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Beware the Ides of March: Sens Looming UFA/RFA Decisions

As February wraps up and we're almost three weeks to the trade deadline (March 21st), Senators GM Pierre Dorion is faced with some tough decisions to make both on the UFA and RFA fronts. Of course, the Ides of March is the 15th so Dorion has a little more time on his hands than that. However, he has some very critical decisions to make that could seriously affect the outcome of this rebuild.

Let’s have a look at the UFA and RFA class of 2022 for the Sens and figure out who needs to stay and who needs to go.

Just like when they were kids in the schoolyard, looking for the best trading cards, NHL GMs are Ready to Make Deals

The UFA class is more time sensitive as anyone who isn’t extended by March 21st is likely gone for nothing by July 1st. Let’s start there.


Paul is all that's left of the Spezza trade to Dallas. If he leaves, you could argue the trade was a one sided flop. Honestly, if he stays, it’s still one sided. Paul will never be more than a good third line player on a weak team or a good fourth line player on a contender. I hate to say it, but those players can be replaced. I want him to stay at the right price and would give him term vs dollars.

Recommendation – No more than $3 million AAV for 5 years or move him


No one would dispute he is playing some good hockey right now. However, he is going to be 30 this year and the Senators have an embarrassment of prospect riches at this position. Tuukka Rask just retired. Columbus has a goalie on emergency loan while Joonas Korpisalo is on IR. Vegas is all in and Robin Lehner is on IR. Find a fit and pull the trigger.

Recommendation – Move to a contender needing depth.


The problem with moving all your unwanted UFAs out for picks at the deadline is that someone still needs to play from March 22nd to April 29th and the Sens should have their prospects playing in Belleville and developing with the view to a playoff run. If someone wants Ennis and is willing to give the Sens a 4th, I would jump at that. However, draft picks any later than that are minimal assets. I would let Ennis play out the season rather than taking a bottom round pick.

Recommendation – Play out the string and let him walk at free agency.


Sanford is all that's left of Logan Brown. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. His cup ring experience and ability to grind is a tangible asset for contenders. Only one of him or Nick Paul can stay, and I know who I would choose.

Recommendation – Trade to a contender for a late 2nd or 3rd round pick.


Eventually, the Senators will be healthy again down the middle. Unless they want to move Stutzle back to the wing, there won’t be any room for Tierney when Norris and Pinto are back in the lineup. If there is someone out there looking for a depth center and the Senators are willing to retain enough salary, they might be able to get a decent pick. However, I don’t see him garnering much interest.

Recommendation – Play out the string and let him walk at free agency.


I have always been clear about my thoughts on Brown taking spots in the lineup ahead of players like Brannstrom. No need to belabour the point. The Senators need players to play until April 29th. Brown can be one of them. Better he plays than Thomson or JBD in a non-playoff year. Belleville needs to make the playoffs.

Recommendation – Play out the string and let him walk at free agency

It is fairly evident that the Senators don’t have a great deal of value to offer contenders down the stretch. Paul is the only one I would be somewhat sad to see leave but I can live with it if the ask is too high. I also don’t want our top prospects playing out the string up here if it means Belleville misses out on a potential playoff run. They are on the outside looking in right now.

The RFA class for the Senators is far more enticing and likely to play a much more significant role in the team’s long-term future.


The buzz in the Twittersphere is “Why haven’t they extended Norris yet?” I strongly suspect this has more to do with Norris’ camp than the Senators. Anyone can see they have a solid top line center in house. They already let one go with Zibanejad. It’s important not to overpay with this player though. Tkachuk set the bar with his contract. He only did seven years. I would expect the same term though I would gladly add an eighth year. Sadly, I also expect this to drag into next season. Norris will want to see what the team does in free agency, and I don’t blame him either.

Recommendation – 7 years at AAV $8 million or 8 years at AAV $8.25 million


If I am Formenton’s agent, I would bet on the player with a bridge deal, given how he has progressed this year. If I'm Dorion, I try to get another value deal like Batherson and buy up some years of UFA on a long term deal. His speed is electric and his hands are catching up. I would use Colin White’s contract as a barometer and see if his camp values security over bridge deal.

Recommendation – Offer 7 years at $4.25 million AAV.


Brannstrom is a potentially capable NHL player in the five or six hole. However, Dorion sold him as the linchpin piece of the Mark Stone trade. “Trust me, this kid will be a star”. No, he won’t. Hockey is a puck possession game and Brannstrom can possess the puck if someone else retrieves it for him. He can’t take it from anyone. And on the power play, no one fears his shot. I don’t question his heart. I simply judge Sanderson, Thomson and JBD to be better. Of course, Chabot is the Alpha.

Recommendation – Play out the season. Trade at the draft or qualify.


Gaudette has been a decent waiver wire pick up who has shown some offensive potential given the opportunity. Of course, those opportunities will dry up when the Senators return to health. Depending on what Colin White does between now and the end of the season, he may be a buyout candidate. Gaudette makes less than $1 million. They have similar offensive production. Gaudette can play center or right wing. Gaudette won’t get traded between now and March 21st. However, he might earn himself a qualifying offer between now and April 29th.

Recommendation – Qualify based on performance the rest of the season.


Mete has struggled this year. No question about that. However, at 23, I like the idea of a depth defenseman in the organization. Brannstrom is worth more on the open market, but given their depth, he's worth less to the Senators. In a pinch, with a better team that possesses the puck more, Mete can be more effective. The Senators don’t fit that description right now, but they should soon. If they need to send him to Belleville and someone does to the Sens what they did to Montreal, then c’est la vie.

Recommendation – Qualify based on performance the rest of the season.


DJ Smith seems to like Gambrell. The 25-year-old can play at the pace of the game and he's responsible in his own zone. He brings no offensive upside and makes north of $1 million. If Mete were his age, I would let him walk. The Senators would have to qualify him to keep him.

Recommendation – Play out the string. No qualifying offer.

There's no question the Senators roster is going to look very different next season. It might even look substantially different between now and March 21st. There are rumours of Dorion scouting Kevin Fiala in Minnesota for a possible Connor Brown trade. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Most of the value their players can garner is draft picks and the Senators are in a different phase now. Stockpiling picks like food for the winter is no longer as much of a priority. No one likes losing players for nothing, but it happens every year. Nothing in our UFA class can’t be replaced. The RFAs are the future and if Dorion does it right, the Senators will have the makings of a legit seven player profile and UFAs will want to come here.

Filip Forsberg is rumoured to be on the move, and he is UFA at the end of the season. Someone will rent him for the rest of the season. However, can you imagine being in on a player like that this coming July?

Man can dream, right?

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey


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