Looking Ahead: The Ottawa Senators’ 2018 Salary Crunch

Big decisions are in store for the 2018 offseason

The main stages of the 2017 offseason has wrapped up for Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators, as both Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ryan Dzingel avoided arbitration this past week by each signing a multi-year contract. From staying quiet in free agency to the absence of having to extend a star RFA, the past month has been relatively quiet for the front office.

And it comes with good reason. Pierre Dorion has surely been planning ahead, as next year will be a crucial offseason for the Sens’ contract situation.

With the salary cap raising to $75 million this season, Ottawa currently has $5.8 million in cap space, with Melnyk spending roughly $2 million more than the previous season. Not accounting for any changes to the salary cap, that number jumps up to $22.7 million in 2018 with all the contracts that will be expiring. Assuming the Sens’ internal max payroll stays around ~$70 million, that would leave the front office $17.7 million to spend. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how they’ll spend it.

Tier 1: The Big Names

Glancing over CapFriendly’s team page, two names immediately jump off the board: Kyle Turris and Mark Stone. Both are currently on bargain contracts ($3.5 million each), meaning both will require significant raises.

Assuming both perform similar to how they did in 2016-17, I would expect each to get a long-term deal in the range of $5.5-6.5 million, in the realm of players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Monahan and Alexander Steen. Stone has shown to be an elite two-way winger when healthy, and Turris has proven to be a #1 centreman in the NHL. That alone takes up ~$12 million of our approximate $17.7 million budget.

It’s worth remembering that the Senators will retain Stone’s rights as an RFA, whereas Turris has the option to test the open market as a UFA, where he could potentially rake in a deal of over $7 million in annual value. I think the Sens will try hard to extend him, although it could be a potential blow if the cap crunch becomes too heavy.

Tier 2: Middle Range Contracts

The next two players on the Sens’ list are the hardest to estimate, since there are so many factors that could change in the next year.

First is Cody Ceci, who gets added to the list as one of the Sens’ most polarizing players in franchise history. Although he may not be deserving of a large contract, his heavy usage could indicate a different vision from management. Anything more than a one year deal would bring him to unrestricted free agency, so contract term and value could be drastically different depending on which route they decide to take. For now, I’ll estimate an average annual value of $2.5 million, although that could change completely from now until next year.

The other second tier player is Craig Anderson, who although is an elite goalie as he showed in the playoffs, could potentially put the Senators in an awkward scenario contract-wise should he sustain his performance. Turning 37 in the coming season, it’s extremely unlikely that the Senators will want to give him more than a one year extension, as he’s already been defying the typical aging curve. Add in the fact that Mike Condon is on an increasing salary (up to $3 million in 2019-20), it’s questionable whether the Sens will want to sign Anderson at all.

With no imminent replacement, though, I think Andy will ultimately be brought back for another year, at a cap hit of around $3 million. So far, that brings the total cost to $17.5 million, right on the edge of the projected budget without touching the third tier.

Tier 3: Potential Walkers

Four free agents remain, and although it is the third tier, some still play an important role with the team.

Getting it out of the way first, I highly doubt Andrew Hammond is re-signed, unless he can miraculously bounce back from a disastrous 2016-17.

The final three are a trio of defensemen: unrestricted free agents Chris Wideman and Mark Borowiecki, and restricted free agent Fredrik Claesson. Whether each one of them is brought back will be heavily dependant on the coming season. If any of the three end up spending half the season in the press box, then they’ll probably be left to the open market and replaced by one of our prospects (Harpur, Jaros, Chabot and Englund are all options). Each will presumably command a salary in the range of $1-1.5 million, putting the Sens over budget by signing even one of the three.

Planning Even Further Ahead

The story doesn’t end there, unfortunately, as even staying within budget in 2018 could come as a detriment to the 2019 offseason. Obviously the big name that will need to be re-signed is Erik Karlsson, although Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Colin White and some other prospects on the rise will be due for extensions. It helps that there will be a handful of depth contracts expiring to make space (Pyatt, Burrows, Thompson), although just that will likely not be enough to give Karlsson the $10 million+ that he deserves.

Solving the Puzzle

It’s clear at this point that next year’s offseason will feature a bit of a money crunch. There are a few possibilities that could be used to work around the problem:

1. Increase the budget
Now is the time to win for the Senators, making this the perfect opportunity for Melnyk to open his wallet. The $2 million increase this season is fantastic, but there’s still plenty of room to go.

2. Let players walk
It may be the harder choice, although if leaving Craig Anderson or Mark Borowiecki unsigned is what it takes to keep the organization under control financially, it may be the only option.

3. Make a trade
For the same reason Mika Zibanejad was exchanged for Derick Brassard, it’s a possibility the Sens could formulate a trade by giving up one of their players expecting a raise for someone requiring a lower paycheque.

Whichever route they choose, the 2018 offseason will surely alter the course of the franchise going forward.

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