It’s that time of year again. With the Sens’ season now over two weeks finished, it’s time for Pierre Dorion to have his time in the spotlight. The expansion draft is coming up quickly, with the entry draft proceeding a quick two days after.
Amidst all of this, however, a large number of Senators are going to need new contracts in the offseason. In total, the Sens have seven restricted free agents (players whose rights are exclusive to the Sens), and twelve unrestricted free agents (players whose rights are currently held by the Sens, but hit the open market on July 1st). Below I’ve made short profiles for every single one, and add my guesses as to who stays and who leaves.
Restricted Free Agents (RFA)
As mentioned above, the following players have their rights held by the Sens, unless the team decides to not give them a qualifying offer (as was the case with Patrick Wiercioch last season). Some players are eligible for arbitration, where a contract is determined by an arbiter. Two Senators used this uncommon process last year (Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson), so we can’t count out the possibility of it happening again. Players eligible for arbitration are marked with an asterisk (*).
Chris Driedger, G
Although the numbers look grim, it has to be remembered that Binghamton’s blue line in front of Driedger was a disaster. It will be interesting to see how the goalie situation pans out, as there are potentially four goalies at the ready for two spots in the B-Sens’ net (Driedger, O’Connor, Hogberg and Hammond). Hogberg is guaranteed one of the two spots, so it’s very possible that one or both of Driedger and O’Connor (also an RFA) aren’t extended a qualifying offer. I personally believe Driedger’s the more talented of the two (he’s also younger at 23), although past moves from management hint at signs of the opposite.
Stay or Go: As much as I’d love to keep Driedger around, the goalie situation really adds a dent to the situation. Big question mark at this point.
Ryan Dzingel, F*
Finally breaking the main roster after two seasons in the AHL, Dzingel scored 32 points in 81 regular season games while burning opponents with his speed. He’s proven he belongs in the NHL (his B+ grade seems to validate that), although he occasionally found himself in the press box during the playoffs. I wouldn’t expect a deal that’s more than two years long, with a cap hit somewhere between one and two million dollars.
Stay or Go: Dzingel Dstays.
Jyrki Jokipakka, D*
|NHL (Calgary)||Regular Season||38||1||5||6||12|
|NHL (Ottawa)||Regular Season||3||0||0||0||0|
Pierre Dorion has already made clear that Jyrki Jokipakka will not be qualified, as he’ll be heading back overseas to a team where he’ll be guaranteed ice time.
Stay or Go: It was an honour to temporarily have the best player name in the league on our team, although all good things have to come to an end. Go.
Matt O’Connor, G*
Ever since turning pro in 2015-16, it’s been a rough ride for what used to be a highly touted goalie prospect. This might be the end of the road for O’Connor, although as previously mentioned, the goaltending situation is still surrounded with a ton of question marks.
Stay or Go: Like Driedger, O’Connor’s future with the team is a big ball of uncertainty.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F*
Local kid turned folk hero, expect Pageau to be given a longer deal than his previous two year contract, with a significant pay increase (I’d estimate around the $3-4 mill. range). This would take him into his UFA years, so somewhere in the vicinity of four-to-six years wouldn’t seem out of the question (a six year deal would take him until he’s 30 years old). Being the most important and highly valued player of all the listed free agents, don’t be surprised to see Pageau re-signed sometime within the next couple weeks.
Stay or Go: PAGEAAAU, PAGEAU PAGEAU PAGEAAAU (stay).
Ryan Rupert, F
Serving as an AHL-ECHL traveler and already 23 years old, Rupert could still serve as cheap depth to the Belleville Senators next season.
Stay or Go: Maybe it will come on an AHL contract instead of NHL, although I still believe the 5’8” forward can contribute on an AHL roster. Stay.
Patrick Sieloff, D
It’s hard to talk about Patrick Sieloff without mentioning his incident with Clarke MacArthur, as it will forever lurk in the background of his career. Ultimately the decision will come down to management’s perception, although I assume Dorion wouldn’t have a problem seeing Sieloff walk to another team. His poor play in the AHL last season doesn’t help his case, either.
Stay or Go: Go.
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)
Although the rights of UFAs are still currently held by their respective teams, come July 1st they’ll all be on the open market for Free Agent Frenzy.
Casey Bailey, F
Bailey came to Ottawa as part of the Phaneuf package, and was one of Binghamton’s top forwards of 2016-17. That doesn’t say a whole lot, though, as the entire roster was pretty weak. While 21 goals from a 25-year-old would seem worthy of being re-signed, it’s time to set the reset button on the Senators’ AHL roster.
Stay or Go: Plenty of new young talent will be joining the team, and Bailey will easily be able to find a serviceable spot elsewhere. Go.
Mike Condon, G
|NHL (Pittsburgh)||Regular Season||1||0||1|
|NHL (Ottawa)||Regular Season||40||2.5||0.914|
Acquired for a 5th round pick back in November as a way to remedy the Senators’ backup situation, Condon’s stop-gap performance during Anderson’s absence definitely merits a look from management to be re-signed. Dorion has recently stated however that talks “haven’t been very good so far”, most likely due to a disagreement on money and term.
Stay or Go: Based off of Dorion’s quotes, it’s looking grim that a deal will be finalized between the two parties. Go.
Brandon Gormley, D
|AHL (Albany)||Regular Season||35||2||8||10||30|
|AHL (Binghamton)||Regular Season||17||2||3||5||12|
For reasons unknown, the former 13th overall pick was acquired by the Sens late in the season for future considerations.
Stay or Go: Belleville’s blue line is already slated to be crowded on the left side next season. Go.
Marc Hagel, F
|AHL (Iowa)||Regular Season||26||2||5||7||12|
|AHL (Binghamton)||Regular Season||27||0||3||3||27|
Another mid-season depth pickup for the AHL, Hagel served as a veteran 4th liner.
Stay or Go: Go, although Randy Lee could surprise with his affinity for gritty AHL depth.
Chris Kelly, F
Although he somehow managed to play all 82 regular season games, Kelly regularly found himself sitting in the press box during the post-season. His numbers were nothing short of disastrous (he was on the ice for almost four times as many goals against as goals for at even strength), and it was clear the former Senator’s age has finally caught up to him.
Stay or Go: Now seems like the best time for Kelly to call it a career. It may not have ended in the way he hoped, although I don’t see how any NHL team would be keen on offering him a one-way contract. Maybe he gets hired to run the score sheets!* Go.
Max McCormick, F
Leading the B-Sens with 21 goals while accumulating over 100 penalty minutes, it appears McCormick has reached his peak. The organization has shown to trust him, giving him 27 games of NHL experience over the last two years. Now that he’s 25 and a UFA, it’s time to see whether Dorion believes the team still needs McCormick’s skill set.
Stay or Go: Unlike Bailey, I think McCormick’s skill set will have him brought back to serve as an ‘in case of injury’ option. Unless Randy Lee is super keen on overhauling last year’s team, Mad Max is here to stay.
Chris Neil, F
Still going at 37 years old, Neil spent a large chunk of last season either injured or in the press box. When he was playing, however, he seemed slow and out of place. Make what you will from his two playoff games, Neil has clearly lost a regular spot on this team.
Stay or Go: Now is where the problem arises. Recent speculation suggests that Neil wants to return, although there’s no better time than now for him to drop the gloves for good. If he makes that decision, I’d fully expect the team to hire him as a trainer or mentor. He may go, although he’ll surely be sticking around the team.
Tom Pyatt, F
Originally perceived to be a fringe NHLer coming back from a long hiatus of North American hockey, Pyatt gained quick trust from coach Boucher, being given ample PK time while also being a staple to the shootout lineup. His 23 points came out of nowhere, but then again, his two most common linemates were Pageau and Hoffman.
Stay or Go: From an analytical perspective, Pyatt should be no more than a replacement-level fourth liner. However, his signing pretty much occurred because of Guy Boucher, leading me to believe he’ll be back for at least another year.
Viktor Stalberg, F
|NHL (Carolina)||Regular Season||57||9||3||12||33|
|NHL (Ottawa)||Regular Season||18||2||2||4||8|
Picked up for a 3rd round pick at the trade deadline, fans quickly warmed up to Stalberg with his impressive speed. You wouldn’t find his name on the score sheet very often, although you could see him creating chances for his teammates.
Stay or Go: As much as I’d like Stalberg to come back on a cheap one-year deal, I think this was a pure rental trade by Dorion. Go.
Phil Varone, F
Serving most of the season as Binghamton’s first line centre, the playmaker was one of the team’s few bright spots with his consistent output. A strong preseason earned him seven games in the NHL, although he was quickly sent back down.
Stay or Go: Although I think Varone will ultimately be brought back for another round because of the lack of immediate depth at centre, this will be very dependent on how much trust management will have for it’s young players. If the plan is to give Colin White first line AHL minutes, Varone is more than likely hitting the open market. I’ll say stay for now, although it’s very much in the middle.
Tommy Wingels, F
|NHL (San Jose)||Regular Season||37||5||3||8||15|
|NHL (Ottawa)||Regular Season||36||2||2||4||12|
For the minimal amount Dorion paid to acquire him, Wingels was a great rental acquisition. Emphasis on ‘rental’, as Wingels was one of the Sens’ many victims of depth, finding his way into a mere nine playoff games.
Stay or Go: He was a serviceable fourth liner in his short stay, although I think we’ve seen the last of Wingels & Dzingel. Go.
Stay: Dzingel, Pageau, Rupert
Go: Jokipakka, Sieloff
???: Driedger, O’Connor
Stay: McCormick, Pyatt, Varone
Go: Bailey, Condon, Gormley, Hagel, Kelly, Neil, Stalberg, Wingels
What do you think? Who stays, who goes, and what do you think some of the contracts will look like? Leave a comment below.
Data from EliteProspects.com
*There is / used to be somebody named Chris Kelly who would work at Sens games between the penalty boxes on score sheets / timekeeping / I can’t really remember. His name would always appear on the jumbotron after the referees. Anyways, it’s a bit of a niche joke, but if anyone knows if he still works there, I’d love to know!