*Except the one you constantly ask.
Look, the future of Mike Hoffman is probably the most important question Bryan Murray has to answer in 2016. If they can lock him up long term, you do it. But if they can’t, or at least strongly suspect they can’t, Mike Hoffman might feature pretty prominently in a trade for Jonathan Drouin Kevin Shattenkirk or some such useful piece to improve the top-6 blueline. And while it’s the question most Sens fans want answered, I honestly don’t know how it’s going to go down.
So this post isn’t about Mike Hoffman, instead it’s about all the other burning offseason questions about which RFAs/UFAs the Sens should bring back.
But first, quick shout out to Bryan Murray. Whatever you might think of Bryan, he’d never royally screw over one of his players the way Arizona GM Don Maloney did yesterday. He’d never do the league’s dirty work the way Maloney, Nashville GM David Poile and Montreal GM Marc Bergevin did either. He hasn’t been perfect, but even in his most prominent disagreements with players, he’s never traded someone 4,000 miles away from where they want to be out of spite while calling it a hockey move.
All salary info from General Fanager
The burning questions
Chris Neil, Shane Prince, and Patrick Wiercioch
This is an odd sort of grouping of players, but I think for various reasons these three will cause the most stress on management and fans to work out (after Hoffman). A year ago, it seemed like the Sens would be moving on from Chris Neil, if not at the trade deadline when he suffered injury, then at the conclusion of his current deal. In all honestly, I started hearing Barbara Streisand’s voice sing “Mem’ries, light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories, of the way we were” when Neil was on the ice (the question remains, who was our Robert Redford!?) But then a funny thing happened. Neil opened the 2015-16 season strong and here we are, more than three months later, and he’s still going strong. Yes, much of the value the fourth line brings can be attributed to his linemates, but Neil has looked quicker, better, and more productive than in recent seasons. Sure he still leads the team in minor penalties, but he’s settled down since a not overly disciplined October. Does it make sense to lock up a fourth line player who will be 37 in the summer? No, but offering Neil another two-year deal was always more about his longevity with the team and what he’s meant to the community. If he can repeat his play from this season (a tall ask) it’ll be ok and any new deal will likely look a lot like his current deal.
Shane Prince is easy in some senses because he’s a young player who’s still an RFA. He’s part of why the fourth line has spent a lot of time in the opposition end and he produces points at one of the best rates on the team. No brainer. It’s going to have to be a one way deal and he’s going to get a bump in dollars. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a one year “prove it” deal and Prince strikes me as the type of player to bet on himself.
Patrick Wiercioch might be the most interesting Sens player to watch. He’s played better of late, but has had a disappointing season to date. Any perceived value he built up with his strong finish to 2015/World Championship appearance has been squandered. Wouldn’t be shocked to see him shopped (and have no takers) at the deadline. Why give up an asset for a guy the Sens have repeatedly offered when you think he might be available for less in the summer? Of course, he won’t come free, he needs a new deal. He’s still an RFA, but he made $2M this season and established NHLers in their 20s pretty much never take pay cuts. PW on a three-year deal with a salary ranging from $2.5M-$3.5M (especially when you bring the advanced stats into the negotiations) doesn’t seem too farfetched but does seem like a deal that might make Murray and co. pause (aka the Jared Cowen EffectTM). I don’t know what the future holds for PW, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it takes place somewhere else.
Max McCormick, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Chris Wideman, Matt Puempel
McCormick and Puempel have had decent looks at the NHL level this season (and last in Puempel’s case) and seem like decent enough bottom-six NHL players. McCormick is doing all the things on ice that the organization would expect from Neil’s heir apparent. Puempel also has the benefit of being a former first round pick. They’re controllable, won’t be making that much more, and are cheap, controllable replacements. I wouldn’t be shocked if one or both sign a contract that pressures the team to keep them at the NHL level in 2016-17.
Claesson is interesting in that he seemed completely overlooked by the organization until this past month and suddenly looks like he’s a natural and appreciated part of the blueline. Yes, he’s been sheltered with Karlsson, yes he’s made some bad giveaways, and yes he has the smallest of sample sizes in the NHL, but when it comes down to it, he won’t be commanding a huge raise. With the Senators hopefully moving on (dumping) Jared Cowen at the deadline (endless laughter) or in the offseason (likely our sad reality) and with Chris Phillips’ inevitable retirement, the blueline is less cluttered in 2016-17. Claesson easily fits a 5-7 spot on the depth chart but won’t be paid like a Cowen (more like a Boro).
Cody Ceci is where things get interesting. It’s clear the organization loves him and he’s a former first rounder and a local boy. Things are looking good for Ceci to get paid. And that’s fine, he deserves a raise on his ELC. He’ll probably have just over 200 NHL games when the season ends and is still only 22; these are things NHL GMs value. It’s not a question of if Ceci gets a raise, but rather how much and for how long. I think PW’s current deal (AAV $2M) is an acceptable range for Ceci (though I suspect 2 years instead of 3 more likely). The goal with Ceci’s new deal should be more like PW and less like Cowen.
Chris Wideman is going to get a raise and locked up for a couple seasons. He will be seen as a cheaper PW (in relation to the new deal PW is going to sign). I wouldn’t be shocked if Wideman replaces Wiercioch in the eyes of management.
The Alex Chiassons
I don’t really know what Murray is going to do here. I know a lot of Sens fans think he’s a lock to be re-signed because of his inclusion in the Spezza deal but I don’t know how much Murray cares about that. Chiasson isn’t dead weight or anything, doesn’t make a lot of money, and wouldn’t get too much of a raise. He’s a fine fourth line player, but they’re not really the type you should be going out of your way to sign. I think he’s been better this season, but his lack of goals and points in going to hurt him (like it hurts us). Would prefer a Bingo guy (Puempel or Schneider, who also needs to be re-signed) get his spot.
I don’t follow Bingo closely and there are Bingo experts you should certainly be reading (Jeff Ulmer at Silver Seven for starters). All I can say is that if I was a betting person, Alex Guptill won’t be re-signed.