Roundtable, Part 2: The Other Off-season Moves

The staff returns for Part 2 of our Roundtable session

After our first roundtable on Tuesday focused on the Ottawa Senators’ selections in the draft, we’re back with Part two today. In this edition, we dive into the team’s other off-season moves.

With the acquisition, and extension, of Matt Murray the Sens are betting they’ve solidified their goaltending for at least the next few years. What are your expectations for Murray? Can he recover his old form?

Shaan: What worries me about Murray is that he performed worse than Marcus Hogberg last season, despite the Sens defense offering the latter no help at all. I think there’s a good chance of Murray improving on his play from last year, but If I had to guess right now, I’d wager Hogberg is going to have a higher save percentage than Murray. Ultimately, they forked out too much dough for him.

Ross: My expectations are league average goaltending, like Steve Mason in Philly; which means $6M is a hefty contract. I don’t think he’ll be the goalie that beat Ottawa in 2017, no.

Spencer: I think we all need to remember that the Murray who won a pair of cups played behind a very good team. If we expect him to return to that form, we will be disappointed. However, I think he can post league average, respectable numbers this upcoming season.

thedaigle1: Unless the team’s staff specifically sought Murray out with the intention of correcting some mechanical flaw, or with clandestine knowledge of a lingering injury, then I don’t expect much more than league-average numbers, as the others suggested. Considering the way Murray tormented us in the past, I don’t feel bad saying the Sens can’t trade Murray or buy him out soon enough. We want Högberg and Daccord goddamnit. Yes, I’m a bit bitter.

Beata: I’m going to echo what others have said here: replacing a franchise goaltender like Anderson is very difficult, and I can understand wanting a veteran in net when your goaltending future is so up in the air. So, I do understand the logic behind acquiring Murray. That said, I don’t expect much, and I’ll be surprised if he markedly outperforms Hogberg.

N_Dew: I am very excited for this acquisition. While I never “loved” Murray with the Pens, mostly because of 2017, he is definitely the starter this team has needed for a while. When Andy was in top form, it really elevated the whole team’s performance and I think if Murray is back to his old level then he can help the kids develop faster in an environment that gives them a chance to win more often. I don’t think it’s fair to write off a goalie who has already won two Cups at 26, so I will be positive here and say we see an improvement in Murray’s performance over the next few seasons.

Brandon: I see no reason to doubt that Matt Murray will return to form. As has been said many a-time, now, you don’t win 117 NHL games by the time you’re 26 years old by accident, to say nothing of the two Stanley Cups. Murray is a solid technical netminder, who’s lost his game a bit, probably due in large part to injuries and some well-documented adversity off the ice. A fresh start in a low-pressure situation like Ottawa, and getting the chance to work with goalie guru Pierre Groulx should allow Murray to bounce back.

nkb: I’m honestly not at all sure of what we should expect from Murray. In his four full seasons with the Pens, Murray has alternated between quality starter and barely NHL-calibre performances. If we get the Murray of 2016-17 and 18-19, then the Sens are laughing. If they get the Murray of 17-18 or 19-20 then they will rue the day they signed that extension. I’ll go with something in the middle: decent performance until the backend is shored up a bit. Murray will be an upgrade on Anderson, but he’ll get lots of competition from Hogberg.

Dorion’s now made two trades to shore up the blueline for next season. With Josh Brown and Erik Gudbranson in the fold, who do you think will fill the top 6 for Ottawa? Will Brannstrom spend a lot of time in Belleville?

Shaan: If he performs like I think he’s going to perform, Brannstrom is going to play the full season in Ottawa. I hope D.J. Smith is willing to keep Gudbranson or Zaitsev in the press box each game, though I’d prefer to play Zaitsev because they need to find a way to flip him as soon as possible. The ideal pairs for me would be Chabot - Brown, Wolanin - Brannstrom, and Reilly - Zaitsev.

Ross: We shall see. Chabot, Zaitsev, Zub, Gudbranson, Wolanin, and Brown should get first crack, with Rielly as the 7th. My prediction is Brannstrom will be too good to stay down, and likely Brown starts sitting.

Spencer: I think we give too much credit to players like Rielly and Zub when talking about Brannstrom being on the outside looking in. As someone who watched *a lot* of Brannstrom last year, there’s really only one defender better than him on the Sens roster. Smith just needs to trust him to play more minutes, because he can handle it.

thedaigle1: I can see all of Brown, Gudbranson, and Zaitsev in the top six, if for no other purpose than for fans to vent their frustrations without damaging the egos of our young defenders. With the exception of Brown, I expect the Sens to get crushed with these veteran defenders on the ice and the novelty will wear off quickly along with the fanbase’s patience. I agree with the majority that Reilly probably finds himself the odd man out. His game consists mostly of shooting the puck without discrimination and we’d rather see that from our young defenders who need to develop their offensive confidence in the NHL.

Beata: My heart says the kids will all get a chance to play on the blueline. My head says the older guys are all going to get way more time than they deserve in the top six, and it will be very obvious they don’t belong there. Ah, Sens.

N_Dew: I probably will regret saying this but I think Gudbranson may not be as bad as we think. Brannstrom will be the one who needs to earn his spot and convince management to sit out one of the vets (mainly Zaitsev/Brown) but it all really depends on his performance early on. I don’t expect him to be spending extended periods of time in Belleville.

Brandon: I think whether or not Erik Brannstrom plays in Ottawa this year will depend on Erik Brannstrom. He’s much closer than we think, in my mind, and if he’s put on some size and rounded out his defensive game a little bit, there’s no reason he can’t make the full-time jump this year. People need to remember he’s barely 21 years old. Even if he spends the bulk of this year in Belleville, he’s got plenty of time left on his development curve.

nkb: I’ll agree with Brandon a bit here in that I get the sense folks are forgetting just how young Brannstrom really is. That said, while I understand the arguments for making players “earn it”, this upcoming season is the perfect time for some of the Sens’ younger players to cut their teeth a bit. Brannstrom needs to have the freedom to make plays with the puck to reach his maximum potential. It’ll be hard for him to do that if he’s afraid of being benched after every turnover. I’m hopeful he’ll win the coaches over and we’ll see him play prominent minutes. If he’s playing less than 60 games in Ottawa this upcoming season, something’s gone wrong.

With Ottawa yet to reach agreement with any of their RFAs, who do you see going to arbitration and who do you think will get signed ahead of the big day?

Shaan:I don’t think anyone will be going to arbitration. The only one I see getting a one-year deal is Chris Tierney due to the glut of centre prospects, and I think the two sides will agree on a number before the hearing. I see the others signing in the coming weeks for two years each.

Ross: I think Connor Brown makes it to arbitration. The Sens won’t want to pay him like DJ Smith used him last year.

Spencer: I agree with Ross on this one. Brown is going to look to get top minute money when, in actuality, he’s not that player. I don’t think the Sens come to an agreement with him prior to his arbitration hearing. Oh to be a fly on that wall.

thedaigle1: Like others have said, there’s a bigger gap for Brown and Teirney between their actual value and what they’ll ask for in arbitration so those negotiations will probably go down to the wire. I don’t think the staff fully appreciate what they have in Jaroš, and I hope they can find some common ground because he still has the potential to round out as a solid second- or third-pairing option.

Beata: I agree with the other writers about Connor Brown - he’ll want to capitalize on a great season, and the team won’t want to pay him as much as he’s asking. Honestly, knowing how this organization operates, I would not be at all surprised by anyone going to arbitration. The penny-pinching, plus the apparent lack of concern about preserving the relationship between the team and its players, means they are not afraid to go that route.

N_Dew: Please just sign Connor Brown, although knowing the Sens’ recent history I feel like they will probably not meet his demands. Last year’s performance has earned him a pay boost.

Brandon: Well, Nick Paul’s been signed now, but I could see Chris Tierney and/or Connor Brown going to arbitration. Both of those guys could point to comparable players and ask for a significant raise, and the Sens can’t afford to lose either of them right now, so they might play some hardball. No complaints on this end, get your money, fellas.

nkb: Without just repeating what everyone else has said, Connor Brown strikes me as the only player that could head to arbitration. Brown was a horse last season, and he’s earned the right to a bigger paycheck. At the same time, the team cannot afford to be paying someone who is realistically a third line checker the kind of money he’ll likely want for his turn as the Sens’ leader in ice-time among forwards last season. Ultimately, I think the Sens will work out a deal because there will be a lot of pressure to do so. It’ll be a bit of an overpay, but Brown will work hard enough that most fans will forgive the surplus.

Do you think that, as it stands today, the Sens have an improved roster versus the start of this past season?

Shaan: It all depends on the kids. A breakout season from Batherson would go a long way towards improving the team’s offense, and we’ve yet to see what Norris, Formenton, Stützle, and others can do at the NHL level. Defensively, DeMelo is gone, which sucks, but a full year of Christian Wolanin will make up for it. Josh Brown is no slouch either in terms of analytics. I’m still skeptical about Matt Murray in goal. Overall, I think they’ll be better next year if D.J. plays the kids.

Ross: Very slightly? It depends a lot on if Smith lets more young guys into the lineup or insists on playing vets.

Spencer: I mean, they have more players with NHL experience now? So that’s something? For me, this season has always been about prospect graduation. Ottawa was never going to add big game players via trade or free agency. The roster improvements were always going to come from within so we will wait to see if Smith will deploy his lineup in a way that is an actual improvement over last season.

thedaigle1: If they let the kids run wild, then yes. If the team intends on leaning on its veterans then this team could finish 31st in the standings. You can’t expect the rookies alone to replace the offensive output of Ryan, Pageau, and Duclair. Josh Brown could be the next corsi darling and possibly compensate for the loss of DeMelo but it’s a stretch. And if you thought it couldn’t get worse than Hainsey on the second pair then you’re in for a real treat with Gudbranson.

Beata: It depends?

They Sens have a lot of really good, young prospects, and if those guys get the chance to prove themselves and do well, the team will be in good shape going forward. Do I think the moves the Sens have made this off-season have made the team better, though? No. All they’ve really done is replace decent players with slightly worse ones. I say the roster is improved just because the young guys are all a year older and there are some exciting prospects coming into the system, but not because of any trades or signings.

N_Dew: I think they’re going to be a more entertaining team to watch and with Murray we can probably see a few more wins but I still expect them to be a bottom-5 team. Stranger things have happened, but there’s an upper limit to my expectations.

Brandon: This is a tough one. I think the blue line may be a tad worse for wear right now, but this will depend heavily on the play of guys like Christian Wolanin, Erik Brannstrom, and Artem Zub. If the three of them live up to the hype, so to speak, the Sens blue line could actually be better than last year. At forward, again, it’s tough to say because they’re going to be so reliant on their group of youngsters, but it seems fair to say that they’re much thinner on the wing. The place they objectively got better at, to me, is in net.

nkb: The defence will probably be slightly worse as I don’t see anyone on the right side that will be able to duplicate Dylan DeMelo’s underrated performance from last year. The goaltending will be a bit better by virtue of swapping Murray in for Craig Anderson but their forwards are a great big question mark. Ultimately, I think if the Sens really do embrace the youth movement they’ll likely play a bit better than last year but might get as bad (if not worse) results. Next year is going to be hard, no way around it; I’ll mostly be watching for player development and incremental improvements.

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