In May 2021, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk took to a local podcast to talk about the team’s season and what to expect for the future. As always, he dropped a few controversial quotes the media swallowed up, including the team’s plans for free agency. He said in conversations with coach DJ Smith the squad are looking to the future but have notable shortcomings, especially when it comes to a top center and good defensive back.
Still, it’s been almost two weeks since the NHL’s free agency opened, and the Senators haven’t added either of these types of players. They also haven’t re-signed Restricted Free Agents (RFA) Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, which was the team’s top priority in 2020-21, and a deal has yet to be struck. However, it’s not all bad news for Ottawa, who made substantial free agency changes that addressed some crucial issues they faced last season.
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So, with the league now in the scorching days of the offseason and many top players waiting for the right deal before signing, let’s take a look at what the Senators have been up to so far and what they’ve been up to. still have to do.
The Senators were in a good position to enter free agency with very few major contracts expiring (other than Tkachuk and Batherson). They still lost three roster players, with the biggest loss being Evgeny Dadonov, who was the big star of the free agencies in 2020-21. However, the addition didn’t go as planned, and at the end of the season, the searing Russian was a fixture on the third line. In 55 games, he tallied just 20 points, which allowed him to score 29 points in 82 games, which would have been his lowest total since 2011-12. With the emergence of Shane Pinto and the expectation for Alex Formenton to challenge for a top spot, the Senators felt comfortable moving the veteran, sending him to the Vegas Golden Knights on day one of the game. free agency.
Ryan Dzingel is another striker who has found himself relegated to a deep role. However, there was never any real expectation that he would fight for a top spot. The Senators acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes after having had a disappointing start last season. Plus, he helped the Senators shake off two of their own disappointments in Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette. But in 29 games, he’s never gone past the last six and scored just nine points. There was no reason to bring him back for 2021-2022, so he signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes.
Ultimately, the Senators lost Joey Daccord, whom the Seattle Kraken selected in the expansion draft. In his first season as an Ottawa substitute, he posted solid numbers and even outscored starter Matt Murray on several occasions. However, a bad-timed injury forced him into a goalie battle with Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg, both of whom set better records in their brief appearances. It just left Daccord as the odd one out heading into the 2021-22 season, and while it hurts to lose such a talented goaltender prospect, it makes the Senators’ situation between the posts a lot easier. next season.
Several other minor league players will not return in 2021-2022. Restricted free agents Michael Amadio, JC Beaudin, Jonathan Davidsson, Jack Kopacka, Brandon Fortunato and Marcus Hogberg did not receive qualifying offers, while unrestricted free agents Michael Peca, Andreas Englund and Zach Magwood did not receive any qualifying offers. not been re-signed. Of that group, Amadio is the biggest loss, as the Senators acquired him at the Los Angeles Kings deadline in exchange for Christian Wolanin. That said, he only managed to play five games with the Senators, collecting one assist and leaving very little mark on the organization. The Toronto Maple Leafs decided to take their chances by signing him to a two-pronged deal, but it made no sense to keep the 25-year-old forward with so many hopefuls looking for spots in the roster.
So while the AHL Senators team suffers a major blow, the NHL roster is still almost intact. Dzingel and Dadonov had been all but ruled out of the roster at the end of the season, and Daccord’s departure is more of a relief than a problem, especially if Gustavsson takes another step forward in his development. Better yet, that leaves Ottawa with over $ 30 million in projected cap space, plenty of room to sign their top two forwards.
Join the Senators
The first acquisition came from Nick Holden, 34, who they acquired from the Golden Knights with a 2022 draft pick. While the veteran bilateral defenseman isn’t exactly what the team were looking for, he does bring stability and leadership to the team. a very young blue line. Before his arrival, no one was over 30; Nikita Zaitsev, 29, was the oldest statesman in the group, and Josh Brown is the next oldest at 27. Erik Gudbranson was supposed to fill that role, but the team sent him on the trade deadline for a late-round pick after dropping to one of the team’s worst over / under ratings.
However, the biggest thing Holden brings is the savings. Scheduled to earn just $ 1.7 million and with only a year left on his contract, he’s offering a huge discount from Dadonov’s massive $ 5 million contract which only expired in 2022. -2023. This is an intelligent decision by General Manager Pierre Dorion and gives the team the greatest possible leeway when negotiating with their RFAs. While Holden might earn a letter on his jersey, much like Gudbranson, it is more likely that he was simply acquired for a year and will be fired to make room for one of their talented young defenders. .
The next acquisition was a bit more confusing. With six defensemen under one-sided contract, the Senators have signed another defenseman in Michael Del Zotto on a two-year, $ 2 million-per-season contract. The offensive-minded defenseman has 13 points in 53 games averaging over 17 minutes per night in 2020-21. He’s by no means a bad addition, especially for the Senators, who struggled defensively last season and often had to be bailed out by their goaltenders. But his arrival creates a traffic jam that will ultimately prevent Erik Brannstrom or Jacob Bernard-Docker from gaining significant minutes in 2021-2022.
The Senators have added another defenseman in Dillon Heatherington, who played in the KHL last season and signed a one-year, two-part contract. He’s unlikely to play much in Ottawa and instead provide leadership to the Belleville Senators, but he has a decent track record as a reliable defensive back. They also signed the KHL’s Pontus Aberg to a two-pronged deal, which had shown brief flashes of offensive dominance with the Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks, but struggled with the inconsistency. . It’s a low-risk decision that could pay off big, but at the very least, it gives the B-Sens another veteran presence to help develop the Senators’ top prospects.
Andrew Agozzino and Kole Sherwood, two minor league forwards with some NHL experience under their belt, will join Aberg in Belleville. Sherwood has the highest potential at 24, but the two only have a one-year contract and likely won’t play too much in the NHL this season, especially if the Senators’ top prospects take action on their own. securing places in the line-up. These are purely in-depth additions that give Ottawa a bit of a safety net.
Senators have more work to do
According to Melnyk and Smith, the Senators needed a great center-back and defensive end. But they haven’t tackled any of the positions during the offseason, and at this point it’s unlikely they’ll find anyone who can fill either role. The best defensive defenders available in free agency have all signed on, and other viable options would come from the exchanges. As far as a veteran center goes, the best one still available is probably Casey Cizikas, but the defensive forward isn’t a top option on any team. Ryan Donato or Dominik Kahun are schemers, but they’re not veterans and haven’t shown enough to be considered frontline players.
Are the Senators looking to the commercial market? Jack Eichel and Vladimir Tarasenko have yet to be moved and will likely be before the start of the season. But both players are probably way too expensive for Ottawa, who have kept a tight grip on their top prospects and they are unlikely to part ways with either of them. The depth of the squad has definitely improved, but there are still significant gaps on the front lines that haven’t been filled and likely won’t be until their restricted free agents resign. While the future is still bright, the outlook for the 2021-22 season – at least so far – appears to be very similar to that of 2020-21.
An elementary school teacher by day and passionate about hockey, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors and the NHL Draft.