On Thursday afternoon, the Ottawa Senators finally made their first move in free agency by signing Chris Kelly to a one-year deal worth $900,000. It was an un-flashy signing, but the consensus was that it was a good depth move that will keep someone like Nick Paul in the minors to begin the year. And while adding someone like Kelly helps, the Senators should be nowhere near done if they want to be a playoff team this year.
I think most of us have established that the top-six is perfectly capable and that the issue with the team is not because of its lack of high-end talent. No, instead the issue is the lack of depth, which has plagued this team for years. There have been plenty of cheap forwards and defensemen on the market that would be perfect complimentary players that the Senators desperately need. Instead, it looks like they will be relying on young role players.
I understand that the budget is very tight, and that signing Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci is priority number one and two. However, signing a few players for about a million or so is not an impossible task, and money can be moved around. I am not asking the team to go out and sign Jiri Hudler to a $5 million deal, because that is not what they need. Here is a list of players and their contracts that I wanted Ottawa to target:
-PA Parenteau: 1 year, $1.25 million
-Brett Connolly: 1 year, $850,000
-Teddy Purcell: 1 year, $1.6 million
-David Schlemko: 4 years, $2.1 million per year
-Jamie McGinn: 3 years, $3.33 million per year
-Zach Redmond: 2 years, $612,500 per year
Besides Schlemko and McGinn, the other four come at cheap deals that hardly cost the team anything. Even for someone like Schlemko, they can afford that deal if they ship out Mark Borowiecki in the process. Plus, there are still free agents out there like Brandon Pirri, Jiri Tlusty, Brad Boyes, and Kris Versteeg that should all come at cap hits lower than $2 million.
I have been talking up Pirri for weeks now, and he was traded for a 6th round pick at the deadline then was subsequently not tendered a qualifying offer from Anaheim despite averaging 24 goals and 16 assists per season. He is someone who would sign for 4th line money, although I doubt Ottawa goes after him now that they have Kelly.
Looking at the forwards, the top six should be this:
There shouldn't be any issues there unless MacArthur can't stay healthy. Then there's the bottom six which is much more murky:
Smith enjoyed a breakout year, but can we really trust him yet? We can't forget that he recorded 3 points in 37 games just two seasons ago. I enjoyed watching Dzingel play in the last 30 games, but he isn't a lock to be a productive NHL player just yet. Then there's Lazar who has been a highly rated prospect, but he's shown little ability to produce points. He may end up being a competent defensive winger, but he may drag down the offense on the third line. Neil will no longer have Shane Prince to make him look good, so the hope is that Dzingel can be that replacement.
There are just so many question marks in the bottom six, and simply adding another forward or two changes a whole lot. If someone like Pirri was signed and put on the left wing, all of a sudden Ottawa doesn't have to rely on Smith keeping his shooting percentage super high. Dzingel would be more of a 13th forward, and some offense could be added to the bottom six. Trading Curtis Lazar is probably not going to happen, but I would certainly think about it, and someone like Kris Versteeg could be an ideal replacement, plus Ottawa would get an asset back for Lazar. All of a sudden that is added depth.
The current crop of forwards may be passable, but once there's an injury, someone like Lazar will have to be in the top-six, and that's not really what you want. Last year Alex Chiasson had nights with 15+ minutes and other bottom six players were getting too much ice time because of injuries. If a key player goes down, there is basically nothing behind them, and we know that something will go wrong. Furthermore, in today's NHL you basically need four lines to be a great team. It isn't good enough anymore to have two scoring lines.
Then there's the issue of the teams depth on defence, which has been a real problem for years. I'm still not completely sold on Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci being a "stabilizing" second pairing, but over the course of a season they might be. If Mark Borowiecki is going to never get scratched then all of a sudden the third pairing is going to be submarined most nights. However, if Thomas Chabot can make the team and makes a big impact then that changes things.
Signing a depth defenseman doesn't make as much sense considering how many bodies they have, but they are really banking on Chabot playing well if nobody else is signed. The defense may end up being better than usual, although it will be mainly due to the impact of Chabot.
I understand that the budget is always going to come up in these sort of discussions, and if Dorion had more money I'm going to assume that he would spend as much as he could. However, with the current roster, they just are not going to be good enough. Sure, they may sneak in for a wildcard spot, but is that what we really want?
I truly believe that with a few shrewd moves to improve the bottom six and the second and third pairings, Ottawa could become quite the threat. Instead, they have only added Kelly and will have to rely on the health of MacArthur, Smith keeping a high shooting percentage, and young players like Dzingel and Lazar being able to increase their point totals.
Things could break the Senators way, but as of now this is essentially the same team from the past three seasons. Without a heroic stretch of games from Andrew Hammond, Ottawa would be in a 3-year playoff slump, and it's disappointing to see the lack of moves so far. I just don't get how you can look at the bottom half of the roster and say that it is good enough, since they have had this problem for about a decade. Most of us aren't even asking for the world either, just a role player.
I may eat my words if Dorion makes a couple big moves in the coming weeks, but I just can't see it happening. The budget has to be taken into consideration, but I have no doubt in my mind that it is possible for them to sign a couple depth players and stay within the budget (*cough cough, trade Borowiecki*).
If there's one positive here, it's that it is much easier to add depth than it is to add stars. The Senators have the latter, and I am certainly confident that they have the pieces moving forward. At some point we need to see a more rounded out roster.