While the Ottawa Senators have been pretty active on the trade market since Pierre Dorion took over the GM position in 2016, it’s another story when it comes to free agency. The team will probably need to look at external options if they want to be a good team next season, so it’s worthwhile to take a look at their limited track record when it comes to free-agent signings, especially since they’ve been a bit more willing to sign established players due to the flat salary cap created by the ongoing pandemic.
Any UFA signed to a one-way contract, as well as those on two-way deals that played a decent handful of games will be considered here, and I’ll only be looking at how the player performed over the duration of the contract they signed, relative to the expectations placed upon them.
12. Michael Del Zotto (2 years, $2M/year)
Del Zotto hasn’t been the Senators’ worst defenseman this season, but he was signed to a two-year deal this past offseason and is now playing in the AHL. Yes, the Ottawa Senators actually sent a one-way contract down to the minors. That’s how much they regret that signing. Did they seriously think so little of Erik Brännström that having six defensemen they could play ahead of him was not enough?
11. Chris Kelly (1 year, $900k/year)
Everyone remembers the emotional roller coaster that was the Ottawa Senators 2016-17 season, but what you might not remember is that Chris Kelly made a return to the team after his stint with the Boston Bruins, and played 82 games that year. It’s probably for the best that we purge that fact from our minds and simply remember him as an Olympic medalist who was a solid depth contributor during the Senators’ glory days.
10. Alex Galchenyuk (1 year, 1.05M/year)
While it was all sorts of fun to see the Toronto Maple Leafs “rebuild” Galchenyuk into a top-six player, only to watch him make a brutal turnover in Game 5 of the first round of the 2021 playoffs, he didn’t make an impact with the Senators, who were hoping he could provide some secondary scoring at a cheap price.
9. Nate Thompson (2 years, $1.65M/year)
Thompson wasn’t the worst of those who were relied on to be serviceable depth players in 2017-18, but he’s part of the overarching problem of investing too much money in your bottom-six, especially since the team needed another winger for the second line after Clarke MacArthur permanently went on LTIR. Dorion was able to move Thompson along with Dion Phaneuf in a deal which I’m still not sure why the Los Angeles Kings accepted, but the team had entered a tailspin long before then. It may surprise you that Thompson is still employed in the NHL four years later, securing one-way deals from Montreal, Winnipeg, and Philadelphia.
8. Johnny Oduya (1 year, $1M/year)
Well, at least they didn’t sign Karl Alzner, right?
7. Scott Sabourin (1 year, $700k/year)
Sabourin didn’t do much for the Senators, but the team did a ton for Sabourin. He’s probably the most unlikely player in NHL history to score a goal in his debut (I’m too lazy to verify this), and a full season of NHL pay gave his career earnings a pretty hefty boost. His play certainly hurt the team’s on-ice numbers quite a bit, but in a season in which everyone was focused on the draft, it really wasn’t a big deal.
6. Chris Didomenico (2 years, $612.5k/year)
A former sixth-round pick of the Maple Leafs, Didomenico was signed out of the Swiss League, in which then-head coach Guy Boucher had coached for a few years. He got to play in 24 NHL games in 2017-18 and scored 6 goals and 4 assists in the process before returning to Switzerland.
5. Ron Hainsey (1 year, $3.5M/year)
Hainsey’s higher up on this list because even though his deal is much worse than some of the others, the Senators were expected to be a bottom-5 team in 2019-20, and they needed to overpay a few guys to reach the salary floor. It’s certainly preferable to trading draft picks for similar players as the team did the following season, and some of the defensemen we’ve seen suit up for Ottawa recently, make Hainsey look straight-up decent in comparison. Lastly, while the team’s handling of Brännström has been baffling at times, signing an experienced defender to pair with him in sheltered minutes was a logical decision.
4. Tom Pyatt (1 year, $800k/year)
I’ve always had a soft spot for this guy for whatever reason. In his first season with Ottawa, he was actually a serviceable fourth-liner - decent defensively, and solid on the penalty kill. He also featured on the dumbest line in franchise history with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mike Hoffman, which somehow outscored their opponents by a 16-4 margin, and had a 5-on-5 expected goals share of 52 percent, according to HockeyViz. He’s also a part of the Erik Karlsson trade tree, which I think is a pretty neat fact. Overall, not too bad for a two-way contract.
3. Evgenii Dadonov (3 years, $5M/year)
Dadonov didn’t actually do that bad of a job living up to his deal with the Senators. His 13 goals and 7 assists in 55 games is a decent pace for a player making $3.5M, and the team was able to move him before the more expensive years kicked in. That said, there was a ton of hype surrounding him going into the 2021 season, as he was the biggest name Ottawa had signed since Alexi Kovalev, and aside from playing a starring role in that glorious 6-5 win against Toronto, he followed in Kovalev’s footsteps and underperformed to quite a degree. He did perform well with Nick Paul and Colin White in a third-line role, but it’s safe to say that Vegas did Ottawa a favour by taking that deal and giving them Nick Holden and a third-round pick in the process.
2. Tyler Ennis (1 year, $800k/year)
This is the textbook definition of cheap secondary scoring. Tyler Ennis and the Ottawa Senators are a match made in heaven. A 44-point pace in 2019-20, a positive impact at both ends of the ice, and a useful contributor on the second power-play unit. Returning to the team this season, he has 12 points in 26 games, which is solid for a bottom-six player. He’s become an underrated fan favourite in the nation’s capital, and it’s a testament to this signing that it’s only beaten out by the Russian man of mystery himself.
1. Artem Zub (1 year, $900k/year)
Of course, you know #1 on this list couldn’t be anyone other than Zub. Pretty much every team in the league wanted this right-handed defenseman when he expressed interest in the NHL, and I shudder to think of what would be had he signed with any other team. Is there any other fanbase that would’ve embraced him in the same way Sens fans did? I don’t think so. From chanting his name every time he touches the puck, to absorbing every drop of content featuring him, the craze has gotten so far that people are penciling Andrei Kuzmenko into Ottawa’s top-six because of how much success Zub has had. It also doesn’t hurt that the deal has been magnificent from an on-ice standpoint as well, as he’s served as Ottawa’s top right-handed defenseman in the past two seasons.