Five Thoughts for Friday: Reflecting on the First Week of Free Agency

Five thoughts on how the first week of free agency has gone for Steve Staios and the Senators

Five Thoughts for Friday: Reflecting on the First Week of Free Agency
Photo by Robert Bye / Unsplash

It’s been a crazy week with the draft and free agency, leaving me with lots to think about:

One or Two More Additions?

As it stands, the Ottawa Senators have $3.6M in cap space without adding a 12th forward and potentially a healthy scratch or two. At a bare minimum, they'll need to call up someone like Angus Crookshank, and they'll still be left with around $2.8M or so. With the team being so tight against the cap, Ottawa still could, and should, make one or two more additions. The lineup could currently look like this:








As I said, they at least need to call up someone like Crookshank, Zack Ostapchuk, Jan Jenik, or Roby Järventie. I don't love the depth they have in the minors though, plus MacEwan shouldn't be a regular at all, so finding a fourth-line forward would be fantastic.

Furthermore, there's no way that Travis Hamonic should be getting into a lot of games this season. It baffles me that he wasn't bought out considering how unplayable he was last season, and he should only be the seventh defenseman if they have to keep him up. The Senators could call up Tyler Kleven and pair him with JBD, but I'm not sure I love those two together based on their subpar puck movement. Depth is never a bad thing, and they can definitely add a fourth-line centre and bottom-pairing defenseman for $2.8M total.

There aren't that many great names out there (especially centres), but James Van Riemsdyk, Kyle Okposo, Daniel Sprong, Nick Cousins, Alexander Nylander, and Kailer Yamamoto are all decent options at forward. Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Schultz, and Oliver Kylington could also provide a role on defense for cheap. They could also look at the trade market, and I really hope they add to both positions by using the money they have.

Mixed Bag

If I could sum up my thoughts about the off-season so far for the Senators, it'd be: it's fine? I guess? The truth is, it's a mix of good and bad, with context needed.

Essentially moving Mathieu Joseph and a 3rd in order to sign a more expensive David Perron isn't the best, although I do like that Steve Staios is trying to make the team harder to play against and Perron is a Cup champion. The $2.6M AAV for Michael Amadio is a little higher than I wanted, but that's just me being greedy—I'm quite excited about him on the 3rd line because of his defensive abilities. Trading Jakob Chychrun for Nick Jensen and a 3rd could really blow up in their face, especially if Chychrun can stabilize his defensive play again. However, Jensen is a needed right-hand shot, and if he bounces back to his pre-2024 play, that's a huge win. Seeing Erik Brännström sign for just $900k hurts, although I get why they wanted to move on.

Shane Pinto signed for $3.75M is a nice number that gives them breathing room in the meantime and they can commit to him if he takes those steps forward. Then the draft is a whole different story that needs the proper time and space to talk about, but the most important thing by far this off-season is the acquisition of Linus Ullmark. Nothing would have mattered if they brought back Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg, and Ullmark could make all the difference this season. He just needs to play average or maybe a bit better and the Senators should be very contenting to be a playoff team, so that is a fantastic move by Staios that didn't cost much at all. In addition, it sounds like he's the kind of guy who could re-sign in Ottawa.

So not all the moves have been my favourite, but there‘s some real meat on the bone and lots of things to talk about.

Going with the Flow

With that being said, I'm going into this upcoming season essentially how I did last season: going with the flow. I'm not here to make any proclamations that the Senators will be way better and that they're guaranteed a playoff spot because nobody ever is. I like some of the things they have done and have some optimism, but so many things can go wrong, and it's very hard to predict the future.

I will say though, if Ullmark can be league average or above, Travis Green injects some energy into the team, and they get relatively good health? They're a good bet to make the playoffs. I don't think it's that crazy to suggest and it's not that many "ifs", either. At the same time, goalies constantly crater from season to season, and you can never predict injuries. So although this is a massive season for the Senators in terms of this core actually doing anything, I'm simply along for the ride, ready to see what happens.

Opportunity is There

We all said this last year too, but the top of the Atlantic Division is bound for some changes soon. Perhaps the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning make the playoffs again, but I wouldn't say that any of them have gotten better, and some of them have gotten worse so far. Florida will be the favourites again and should win the division. It looks like Toronto is bringing back the same core again, which hasn't worked so far. They'll be contenders, but I wouldn't say they're markedly better. Boston downgraded Ullmark for Korpisalo and added an overpriced and declining Elias Lindholm and a very overpriced Nikita Zadorov. Their whole thing was dominant goaltending, and we could begin to see that crack.

The Lightning are probably the most vulnerable after losing Steven Stamkos and Mikhail Sergachev. Their top-six is still loaded after adding Jake Guentzel, but they aren't nearly the same team they were a few years ago. Once again, similar things were said last year about these teams, and I still stand by them because they were true at the time. And in 2024, the potential exists for at least one of those teams (most likely the Bruins or Lightning) to drop out of that top four.

The Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres will also be fighting hard for a playoff position, but neither of their additions have made me believe they're guaranteed to be better than Ottawa. It's still a very tough division, but there should be no excuses this time around.

More Scouts Needed

Forgotten amongst the craziness that was free agency on Monday, the NHL Draft happened last Friday and Saturday. It was quite the spectacle at Sphere in Las Vegas, and I wish they didn't decide to "decentralize" the drafts in the future. In case you missed it, the Senators went heavy on size, just take a look:

Now, there's nothing wrong with that if all things are equal. I'd rather have bigger players on my team too, they have an advantage. I'm not saying these are all bad picks, but I truly hope they didn't pass on better players just because they weren't as big as they were hoping for. The main point I wanted to get at though was that this was the 19th year in a row that the Senators didn't draft a player out of Russia, Czechia, or Slovakia, which is unfathomable:

Czechia and Slovakia obviously have fewer players to take from their leagues, but Russia has some incredible talent that Ottawa is completely ignoring. They've taken Europeans who have played in the CHL like Lassi Thomson, Filip Chlapik, Filip Ahl, etc., but it almost seems like they simply don't have the scouting staff to cover much of Europe at all. In fact, only Anders Ostberg and Mikko Ruutu are listed as European amateur scouts—that's not nearly enough for leagues like the KHL, SHL, Liiga, NLA, DEL, Extraliga, etc. They have 11 scouts total, and honestly, that seems like not enough for how many great players and leagues there are.

Also, the 2024 draft class will need time to take hold, but the 2021-2023 classes were mostly with this same group of scouts, which has killed them:

So if they want to be "best in class," they better start acting like it and scouting all the best players. Matvei Michkov is a perfect example of how the "Russian factor" has been a boogeyman for years, and I would love to see them finally look at all the players available.

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