Yay and Nay - 2021 Unrestricted Free Agent Edition
Last week we took a peek at the Ottawa Senators restricted free agents, a motley assortment of key youth, a few players on their last chance with the squad, and players that will amount to little more than a trivia question a few years from now. While that crew consisting of players like Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Artem Zub is interesting, the real interesting questions to ponder come from speculating on what Pierre Dorion and Co. will be doing with the team’s impending unrestricted free agents. It’s a group of players that any team can have without sending any assets back Ottawa’s way in the offseason if Pierre’s pen and paper don’t make it across the player’s desk first.
Throwing a wrench into everything is of course the upcoming expansion draft. Do you sign some of these players knowing that you have to use up a protection slot for them, or do you take a chance to leave them unsigned, exposing them to offers for the rest of the league, but allowing the team to use one of their protected slots for someone else? With even more highly regarded young stars coming up through the system, it’s important for Dorion to really look at the benefits of signing a veteran versus opening up a spot for another young player to make their mark.
It’s also quite interesting and looks good on the team that there are roughly half as many UFAs on the roster as RFAs, lending credence to how well the team has restocked the cupboards with youth. No matter what the team does with their UFAs, losses without anything coming back in return will be minimal.
Come join us and we take a look at all of Ottawa’s significant upcoming unrestricted free agents, sorted by their 2020-21 cap hits, complete with a handy prediction as to what the Senators will do with each.
Derek Stepan - C (2020-21 cap hit: $6.5 million) - Unfortunately for the consummate pro who has been a valuable leader and reliable 50 point scorer for the Rangers and Coyotes in the past, his time in Ottawa can charitably be described as a total disaster. Both fairly and unfairly maligned as the poster boy for the team’s early season struggles and extended losing streaks, Stepan did not help his case with his 6 points in 20 games, with only one goal. Stepan was supposed to be the honorary placeholder captain for this team, showing the young guys the ropes while chipping in on the scoreboard and being defensively responsible. However, a lack of training camp and a late trade to Ottawa right before the season but just after he had a new child which he had to leave behind in Arizona isn’t an easy circumstance for any of the parties involved. Stepan was starting to turn it around before a shoulder injury ended his season, and likely his career with the Ottawa Senators. PREDICTION: Will not be re-signed.
Artem Anisimov - C (2020-21 cap hit: $4.55 Million) - Much like Mikkel Boedkker and Ron Hainsey before him, Anisimov has been a valuable commodity as a leader and great teammate making way too much money for how often they’re out of the lineup and their contributions to it when they are in the lineup. You might be surprised to know that he’s played 67 games in Ottawa the past two seasons, with 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points combined. Better numbers than you would expect from a guy who’s only played a third of his team’s games this year. Recently, the total gamer even donned the goalie pads to cover for multiple goalie injuries in the same game, and nearly had to go in! When he is in the lineup, he’s still capable of chipping in a few goals and adding some speed. Nice things to have, but not at the price tag he commands. He likely won’t be back next season with Ottawa. PREDICTION: Will not be re-signed.
Ryan Dzingel - W (2020-21 cap hit: $3.375 Million) - Out of all of Ottawa’s UFAs, Ryan Dzingel presents the most interesting case and greatest debates. Both the player and team seem like a really nice fit together, as Dzingel’s career has reached its highest highs in an Ottawa jersey. A key contributor to the 2017 playoff run (he scored the tying goal in game 7 against Pittsburgh to send the game to Overtime), and a low maintenance veteran, Dzingel is likely overpaid for what he brings to the lineup, but a welcome presence none-the-less. At his best, he resembles Daniel Alfredsson with his skating ability, shot, chemistry on any line, and flowing blonde locks flowing out under his helmet. At his worst, he’s invisible or missing shots on goal. However, the former outweighs the latter, and he’s a fine veteran presence for a young team, particular on the second special teams units and the fourth line. PREDICTION: Re-signs with Ottawa at a 2 year deal worth $2 million per season, but not until after the expansion draft.
Anton Forsberg - G (2020-21 cap hit: $700,000) - As far as you can pity an NHL player making good money playing a game for a living, Forsberg deserves his share of it. Living out of a suitcase for the past year, separated from his family and jumping from team to team without ever getting into a game, he’s been a very nice surprise in stabilizing the Ottawa crease amidst mounting injuries. Best of all, he was acquired for free on waivers from Winnipeg. His 2-3-1 record with a .910 save percentage with the Sens likely bought him another NHL contract for next season. However, with no less than 5 significant goaltending prospects in need of playing time, it likely won’t be with Ottawa. Hope he hasn’t unpacked his suitcase yet. PREDICTION: Will not be re-signed.
Clark Bishop - C (2020-21 cap hit: $700,000) - The Group six free agent was supposed to be a restricted free agent, but will not reach the minimum games played threshold and will therefore be a UFA this off-season. Bishop has been fine as a fourth line placeholder with energy, but likely maxes out at the position in the NHL, but more likely has a productive AHL career ahead of him. Given that status, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ottawa re-sign him on a two way deal to be a veteran leader in Belleville who gets the odd cup of coffee as an injury fill in with the big club. PREDICTION: 2 year, two way deal at $700,000
Matthew Peca - C (2020-21 cap hit: $700,000) - No relation to the legendary Michael Peca, Matthew fills the same kind of role that Clark Bishop does. His NHL performances are likely better than expected of him, likely due to the excitement level of playing in the show. It’s a total coin flip if he re-signs here on a two way deal, but he likely won’t do better than that anywhere else in the league. PREDICTION: 2 year, two way deal at $700,000
Micheal Haley - C (2020-21 cap hit: $700,000) - At 35 years old, and only four games with the big club this season with zero points, his NHL days are likely over. The journeyman only has 32 points in 274 career NHL games, but from all accounts is the kind of inspirational leader that gives you everything he’s got, especially when it comes to sticking up for his teammates and dropping the gloves. He might come back for one more AHL tour with Belleville, but at this stage of his career, that’s likely the best he can hope for. PREDICTION: Will not be re-signed.
With some minor exceptions, Ottawa is set up well to keep the band growing together in the coming seasons, regardless of what happens with their unrestricted free agents this year. Perhaps Dorion can take advantage of other teams’ cap issues and pilfer a good veteran from elsewhere. Other than the sentimental favorite that is Dzingel’s return, it’s tough to go wrong in any direction with the team’s UFAs. Just don’t go buying any of their jerseys this off-season.
What do you think Ottawa should do with their UFA’s this off-season? Are there any impending UFAs from elsewhere that you think they should pursue? Let us know in the comments below!
By Andrew Sztein | Sens Nation Hockey