene Melnyk can say he spent X amount of dollars all he wants, but everybody knows that Ottawa is at a disadvantage because year in and year out the money is going to be tight. Next year will be no exception, and Pierre Dorion may have a tougher job this summer than Bryan Murray did last summer. There aren't too many pending free agents, but there isn't a whole lot of room to work with.
So what is the Senators budget situation heading into the off-season? First, let's take a look at where they sit for guaranteed contracts next year at the NHL level.
There are ten forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies, who make a combined $53,879,999.
Now let's look at the pending UFA's/RFA's.
|Player||Previous Cap Hit||Expected Salary Increase|
|Patrick Wiercioch||$2M||$2.7M qualifying offer|
(salaries courtesy of GeneralFanager.com)
In this table above, there are quite a mix of players in different situations. First of all, Puempel, Dzingel, and Claesson will all probably re-sign, but they won't cost very much. I'm sure at least one of them will sign a two-way deal, and even if they do get one-way deals they will be about $1M maximum. I don't think any of them really deserve a one-way contract yet, although it's hard to tell with tweener players.
Then there's two other players in Wiercioch and Chiasson, who are RFA's and need to be tendered a qualifying offer before July 1st or else they will become unrestricted free agents. I would bet that neither of them will be retained, and I think it would be wise if they did so. I would still love to have Wiercioch on this team, but with money being allocated to other spots, they can't really afford his $2.7M qualifying offer.
As for Chiasson, he is simply not good. He probably won't get much of a raise (if at all), but I don't see any reason to keep him on the team when there are younger and cheaper players that have higher ceilings available. That will be $1.2M that they don't have to spend.
The last two RFA's are essentially the only one's of note for the team---the two that Ottawa will be negotiating the hardest with. Hoffman and Ceci are both due for a raise, although Hoffman's is certainly more justifiable as he came one goal away from being a 30-30 player. He made a measly $2M last year, and he proved to the team that he is worth big money.
Him and his agent will be asking (and getting) at least $4.5M, although I'd be surprised if his cap hit was under $5M. That will be a tough pill to swallow for Melnyk, but we'll get to that later. As for Ceci, he hasn't done quite enough yet to establish himself. There's this narrative that he's become the top-four defenseman that the team needs, but I just don't see it yet.
We have seen him improve, and his 10 even strength goals are encouraging but his defensive awareness needs to improve greatly. I know the team thinks very high of him though, so I think he'll get a contract like the one Wiercioch signed three years ago. However the cap hit may end up being more around the $2.5M mark instead of $2M.
It's hard to tell since Ottawa was able to get insane bargains on their RFA's last summer, but we do know that Hoffman and Ceci will be making substantially more than they were last year. Let's be conservative and say that Hoffman signs for $5M, and Ceci signs for $2.5M. That means the teams cap hit would be at $61.38M, less than $4M under how much the team spent in the 2015-16 season.
In that case it's likely that Chiasson and Wiercioch are goners, just because every dollar counts for this organization. Dzingel and Claesson may end up on the NHL roster, and their modest raises would make the teams cap hit go up to about $62.5M (assuming Nick Paul goes to the AHL). So now we're left in a situation where Ottawa's only logical plan for next season is to improve the team externally, but they will have about $2.5M to do so.
This is of course assuming that the team can spend around $65 M, which may not even be true. Perhaps they can spend more, but I seriously doubt that with the poor Canadian dollar. Maybe the budget will be even less, in which case, this may be worse than we thought.
The way I see it is that the Senators have a few glaring needs: a left-winger that can play 2nd or 3rd line, a legitimate top #2/3 defenseman, and maybe even another bottom pairing defenseman. The thing is, the only way that will happen is if some salaries are shipped out. There are only two candidates that are on bigger contracts that can realistically be moved: Bobby Ryan and Marc Methot. Craig Anderson and Dion Phaneuf have bigger deals as well, but we know neither of them are going to be moved.
Do I think Ryan or Methot will be traded either? Probably not, although I think it would be wise to at least explore the avenue with both of them. Ryan's $7.25M cap hit is massive for this team, and while we know he is still a solid player, he is not at all worth all that money. If we was paid around $5M or so I wouldn't have a problem with it, but he isn't. Six more years on that deal looks ugly too, especially for a guy who isn't exactly a stats darling.
Methot must have been injured most of this season, but maybe he is just on the decline. Hopefully he can recover for next season, but his cap hit at $4.9M is awfully large for a player in his 30's. If Ottawa isn't able to pull off anything besides a salary dump, then maybe a trade isn't worth it. Still though, if losing him gives them money to spend on another trade or in free agency, then I say go for it.
Then there's always the possibility of moving Hoffman instead of paying him. I wouldn't mind this if and only if the return is a young quality defenseman. That is their biggest need, and if there is a deal like that out there I'd at least take a look. Still, this magical defenseman most likely has a cap hit of at least $3M(or is an RFA), so Ottawa won't be saving a ton.
No matter what, Pierre Dorion will have an extremely tough first summer. This is a team that is on the verge of being good, but they need supplementary pieces. The budget will be tight, and perhaps trading Ryan, Methot, or even Hoffman will help to address other areas with cheaper options.
In the best case scenario, Hoffman and Ceci cost $7.5M combined, and the Senators have about $2.5M to work with. In the worst case scenario, they could have about $1M left, meaning there's a very real possibility that a trade could be in the works this off-season.
That is the only way Ottawa can possibly be under their budget while also improving the roster, since they don't have many resources to work with. They don't have the volume of pending free agents like they did last year, but the 2016 summer is going to be equally as tough due to such a tight budget while having fans demand that the team gets better. I'd love to see what Dorion has up his sleeve.