I feel like I’ve been saying this for years, but: once again, the Ottawa Senators should weaponize their cap space by taking on teams’ bad contracts for the right price. The Sens only have nine NHL players under contract for next season, and they also have $39M in cap space, meaning they should be more than fine to take on a bad contract or two. Of course, they can’t take on a contract that will still be here in a few years (think Jeff Skinner’s $9M per year until the mid-3000s*) when their best young players will need extensions, but I think they’re safe to take on any contract for the next two years.
This has worked in recent years for other budget teams. The Arizona Coyotes have taken on the contract of Pavel Datsyuk, allowing them to move up four spots in the first round to draft Jakob Chychrun. They also acquired the right to keep Marian Hossa on the books, as part of an exchange of players and picks. It is worth noting that these two players were done playing for all intents and purposes. More recently, the Hurricanes trade for a healthy but overpaid Patrick Marleau and a 1st-round pick and promptly bought him out of the last year of his contract. This is the kind of trade I’d like to see the Sens go after, an overpaid player with a year or two left on their contract on a team that’s in win-now mode.
I know that in recent years, the Sens have taken on contracts of injured players like Marian Gaborik or Ryan Callahan in exchange for getting rid of contracts they no longer want (Dion Phaneuf and Mike Condon, respectively). I’m not holding my breath that the Sens will suddenly take on real salary in trades, but in a deep draft that will shape the next 10 years of the franchise, they really should try to get a few more picks or promising young prospects from teams that will really need a get-out-of-jail-free card. Here are four who could use the help:
No lies, the Canucks are who I first thought about when making this list. They just made it to the second round of the playoffs, and have a promising young core. They have $17M in cap space for next year, but will need to re-sign Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, and likely Adam Gaudette, not to mention a goalie to go with Thatcher Demko. Then the next season, Demko, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes will all need extensions. That cap space will evaporate quickly. The obvious candidate to me is Loui Eriksson, with two years left at $6M AAV. The Sens could eat that for breakfast, and should if the Canucks are willing to offer up a first-round pick. In addition to Eriksson, the Sens could pick up Sven Baertschi (1 year at $3.4M), Jay Beagle (2 years at $3M), or even Brandon Sutter (1 year at $4.375M). If I was Pierre Dorion (I swear I’m not), I’d be ringing up Jim Benning every day asking what he’d give up to lose one of these players. While the Canucks do not currently own a pick in the first two rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft, they own their full slate of picks in 2021 and 2022. If Benning thinks that his young team is on the rise, he may be willing to give up an unprotected first in future years, and as Sens fans know all too well, that could be a nice surprise.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Knights are projected to have just over $6M in cap space next season with 17 players signed, but that space will quickly turn into sand if the team decides to retain Robin Lehner. Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins are also both RFAs and will likely want decent salaries after these playoffs. An extremely intriguing option to me here would be Marc-Andre Fleury, who has two years left at $7M and an unhappy agent after he’s been usurped as Vegas’ starting goaltender. Also, at $7M, he’d be a very expensive backup goalie. With the worries about Anders Nilsson’s health, and the subsequent possibility of thrusting two rookies into a tandem in Ottawa, the Sens could take Fleury and a first-round pick in lieu of giving up assets for a player like Matt Murray. Fleury gets his fair share of starts, and could be a mentor to the young goalies in the system. Of course, Fleury has a 10-team no-trade list, and you can bet that the lowly Sens are on that list, so he’d have to really want out. Other than Fleury, Alec Martinez (1 year, $4M) and Paul Stastny (1 year, $6.5M) are two guys who could open up just enough cap space for the Knights to retain Lehner long-term.
St. Louis Blues
At first glance, last year’s Cup champs are in decent shape: $6M in cap space with 20 NHL players under contract. However, you quickly realize that captain Alex Pietrangelo is a UFA and I don’t think it surprises anyone to hear that the team would like to re-sign him. Add in that Vince Dunn is an RFA, and the Blues don’t have a backup goalie, and you realize they will need some space. Alex Steen is ripe for the picking here, with one year left at $5.75M. I don’t think the Sens could get a first-rounder outright, but with four second-round picks this year, maybe the Sens could upgrade one into a first-round pick in exchange for taking on Steen? I’d have no problem with the team moving up 30 spots in the draft for a year of Steen. I think Tyler Bozak (1 year, $5M) is the only other player on this team that they might part with that I’d be willing to acquire.
Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s a pretty consistent theme on this list: teams with success in these playoffs. The Blues are a bit of an exception, but then again, they won the Stanley Cup a year ago, so I’d call that success. The Julien Brisebois/Steve Yzerman wizardry has somehow kept this team together thus far, but they’ll be in tough again this fall, with $5.3M in cap space and just 15 players under contract. They’ll want to re-sign Anthony Cirelli, and will likely need some defencemen (including Mikhail Sergachev) considering just 3 current NHL rearguards are under contract for next season. The Sens could take Braydon Coburn from them, but at $1.7M, that won’t help much, and will likely get no more than a fourth-round pick. The incredible thing about the Lightning is that despite all the money they’ve spent, I have a hard time finding a contract they’d easily part with. Maybe Ondrej Palat’s $5M for two years, but he’s still a very good player, so I’m not sure the Bolts would just give him away. Alex Killorn is also an option, but with three years left at $4.45M, I’d want the Sens to get a good return, and I doubt the Lightning would agree with that assessment. They’d more be looking to get rid of Ryan McDonagh’s $6.75M until
2041 2025-26, and as the Sens I wouldn’t take that contract unless they’re attaching a really valuable name to it.
I’m not sure I can see the Sens doing this given how reluctant they’ve been to eat money in the past, but they absolutely should at least be looking into it over the next month or two as we head into draft and free agency in October. Cap space is a huge asset in today’s NHL, and it would be a shame if the Sens didn’t make full use of theirs.