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Five Thoughts For Friday

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This week, we discuss key RFAs and the 2018 draft, as well as catch up with some old friends!

New York Islanders v Ottawa Senators Photo by Matt Zambonin/NHLI via Getty Images

Somehow, we continue to come up with Five Thoughts For Friday despite hockey being at a standstill. Props to thedaigle1 for putting together’s last week’s edition!

Key RFAs

While Pierre Dorion has a lot of pending free agents to take care of during the upcoming offseason, most of them project to be business as usual; simple short-term deals for guys like Nick Paul and Rudolfs Balcers. There are, however, three players who will pose a challenge; Anthony Duclair, Chris Tierney and Connor Brown. All three forwards are full-time NHLers who contributed second-to-third line offence as well as key minutes on special teams. Duclair is the most intriguing of the three, as he’s the only one who projects to be a top-six forward for the foreseeable future; it may serve the team well to lock him up for four years and get some real mileage out of him. Tierney and Brown are both valuable to a competitive team’s third line, but locking them up for more than 2-3 years will surely block a younger player or two from making the team down the road. In terms of cap hit, I’d expect a range of 3.5 to 4.0 M for all three if they’re being signed to short-term deals.

Cap Complications

Thanks to COVID-19, the NHL’s original projections for the 2020-21 salary cap have gone out the window. Now, it’s looking like the cap will stay the same or even go down. The last time this happened was during the shortened 2013 season, and teams were compensated with two compliance buyouts (like regular buyouts except with a cap hit of zero) to be used before the start of the 2014-15 season. We could see the return of compliance buyouts in the upcoming offseason, and while the Senators won’t need to use one, other teams will definitely need that help; off the top of my head there’s the Rangers (Marc Staal and Lundqvist), the Islanders (Ladd), the Sabres (Okposo), and the Flames (Lucic and Backlund). If compliance buyouts aren’t an option, or if multiple teams are desperate to offload multiple toxic contracts, Ottawa should definitely consider taking advantage. Could you imagine Pierre Dorion getting a 4th first round pick from the Rangers for taking on Staal or Lundqvist?

Contending With the 2015 Class

I’ve gushed about Brady Tkachuk all season, but something that originally went over my head was the fact that the rest of the Senators draftees from the 2018 class have been great overall, and have a chance of surpassing those from the 2015 class. 26th overall pick Jacob Bernard Docker put in a great sophomore season with UND and projects to be a steady Top-4 defensemen in the NHL. Second rounder Jonny Tychonick and fourth rounder Johnny Gruden have lower ceilings, though NHL upside is definitely still there. Fifth and seventh rounders Angus Crookshank and Jakov Novak are also developing better than expected, and will hopefully continue to play key roles for their respective collegiate teams next season. Finally, goaltender Kevin Mandolese, drafted in the sixth round, has built off of a great 2019 playoff with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and finished the 2020 season as the QMJHL’s best goaltender with a .925 save percentage. If this level of early success is any indication, Trent Mann’s staff will bring tons more talent into the organization through the 2020 draft.

Expanded Playoffs

There’s been all sorts of discussion regarding a modified playoff bracket to conclude the 2019-20 season, if possible. Would they seed teams based on points percentage, or roll back the standings to 68 games played? How many teams would make it to the dance? Here’s a scenario I’ve been thinking about:

  • 12 teams in each conference (6 divisional, 6 wildcard), seeded by points percentage.
  • The wildcard teams in each conference play a 1-game tournament in this form: 3v6, 4v5, 1v4/5, 2v3/6. 16 teams remain, and play out the preseason as usual.

So, this would see teams like Montreal, Arizona and Chicago qualify for the playoffs despite lacklustre point totals, however they would have to win two straight games to make the round of 16. Of course, these teams would be denied an opportunity to win the draft lottery!

Greener Pastures?

Hey, remember these guys?

I know you do. I still miss every one of them, even Hoffman just a little bit. Too bad all four left the organization for greener pastures. Maybe? Stone’s doing very well in Vegas, with 63 points in 65 games, and they were looking like a possible Cup favourite before the suspension of the season. As for Duchene, he’s produced 42 points in 66 games for the Predators, while taking up $8 million on their payroll. They currently are deadlocked with Vancouver for the last wildcard spot in the west. Also, in case you were wondering, Kyle Turris is still a $6 million third-line centre over there. Hoffman, a pending UFA, is enjoying a monster season in Florida with 59 points in 69 games. Too bad they threw all that money at Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ MVP this year. And then there's the San Jose Sharks. I’ve written a lot about them this season, so I’ll give myself a break, and give you all the opportunity to watch this video by UrinatingTree (strong language). See, while it sucks to watch fan favourites leave the team, there’s always a risk to signing older players to long-term deals. With Vegas being the exception, these teams are currently unable to address holes on the roster due to over-spending, and are no match for the top teams in the league (Boston, St. Louis, Colorado). The Senators would be a better team today if they signed those UFAs, but still a bubble team at best. With the young talent they’ve assembled right now, along with two top picks this year and a scouting team that's been solid since 2015, we could see the rise of Ottawa’s most dangerous team ever.