Back at the end of May, we discussed the Senators offseason priorities and came up with the list below:
As the offseason draws to a close, I thought it'd be appropriate to revisit this list to grade how the Senators did in addressing these items, as well as identify if there's anything else they have left to do.
To start from the bottom (with literally 0% of the votes), we haven't heard much from the organization regarding the succession plan for the GM position after Bryan Murray's final year in the role. It looks like Pierre Dorion is his right-hand man, and given Dorion's role in drafting many of the young players on the NHL roster, in addition to his local connections, it would seem like he's a natural fit. Another option would be to bring in an outside, more experienced voice to leave Dorion + Randy Lee as assistants for a little while longer, but that doesn't seem likely at this point. At the time, I was scared that the Senators were going to land Ray Shero, who ended up taking the job in New Jersey after a disappointing last couple of years in Pittsburgh.
Only 3% of you wanted Bryan Murray and co. to focus on landing a top-six forward, so that should mean that a majority of you are happy that valuable dollars weren't spent addressing a position that isn't really a team need at this point. There are still a couple of historical top-six forwards left on the market: Erat, Cole, Fleishmann, Bergenheim, Boyes, Glencross -- and they may be at a point where they'll take a significant pay cut for a guaranteed NHL job. Given the organization playing up the "let the kids play" mentality after letting Condra walk, and the fact that the team is likely near their limit in terms of salary and roster space, I doubt the Senators end up signing any of these forwards. I for one can't believe that some of these names (Bergenheim, Boyes) may have to take training camp invites to find a home.
GRADE: A - no major screw up!!!
Up next is goaltending, where the "right decision" may not be known for a few years. As we all know, the Senators decided to believe in Andrew Hammond's NHL capabilities and cheap cost, and decided to ship out Robin Lehner and salary (Legwand) for a first round pick. Yes, it's scary that Lehner is now in the division and went to Tim Murray's Sabres no less, but if this allowed the Senators to be more flexible in other places, then it may be a fine move. I was firmly on the "Stick with Anderson and Lehner" side, but I can rationalize the keeping of Hammond from the organization's point of view. Given the return for Lehner, especially in comparison to what other GMs got for Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack, etc. and I say that Murray did pretty well.
Probably the most disappointing option comes next, with 21% of you (and me!) wanting the Senators to address their defensive deficiencies. The team had four third-pair defensemen going into the offseason (Borowiecki, Cowen, Gryba, Phillips) and decided to swap Gryba for puck-mover Chris Wideman, a complete flip of skillsets. I like the move, as it rewards Wideman and echoes the organization's mantra that if you play well for Binghamton, you'll be rewarded -- Murray told Wideman he'd clear space for him -- but the team still has four third-pair defensemen. They're going to expect big things from the RFA duo of Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci this year, which is good news for us because they performed well together during the stretch run and are a lot better than any of the other alternatives. The issue arises that with one or two injuries, the Senators are left with a dearth of talent on the blueline. There's bodies for sure, with 7 D on one-way deals + Wideman and Claesson as NHL ready replacements, but no young guy like Ceci waiting in reserves until Thomas Chabot or Mikael Wikstrand are ready. Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff are two players wondering how they ended up unsigned as of August 11th, and may be in for a major pay cut in order to have a job. They'd both fit really well with Ottawa to give some extra T4 depth, but again, it doesn't look likely. Jared Cowen is getting ONE more chance (I think) to a) not be injured and b) play well, which are two things he hasn't done (except in small bursts) over the last few years. Murray explicitly stated that teams were calling on Cowen in the offseason, but he was hesitant to give up on a player drafted 9th overall with the SIZE that Cowen has. The 200-game threshold to evaluate an NHL defenseman is reasonable, and I'd feel a lot better about it if Cowen wasn't under contract for two more years with a $3.1M cap hit, but it is what it is. I really hope he proves me wrong.
The easiest A grade I have to give is next, and 24% of you must be ecstatic with Murray and Dorion's negotiation strategies as Stone, Zibanejad, Pageau, Hoffman, and Chiasson are all under contract (and still RFAs afterwards) for a combined cap hit of $10.225M next season. The only qualm some may have is that the Senators chose not to lock up Stone, Zibanejad, and Hoffman for cheap now, given that all three are trending in the right direction in terms of age, overall numbers, and underlying metrics, but it's also relatively easy to see the organization's perspective on signing the three to their respective deals. Stone got three years - the longest, given his age, and the most expensive given the fact that he's the safest bet to repeat his performance. Zibanejad and Pageau get two years each to prove that they're a top-six or top-nine option at the NHL option, with Pageau only making 900K (though he got his much-needed one-way deal). Hoffman and Chiasson were given "show me" deals that make them RFAs next year, and despite their low salary given their asks of $3.4M and $2.4M respectively, they must know that the organization will pay up if they improve. There wasn't really any doubt that these weren't going to get done, other than us being worried that arbitration may ruin the team's relationship with Hoffman. A masterclass performance.
The item that 36% of you listed as the most important offseason priority is the one that the Senators may still need to address come training camp, which is the clearing of contracts to open up roster space. Management made a point of bringing this up at any media interview as something they were trying to do, especially with Colin Greening's contract, and did manage to ship away David Legwand in the Robin Lehner deal, in addition to Eric Gryba at the draft to make space for Chris Wideman. Unfortunately for the Senators, the bad decisions in 2012-13 added up and Greening's contract led to the loss of productive bottom-six forward Erik Condra, and may lead to players like Shane Prince and Matt Puempel starting in the AHL despite their NHL readiness. With no expiring contracts other than Chris Neil next season, something will have to give with the NHL roster soon, or else the young players that the Senators trumpet may end up being shipped out, despite being better than some of the players that'll feature for the Senators this season. Milan Michalek's $4M salary + two years, Zack Smith's ~$2M salary + two years, and Jared Cowen's ~$3M salary + two years are prime players to watch on this end.
- In his first piece for us, Trevor argues that Bryan Murray is a bargain hunter. He has to be given the team's budget, and the contracts for the young players on the team look fantastic for the most part. [Silver Seven]
- One of these bargains is thanks to the $2M arbitration award to Mike Hoffman. Pierre Dorion was on TSN1200 to talk about the ruling, among other things; Nichols has a transcript. [6th Sens]
- The Hoffman ruling also signifies the 'end' of the Senators official offseason business. Though there's still time for moves, Chirp weighs in on what the 2015-16 Ottawa Senators will likely look like. [SensChirp]
- Although the 2016 offseason looks to be a busy one for the organization as a whole, it should be relatively simple for the NHL club compared to this one. Trevor checks in on players who will have to be re-signed, and how much they might cost. [Silver Seven]
- Andrew has a fantastic post on a couple of issues often not discussed pertaining to hockey: identity, violence, and masculinity. Give it a read. [WTYKY]
- The Top 25 Under 25 series continues, with Michaela looking at the feisty Max McCormick, Ary discussing BSens vet Cole Schneider, and Ross on Marcus Hogberg + Ryan Dzingel. [Silver Seven T25U25 - #22, #21, #20, #19]
- One of the more intriguing prospects in the Senators organization is Mikael Wikstrand, who's supposedly in a debate with the team right now on where he'll be playing next year: North America, or Sweden. [6th Sens]
- Some more prospect news from Jeff, who looks at the centre depth in the organization. There's been a lot of turnover at the AHL level. [Silver Seven]
- A TSN1200 interview with BSens head coach (for at least one more year), Luke Richardson. Features some thoughts on the BSens offseason additions and forward Shane Prince. [TSN1200]
- Chirp takes a look at five call-up options for the Senators if they a) ever need it or b) in case anyone from the NHL roster is traded. There are some names in here that you might not expect! [SensChirp]
- Peter Levi's news and notes column this week also checks in on what the Senators ECHL team, the Evansville Icemen, may look like this year. [Eye on the Sens]
- We all know the Senators love drafting locally. Here's a piece from the Citizen on how they've scouted the Gatineau area more extensively under Bryan Murray + Pierre Dorion. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Andrew revisits one of the most controversial trades in Sens history: Marian Hossa (+ Greg de Vries!!!) for Dany Heatley. [WTYKY]
- Some random dude was on Toronto sports radio yesterday and thinks that the Sens will eventually relocate to Markham. Um, okay? [6th Sens]
- A fantastic recap of the week's pertinent issues by Callum in last week's Five Thoughts for Friday! [Silver Seven]
- Your end-of-Nuggets audio, via a hidden episode of the Sens Callups podcast. [Sens Callups]