Colin White’s contract status with the Ottawa Senators is like a Rorschach test: there’s a good chance your opinion says more about you as a fan than the situation itself. At the start of the season, Pierre Dorion spoke glowingly of White and the contributions he expected White to make this season.
Lest we forget:
#Sens Gm Pierre Dorion declares he'd put money on Colin White joining the team as soon as his season finishes at Boston College.— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) November 21, 2016
Gradually, as the season has progressed, Dorion has slowly backed away from that initial optimism. By the time the trade deadline came and went, and the Sens acquired Tommy Wingels, Alex Burrows, and Viktor Stalberg to shore up their forward group, the team was openly suggesting White wouldn’t see time in the NHL at all. Bruce Garrioch, who is as plugged in as anybody when it comes to the Sens, wrote as much a couple of weeks ago:
As much as the Senators would like White, who has 15 goals and 28 points in 31 games with BC this season, to join the club, GM Pierre Dorion and assistant GM Randy Lee don’t necessarily want to burn a year on the contract when it could be tough for White to get in the lineup.
Sure, he was a star for Team USA at the world junior championships, but coach Guy Boucher has a group of forwards with which he is comfortable. With the club in a battle for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, it would be pretty tough for White to come here and make an impact.
One possibility is signing White to a tryout contract and sending him to Binghamton, but the club doesn’t have to make any decisions until it’s been determined how long Boston College’s season is going to last. By Monday, the Senators will know if they have to make a choice.
When Boston College was eliminated from post-season play this past weekend, the two sides began negotiating in earnest. From the sounds of it, they’re a long ways apart:
OTT appears adamant that White NOT sign NHL contract for this season that, by playing 1 game, would burn 1st year of his entry-level deal.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 21, 2017
At this point in time, there doesn't appear to be any interest from White in signing an ATO to play in AHL. Hence, nothing imminent.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 21, 2017
Essentially, it boils down to this: the Sens don’t want White to play this season on an entry-level contract, but White doesn’t feel particularly compelled to sign an ATO. You can see both sides to this. With their recent depth additions mostly working out as planned, Ottawa is much less desperate up front than they were even just a few weeks ago. Guy Boucher famously loves his veterans, and White might be relegated to third or fourth line status. Conversely, why should White be excited about deferring his first real payday to play out the string with a lousy Binghamton Senators team?
Which brings us back to what I was saying at the top, most fans are going to view this through the prism of their pre-existing beliefs about Sens’ management. If you’re of the mind that Dorion and co. are right to take the cautious approach with their young prospects, then maybe rushing White into the fray isn’t your cup of tea. I’m not particularly convinced by the argument that playing a handful games with an NHL team down the stretch will somehow turn White into Curtis Lazar 2.0 but development is a fickle beast and there’s little doubt that White would play a small role at most.
On the other hand, if you’re pre-disposed to believe that Eugene Melnyk is perpetually penny-pinching this seemingly inflexible stance probably won’t disabuse you of that notion. Even after their three acquisitions, Ottawa is still thin up front (as the injury to Mark Stone has demonstrated) and really could use every single edge possible if they want to make any kind of extended run in the play-offs.
There isn’t one database that we can easily peruse to see how often top picks like White take ATOs versus ELCs but it’s worth noting that Columbus Blue Jacket wunderkind Zach Werenski took one last year to join Columbus’ AHL team before signing an ELC that only came into effect in the 2016-17 season. One critical difference: the Lake Eerie Monsters (now the Cleveland Monsters) were primed for a lengthy play-off run and would eventually capture the Calder Cup.
The Sens aren’t being totally unreasonable here, and there’s not much reason to believe there’s real acrimony yet. We are not at the point of panic. But if you are of the mind that the Sens aren’t doing right by one of the crown jewels of their farm system, you wouldn’t be completely wrong either. Someone’s going to have to concede here, we just have to hope that there aren’t any long-lasting effects.