All is quiet on the Senators front these days. Depending on which Sens fan you ask, this is either a blessing in disguise or more organizational ineptitude on display. Because although the Senators have made a few minor moves (bolstering their AHL depth, ridding themselves of the Dadonov contract, and bringing in Michael Del Zotto on a low risk 2 year deal), the splashy moves many were hoping for this offseason have yet to materialize.
Not only have the Senators yet to show a willingness to spend money on the free agent market, but with no signs of progress in negotiations with RFA's Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, some are beginning to wonder whether management is willing to spend money on homegrown talent either.
Many fans have brought up Eugene Melnyk's infamous quotes about spending to the cap and run of unparalleled success in recent weeks. Some may give the organization a hall pass for the havoc that a global pandemic has wrought over the past year and a half, but others appear to be losing their patience, and fear that more empty promises may signal the impending departure of fan favourites.
You can't blame Sens fans for being a little skittish when it comes to negotiations with their favourite players. The list of former Senators whom many believe should either have ended their careers with the club, or still be a Senator today is fairly lengthy for a franchise that's only been around since 1992.
Yet as easy as it is to get caught up in the doom and gloom, and feelings of "here we go again" when it comes to Ottawa, keep in mind that there's two sides to every story. Because as easy as it would be to assume that Ottawa's lack of activity of late is a sign that all may not be well behind the scenes, it could just as easily be a sign that things are progressing as the team would have hoped.
When Ottawa brought in Pierre McGuire to become SVP Player Development, many wondered what his role would be within the organization. Would he simply be another set of eyes? Would he be hands on? Was he brought in to replace Dorion should the Senators season go off the rails this year? All are viable questions, and unless you were in the room when he was hired, you can't say for sure.
But if you follow the breadcrumbs, you're likely to arrive at the conclusion that McGuire, and his extensive rolodex of hockey contacts, was brought in to help on the professional side of things. This would then free up the Mann brothers and Dorion (who is truly a scout at heart) to focus on what they do best: drafting, and identifying hidden gems at the amateur/lower ranks of hockey. Between McGuire's interview on the Wally & Methot Show, and other media appearances, a common theme arose: he wasn't coming in to rock the boat in the scouting department.
Which means that his focus is likely to come on the NHL side of things. Trades, contract negotiations, and free agency. So before we rush to judgment and assume that Ottawa and their ample amount of cap space are stuck in neutral, let's first entertain the thought that this inactivity is by design, and is actually signalling the start of a coherent plan in Ottawa for the first time in quite a while.
It's no secret that Pierre McGuire had been angling for a GM position for some time now in the NHL. He was even brought in for interviews with several other teams before ultimately coming on board with Ottawa this year. Does anyone really think that if McGuire who, say what you will about his on air personality and meme-worthy soundbites, is an astute hockey mind would let his first acts with an NHL organization be screwing up key RFA negotiations? Highly unlikely. If Pierre only gets a bridge deal with Tkachuk and then the Sens lose him when he hits UFA status he knows that he's never going to get another shot at the NHL level. Clubs simply won't trust him when it comes time to lock up their star players. Pierre is as acutely aware of this as anyone, and is likely much more motivated than any armchair GM at home criticizing from afar about why Tkachuk isn't signed for 8 years yet. Brady is going to get signed, he's going to be the next captain, and any value under $10M a year is going to be well worth it over the long run.
Batherson should also be a relatively simple deal to work out as there are other comparable winger contracts in the NHL to base his next deal off of. Jordan Eberle, Brock Boeser, and TJ Oshie come to mind and all three are making between $5.5M AAV and $5.875M annually. So if the Sens can get Batherson locked up long term for anything under 6M AAV that's a win for the organization.
Key amongst all of this however is forecasting what other soon to be RFA's will cost, who will be coming off the books, and when some of Ottawa's glut of prospects will be ready to contribute at the NHL level. Because as much fun as the 2017 ECF was, most would agree that they'd like to see that success be a building block as opposed to the start of another tear down. Either way, fans shouldn't fret much about the RFA situations being unresolved until training camp starts ramping up.
As for free agents, outside of Dougie Hamilton, who by all accounts Ottawa kicked the tires on but weren't happy with the asking price, was there really anyone Sens fans are upset they missed out on? Gabriel Landeskog wasn't going anywhere, and there were a slew of wink, wink, handshake deals from Seattle gobbling up other notable players. What was left was a smorgasbord of overpriced placeholders (anyone eager to relive the 2020 logjam again?) or players in the twilights of their careers who didn't fit into the youth mould Ottawa is trying to create. If anything, Ottawa's restraint in this area was a good thing in 2021. The 2022 UFA list (granted lots can change between now and next summer) looks far more appetizing than anything this year had to offer.
Finally, when it comes to trades, the biggest ones likely haven't happened yet. It's not a coincidence that tidbits about Brannstrom and Brown have been leaking out in the past few weeks. This is likely an attempt by Ottawa to test the market to see what kind of interest either could command amongst other NHL franchises. Ottawa is now (or at least SHOULD be) past the point of making minor tweaks here and there. Now is the time to start acquiring players who can truly move the needle for this franchise. Little one for one depth trades or acquiring 6th round picks is no longer something that should be taking up much of either of the Pierre's calendars anymore.
Eichel still hasn't been dealt, and it feels as though 6 or 7 teams with players on the trade block are waiting for that one big domino to fall. Does that mean Ottawa is out of the Eichel running? No, but if you believe what a certain journalist who has direct access to the organization says, Ottawa is more likely to be in on Strome if the Rangers acquire Eichel than they are to bring in the Buffalo centre himself. Should that fail, there are still rumours Ottawa has offers on the table to try to bring in either Monahan from Calgary, or Hertl from San Jose.
All that to say, McGuire appears to be trying to instill his blueprint for success in Ottawa as reported by TSN1200's Shawn Simpson. For those unfamiliar with Pierre's reported 7 player profile it goes as follows: In order to compete for a championship in the Salary Cap era of the NHL teams need:
1) 2 elite centres
2) 1 power forward
3) 1 specialist forward
4) 1 shutdown dman
5) 1 elite puck moving dman
6) 1 elite starting goalie
While some will gripe about the "cookie cutter" nature of this recipe, it's at least a plan which is more than can be said of the Senators strategy when it came to approaching last year. And after seeing what some teams were shelling out in trades to try to patch holes on their teams this offseason, perhaps restraint will serve this team better in the long run than a splashy move to appease fans.
Which brings us to the crux of the entire fan debate currently raging online as to whether Ottawa should stay the course or sign everything that moves. The best choice (as is often the case) is a blend of the two. Ottawa cannot field their roster as it's currently constructed today and expect to make the playoffs this year. Something's gotta give if you truly want to start opening the window to compete for this team. That being said, Ottawa's prospect pool (outside of Jake Sanderson) is full of good players, but not exactly brimming with potential 50 goal scorers at the moment. Is now the time to deplete the cupboard on a home run swing to try and bring in a topflight talent? Again, probably not.
Which is how Ottawa has wound up where they are. If the reports on what Buffalo is asking in exchange for Eichel are true, then the Sens are better off waiting and trying to acquire that #2 centre to be on a line with Stutzle and calling it a day. Fans just had an entire season worth of complaints about the team not playing the kids. You should be actively rooting for Ottawa to not have a busy offseason where the very players you wanted so badly to see at the NHL level ultimately get sent back to Belleville because there isn't room with all the new faces in town.
If Pierre-squared are able to get Drake and Brady signed before training camp to long term deals (Drake below $6M AAV, Brady anything less than $10M AAV), they acquire a Monahan/Hertl type without selling the farm, and give the 2020-21 Sens players who proved themselves in a small sample size a real shot at being NHL mainstays then that's a huge offseason win in my books.
It may be a quiet offseason, but as the saying goes, sometimes "silence is golden".
By Kyle Skinnner | Sens Nation Hockey