Weekly Question: Which Arbitration-Eligible RFA Should Ottawa Prioritize?
Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair, and Chris Tierney all need new deals this off-season
At the time of writing this, the Ottawa Senators find themselves some ~$20M under the salary cap floor. Rumours continue to swirl about dead contracts the Senators can absorb from cap-crunching teams across the league and about free agents the organization could pick up to round out the roster and get closer to the floor. Internally you can ear-mark players like Joey Daccord, Filip Chlapik, and Rudolfs Balcers for two-way contracts that won’t really move the needle cap-wise as these players have not earned arbitration rights yet. A few players, however, have the games under their belt to demand a bit more compensation and who, combined, could get Ottawa much closer to that $20M in missing puzzle pieces. So where to start? (As always, financials courtesy of capfriendly and stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.)
26-years-old / $1.6M qualifying offer / ATOI ~16:00 / 5v5 SVA xGF% 48.44
Good for about 15 goals and 35 points per 82 games over his career with about average nerd stats, Connor Brown profiles as a versatile winger who can play in all phases admirably, albeit with limited offensive output. Coach DJ Smith brought Brown over from Toronto as a two-way winger he could count on in close games and to protect leads while chipping in with the occasional goal. An increased role in Ottawa led to a logical bump in production. Along with a healthy Bobby Ryan, Brown can shoulder the tougher winger-minutes in Ottawa to shelter younger players like Drake Batherson when they make the jump to the NHL. From an organizational standpoint, Ottawa would like to keep Brown around as justification for taking on Nikita Zaitsev’s unpalatable contract. The question is, how long do you keep Brown around as a depth chart buffer and how much do you pay him to play those middle-six and shutdown minutes with so many young forwards waiting in the wings?
25-years-old / $1.65M qualifying offer / ATOI ~13:00 / 5v5 SVA xGF% 49.77
Good for about 18 goals and 38 points per 82 games over his roller-coaster career with nerd stats that are all over the place, coaches have profiled Anthony Duclair as the inverse of Connor Brown. Duclair has otherwordly speed and a great release but has received criticism for his defensive play. Coach DJ Smith has tried to expand Duclair’s game by giving the winger minutes on the penalty kill where he can use his speed to create short-handed chances, with some success. An enigma like Ryan Dzingel before him (for whom Duclair was acquired), multiple coaches have tried with varying success to get the most value from of the speedy forward despite his somewhat justifiable deployment as an offense-first-and-foremost-winger. With Brady Tkachuk firmly entrenched as Ottawa’s number-one left winger, Duclair slots in the depth chart among youngsters like Vitaly Abramov, Alex Formenton, and Rudolfs Balcers who have similar skill-sets and will all have legitimate shots at making the NHL roster out of camp. Should Ottawa sign Duclair for a couple more seasons knowing they can set their watches to his 20-goal output annually or roll the dice on the younger yet comparable wingers that they have in Belleville?
26-years-old / $2.975M qualifying offer / ATOI ~14:00 / 5v5 SVA xGF% 47.09
Good for about 11 goals and 36 points per 82 games historically, I hadn’t seen too much of Tierney when he played in San Jose as he get buried in the depth chart among natural centres like Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, and forwards like Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl who also played a lot of centre-minutes. When Tierney came over as part of the Erik Karlsson deal, I did some research, and fans in the bay really liked Tierney (aka Cobra) and spoke about him almost the way we spoke about Jean-Gabriel Pageau: a feisty centre who plays a two-way game and moves around the middle-six as needed. From my perspective, and likely some other Sens fans, Tierney hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. His nerd stats have really disappointed and he doesn’t produce enough individual offence to offset getting badly outshot when on the ice. Along with Artem Anisimov (and Colin White depending whether you see him as a centre or wing), Tierney represents the organization’s short-term plan to insulate the centre position while youngsters like Logan Brown, Josh Norris round out their game at the professional level. For what he contributes, Tierney’s projected salary is a little steep and the Sens have options in the pipeline to take over the role of two-way centre such as Nick Paul, Filip Chlapik, or even J.C. Beaudin. Does an extension for Tierney make sense beyond simply getting to the salary cap floor?
(All 24-25 with qualifying offers under $1M)
Beyond those three big names, the Senators have a lot of paperwork ahead of them this summer off-season. As I mentioned earlier, Ottawa has some bigger names who haven’t yet earned arbitration rights, and Ottawa will probably spend a bit of money on the UFA market just to get to the floor. And then there are these four players who have earned arbitration rights but for whom we have little data to work with at the NHL level:
- Nick Paul, for those, like me, who stopped keeping track, is now 25-years-old and just over 100 NHL games under his belt. When did that happen? Will Paul top out as a depth forward who produces 10 goals/20 points annually in the NHL? Small season-sample sizes make for some difficult-to-unpack nerd stats (45.86 5v5 SVA xGF%) but at 25, Nick Paul probably already is what he’ll become longterm as a bottom-six forward who can move around the lineup as needed.
- Jayce Hawryluk was a real waiver-wire gift from Florida who earned a second-round entry draft selection in 2014 with some strong seasons in Brandon playing for the Wheat Kings. In a full-time role, Jayce could realistically produce 10-15 goals and 30 points per NHL season based on his current trajectory, and he had net positive nerd stats (53.15 5v5 SVA xGF%(!)) in Ottawa after Pierre Dorion nabbed Hawryluk from Florida. I really like him as a wild card in Ottawa’s developing forward corps.
- Andreas Englund never developed into the imposing shut-down defender the Senators had hoped for when they selected the towering Swede in the second round of the 2014 entry draft. His lack of offensive production came as expected and in 24 games this past season, Englund fared very poorly in terms of nerd stats (41.20 5v5 SVA xGF%). Realistically, I wouldn’t expect much more than AHL depth or a ticket back to Europe at this point. Prove me wrong, Andreas!
- Christian Jaros hasn’t done enough at the NHL level for me to expect a lot of offensive production in Ottawa but he has steadily improved his game in Belleville and his nerd stats improved slightly under head coach DJ Smith (46.42 5v5 SVA xGF%). Jaros still ins’t a lock to make it as a full-time NHLer but he has the advantage as a right-hander with only Lassi Thomson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and, arguably, Artem Zub ahead of him in the long-term depth chart (although someone will likely come over from the left side). I really hope he fulfills the promise he showed in the AHL./
So let us know in the comments section how you would prioritize these cases. Who is a keeper? Should anyone not receive a qualifying offer? Or do you sign and trade? Vote!
Which RFA should the Sens prioritize?
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