While most people in Ottawa will be celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1st, Pierre Dorion will be busy working the phones, trying to land deals with unrestricted free agents. Fortunately for him, the bargaining period has already begun, and he’s busy trying to line up contracts to sign on the day of Free Agent Frenzy.
The Sens find themselves in an interesting position this offseason, as for the first time in a decade, free agents could be incentivized to come to the capital based off our recent trip to the Conference Finals. The pressure lies on Dorion to make the team competitive again in 2017-18, and seeing how much the forward depth helped in the playoffs, it’s very likely he’ll try to pursue a similar approach.
As of now, the NHL depth chart looks something like this:
|Ryan Dzingel (RFA)
|Jean-Gabriel Pageau (RFA)
There are two needs that become evident: a fourth line centre, and an additional depth player or two that can either compete for a roster spot, or fill in if the team falls into injury trouble. Below I’ve outlined ten UFAs the Senators could be seeking.
Potential Targets: Centres
Although he surprisingly nearly doubled his point totals from the previous season (42 in 72 GP), Fisher probably won’t come at a hefty cost considering his age (37) and his previously declining numbers. For what could be a great story of a former player returning to his old franchise, Fisher can still act as a serviceable 4th line centre, while occasionally filling in on the special teams. There’s a good chance he stays with Nashville after captaining them to the Stanley Cup Finals, although it may also be time for Fisher to return to his first home.
Although he’s an aging veteran (turning 37 in August), Dominic Moore could be a capable 4C at a low cost. He can play on the penalty kill, and sometimes chip in a goal or two (scored 11 in 2016-17). His 47.79% CF% may not seem like the greatest considering his Bruins were near the top of the league in that department, although considering his market interest seems very low, he could come at a cheap, short term cost.
Looking to another former Senator, Cullen’s status for his future remains unknown. He could possibly retire, although he’s been discussing contracts with the Penguins as well as the Minnesota Wild. He was an integral part of Pittsburgh’s depth in both of their Cup victories, with a combined 56.9% faceoff win percentage at even strength. No wonder he’s still drawing interest, despite turning 41 in November.
Enough with the aging veterans, let’s finish off with someone younger. Pirri’s name was circling around last year’s free agency, and after being picked up by the New York Rangers on a cheap one-year deal worth $1.1 million, he put up a fair 18 points in 60 games. Although his production dropped from previous seasons, it’s worth noting that he was put in a diminished role, going from 14:30 in 2015-16 to 12:16 in 2016-17. His knack for goal scoring could give the Sens a skilled 4th line centre to outmatch the other teams’ standard grit or PK specialist, something Ottawa has yet to try.
Potential Targets: Wingers
With some younger players not receiving qualifying offers from their respective teams, the unrestricted free agent market has become a bit more interesting. Yakupov fits this category, as although he’ll never live up to his initial draft hype, he can still be a useful player in the bottom six. His 9 points in 40 games looks depressing, but it should be remembered that this was done while playing a minimal 10:38 a night. His underlying numbers seem to treat him nicely, with most of his teammates displaying better results when paired with him compared to when they’re apart. Even more surprising, however, is how well he performs as a playmaker in the Passing Project. All this only adds to the potential value Yakupov could bring to the Senators’ bottom six.
Grigorenko falls into the same category as Yakupov, as they’re both struggling young players who didn’t receive a qualifying offer. They’re both Russians, immediately making a signing by the Sens unlikely, but Grigorenko scored at a faster pace than Yakupov (P/GP of 0.31). His underlying numbers don’t paint as clear a picture as Yakupov, although at 23 years old with some upside still remaining, he might just be worth taking a gamble on for one year.
The final non-qualified player of the profiles, Jordan Weal absolutely proved he belonged in the NHL after recovering from a disastrous 2015-16. In his prime at 25 years old, Weal finished fifth in AHL points per game amongst players with 40+ games played. His NHL stint was just as successful, posting 12 points in 23 games, although it should be noted that this was mostly accomplished next to Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Over a dozen teams have called on Weal, so it’s not like he’ll be an easy player to sign. Although the Senators should definitely be one of the teams in the mix to pick up the skilled winger.
Being overlooked by many because of his injury struggles last season, a Hemsky return could come at a low cost with the full benefits of a depth winger. He’s fully recovered from his hip problems, and could maybe even provide the scoring of someone who can move up the lineup in case a key player gets injured.
Viktor Stalberg / Tommy Wingels
Instead of looking to the open market and taking a chance, why not instead bring back a player who already has some recent familiarity with the organization? Stalberg’s speed warmed him nicely to the fans, although his super low scoring totals could be cause for concern if we’re planning on bringing him back for another year. Wingels could also be a potential returnee, although he’d most likely serve in a similar role to what he did in the playoffs: a constant scratch who can occasionally fill in. Maybe both will look to another team who has more room available, although the possibility of either returning is still imminent. They’re already familiar with The System, and won’t have to go through the same learning process that someone new would have to do.
Should the Sens attempt to sign any of these players, or do you think the current depth or internal options will be enough? Is there anyone else who you’d like the team to go after? Leave a comment below.