The Ottawa Senators did not make a splash on July 1; they barely even made a ripple. Still, the few moves that were made are enough to discern the shape of the club for the 2015-2016 season. The Senators let Erik Condra walk, and added Eric O'Dell, Mike Kostka, and Zack Stortini on short-term, two-way contracts.
The message is clear: the Senators screwed up in the past, which has both limited their options and changed their approach going forward.
According to General Fanager, the Senators went into July 1st with about $10,000,000 in salary cap space. They finished the day with, er, $10,000,000 in salary cap space. That's not a coincidence.
Yes, the Senators had cap space to do more, but they are not a salary cap team. Moreover, RFAs Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson are still waiting for pay days, which will cost a total of at least $4M, if not more. They also had a full roster -- the depth chart entering today looked something like this (RFAs italicized):
That's a very full roster, and it ignores players like Chris Wideman, Matt Puempel, and Shane Prince, who will all get long looks at starting the season in Ottawa. There really was no room for Ottawa to take on one-way deals without moving others out, and it's unlikely that Ottawa can move the contracts it wants to move out (and let's face it: there are a lot of contracts Ottawa would like to move out).
So Bryan Murray did pretty much the only thing he could do in this situation: he picked up O'Dell and Kostka, guys who are great AHLers and replacement-level NHLers, without having to commit to keeping them in Ottawa. It's a spare forward and a spare defenseman on a team with too many of those, but at least there's some flexibility with these two if Ottawa ever does manage to move out some bodies.
Kostka is your prototypical journeyman defenseman -- he has 20 points in 70 NHL games that he played with four different NHL teams. He's also 29 years old, so it's not like he's got room to grow -- he is who he is. O'Dell is a bit more intriguing, as the centreman just turned 25, has produced well in the AHL, and has been a positive possession player with Winnipeg when called up to the big leagues. Is he likely to spend much time in Ottawa? Probably not, unless a few bodies are moved out, but he's at least a suitable replacement in the event of injuries to the big club.
A Changed Approach
In past years, Bryan Murray did not bat an eye at rewarding Ottawa Senators players who had developed through the system. If you look at the long contracts that Murray handed out that he's come to regret -- Neil, Phillips, Greening, Smith, and Borowiecki -- these are players who were primarily rewarded for working hard and being loyal Ottawa Senators.
Maybe Bryan Murray decided it was finally time to stop rewarding players just for being Ottawa Senators, and stop handing out three-year deals for bottom-six forwards. Maybe he decided that there are plenty of cheap options available July 1st available on short-term deals, and it was time that the Senators started to take advantage of it. Fair enough -- in 99% of cases, they're right to take this cautious approach.
But Erik Condra is not the 99% of cases. He's not Neil or Phillips, guys who are fan favourites and community leaders on the down swings of their careers. He's not a Greening or a Borowiecki, where you're betting on improvement because they work hard in the gym (or whatever the impetus was with those two). Erik Condra is what he is, at an age where you don't expect him to decline much, or at all, in three years. If the Senators couldn't close the deal because Condra wanted to see a bit more sunshine, play for his old coach Jon Cooper, and chase a Cup in a warm climate, then that's fine. But if the Senators balked at a three-year contract that paid a great possession player $1.25M a year because they think this could be another Greening situation, then they need to re-evaluate this approach.