As as far I’m concerned, the rest of the Senators’ season is a wash. I hope we get to see young Jimmy Stu hit some dingers, take in the summer sunshine on the soccer baseball field, and leave working on our abs until next year. Wins and losses don’t matter when it’s all good.
It’s in the spirit of just having fun and not worrying about the small things that I wanted to write about what my dream offseason looks like – not to worry about or debate asset management, necessarily, but to get excited about the possibilities for a team with plenty of cheap young talent and cap space. The Sens are about to go into the first season in a while where their team might reasonably compete for a playoff spot, and a market with teams looking to cut payroll. There’s a lot of opportunity to improve.
Let’s do some imagineering, everyone.
- The transactions have to actually exist in the realm of possibility. We can debate whether what I describe here is likely to happen, but you have to be able to at least see it happening. There’s no “Trade a 3rd round pick for Connor McDavid” here.
- The Sens’ financial situation hasn’t changed. This is somewhat related to the above. The Sens are likely to continue to spend near the bottom of the league next year, with their actual spending even lower than their cap hit. Also, they’re unlikely to trade for or sign anyone with massive signing bonuses.
- The Kraken will fuck all of this up. Having an expansion draft in the middle of a pandemic season basically throws another incredibly complex set of contingencies into all of this decision-making. I try to make assumptions about that while admitting that there are aspects about which I’m probably completely unaware.
- Jack Eichel doesn’t want to come to Ottawa. If he does, throw all of this out and start over. We could do a whole post just on what it would take and whether it would be worth it.
Okay? Okay. Here we go.
TRADE OTTAWA’S 2021 FIRST ROUND PICK FOR MATTHEW TKACHUK
You knew this one was coming. Matthew Tkachuk is young, good, and related to our future captain. Presuming there’s a world in which Brady is okay with sharing his team with his brother and in which Calgary is willing to start their rebuild by trading Matthew, the Sens make this happen.
Remember: it has to exist in the REALM of the possible. That’s a big realm! But it’s totally possible. Calgary is on the verge of performing major surgery on their lineup, and once they start offering Gaudreau and Monahan’s big money contracts and term around the league in a flat-cap world, I think Flames fans will see just how little they can get in return.
Get ready for some late first rounders, depth NHL players, and B-list prospects, Flames fans – and welcome to the recent world of Sens fans!
Also, as elite as Matthew Tkachuk is, if Calgary does decide to rebuild, is Matthew Tkachuk really the kind of player you rebuild around? A power forward who plays on the wing? It would hurt to trade a 23 year old, but paying him big bucks for the next 4-5 years while you rebuild doesn’t make much sense.
The Senators have an ace in the hole – a top five pick they can stomach giving up. They selected twice in the top five last year, have tons of prospects in the pipeline, and it’s a relatively weak draft where nobody has been able to scout as much as they’d like to.
Given Tkachuk’s age – he’s only 23 after all – it might take more than just a pick – an additional, later pick, or a prospect like Logan Brown or Lassi Thomson. But no other team in the league has a top-five pick they can bear to part with, the prospect pool, the cap room, and the ability to have two Tkachuks in their lineup at the same time. Matthew might not be on the trade block, I grant you this. But if he is, there’s no other team that can compete with what Ottawa can offer.
You could certainly argue that Matthew Tkachuk isn’t worth a top five pick, especially given Ottawa will pay that pick league minimum for three years. But the Senators have to get to the cap floor, and the ticket sales bonanza that would result from having a Tkachuk on each of their top two lines – or, god help the league, both on the same line – would help to pad the economic blow. It’s tantalizing from a marketing perspective.
I can’t think of any other move that Ottawa can make that would generate more enthusiasm around the team coming out of the pandemic and after years of PR damage from the poorly messaged rebuild. This would change the entire dynamic of the Atlantic division.
SIGN BRADY TKACHUK TO A MASSIVE EIGHT-YEAR EXTENSION AND PROMISE MATTHEW THE SAME
Another protestation to trading for Matthew Tkachuk is that his deal expires after next season, though he is an RFA. Presuming the Tkachuk brothers want to play together, their respective deals can act as hooks to keep the other in the fold.
Brady is due a new deal, and the speculation is that in a flat cap world, teams and players alike prefer short term deals of three to four years. I think that’s plenty likely, with Brady’s deal likely to look like the 3 x $7M deal Matthew signed in 2019. But if there’s a possibility to offer Brady a deal that starts with Thomas Chabot’s – 8 x $8M – the team should take it.
It’s true that the players may like to gamble on themselves and a rising cap in the next few years to try to cash in big down the line. But when somebody puts a starting bid of $64 million in front of you, it tends to get the gears moving. Give him $70M and the C, and he’ll re-sign.
When Matthew’s deal is up at the end of the year following, the team can offer him the exact same deal as Brady to keep harmony in the lineup and in the family. Hard to think the Tkachuks won’t think long and hard about a team who’s willing to give at least $140 million to their family.
SIGN CHEAP CENTER DEPTH
Presuming that the Senators let Artem Anisimov walk in the offseason (and they should) and Chris Tierney is select by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, the Senators will need some cheap, young, reliable center depth, even if Shane Pinto makes the team out of training camp.
There are four candidates I can see that are 1) cheap (no more than $4M per season), 2) young (under 30), 3) a net positive on shots generation/suppression (all courtesy of Hockey Viz) and 4) pending UFAs presumably available on the free agent market.
- Nick Bjugstad (MIN)
- Mikael Granlund (NSH)
- Phillip Danault (MTL)
- Jordon Weal (MTL)
If the Sens can lock up one of these players for fewer than four years and no more than $4M per, they should do it – especially if it means weakening the depth of a division rival, and appealing to those players’ desire to stay near Montreal where their kids go to school, etc.
SIGN A SECOND PAIRING DEFENCEMAN AND RE-SIGN MIKE REILLY
Mike Reilly has been a bright spot on an otherwise defensively atrocious hockey team, driving play at a very affordable price point of $1.5M. If he can be re-signed at fewer than four years and only a slight raise, the Sens should seriously consider it. For the purposes of this simulation, let’s presume a nice raise to an annual salary of $2.5M.
I’m also assuming that the Sens find some way to jettison Joshua Brown’s $1.2M salary next season. He’s been an absolute boat anchor in terms of driving shots. Maybe Ottawa can find someone who will give up a late pick or future considerations. Unfortunately, his real salary goes up to $1.4M. He might find himself in Belleville.
Also, it goes without saying that Gudbranson and Coburn are fired into the sun at the first possible opportunity.
Of course, it would be incredible if the Sens went all in and tried to sign Dougie Hamilton, a legit elite defenseman who would be perfect for a team that wants to take the next step. Considering how few of those make it to free agency, I assume all kinds of richer teams will be in on him and he’ll earn maximum term on a $8M+ per year deal. The Sens should probably stay away. As I said above – the Sens financial situation probably hasn’t changed.
This basically adheres to the structure set above to seeking out depth centers: 1) cheap (no more than $4M per season), 2) young (under 30), 3) a net positive on shots generation/suppression (courtesy of Hockey Viz) and 4) pending UFAs presumably available on the free agent market. I also targeted left-handed D.
I see three defensemen Ottawa can target:
- Jake McCabe (BUF)
- Jamie Oleksiak (DAL)
- Ryan Murray (NJ)
Of those three, Murray probably attracts the most attention on the free market, having been a former second overall pick. McCabe, on the other hand, is relatively unknown, has spent the season on the abysmal Sabres, and has had a solid 3-4 seasons of reliable, stay-at-home defensive hockey with a net positive shot suppression rate. He also draws way more penalties than he takes. He doesn’t do much offensively, but he could help to tighten up the leaky ship that is the Senators’ defence.
THE GOALIE SITUATION
I don’t know, man. This is a tough one. On the one hand, that Matt Murray contract looks killer, but on the other, the Sens have shown they have a fairly deep pipeline of young goalies in Gustavsson and Daccord. I don’t see them being able to do much here. You’ve just gotta hope that Murray can get it together in the offseason with a new goalie coach.
I assume that Murray’s contract is unmoveable, that Hogberg gets another chance, and Forsberg walks in the offseason. (Hopefully finding some term somewhere – Godspeed, gentle warrior.)
B. Tkachuk ($925k) – Norris ($925k) – Batherson ($736k)
Stutzle ($925k) – Pinto ($925k) – M. Tkachuk ($7M)
Paul ($1.35M) – White ($4.75M) – Dadanov ($5M)
Formenton ($747k) – Bjugstad/Granlund/Danault/Weal ($4M) – Brown ($3.6M)
Chabot ($8M) – Zaitsev ($4.5M)
McCabe/Oleksiak/Murray ($4M) – Bernard-Docker ($925k)
Reilly ($2.5M) – Zub/Brannstrom ($925k)
Cap total: $60.243 million – just a hair over the $60.2 cap floor.
This is a lineup that improves its center depth and defensive depth, adds a bona fide star in their top six with a compelling story that will sell tickets, and maintains plenty of cap and financial room for Brady’s monster deal the season following and a bridge deal for Josh Norris. Even with Brady making $8M+ per year, the Sens would find themselves $10M+ under the cap as it exists today.
It also allows for the young players to continue to grow. It doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue of the goaltending, and I could still see this lineup finishing well outside of the playoffs. But with a series of boat anchor veteran contracts off the books, development of the youngins taken into account, improvement around the margins, and the special sauce of a Duel Tkachuk Attack, you could see this team giving fits to the Division and the Conference.