Yesterday’s signing of Steven Stamkos by the Tampa Bay Lightning dramatically changes the free agency landscape for those teams looking to acquire top-end talent in this way. As the readers of this site know, though, the Ottawa Senators are not a team that usually plays at the top of the free agency market. So, while imagining top free agents in Senators uniforms is an enjoyable fantasy, looking at potential signing target in a realistic way requires aiming a lot lower down on the list.
In my previous post, I suggested some Group VI free agents that Ottawa could explore signing as a way to improve depth and add some NHL experience to the minor league roster. Today, I’ll offer my suggestions for adding some bona fide NHL talent to the Senators without breaking Eugene Melnyk’s very small bank account.
The players below are all Group III free agents, meaning that they are at least 27 years of age, have accrued at least seven years of NHL experience, and have expired contracts. When anyone talks about free agency in reference to the NHL, it is this group of players to whom they usually refer.
As outlined above, the key to this list of players is taking into consideration both the team’s history in the free agent market and general manager Pierre Dorion’s own words from just before the draft. When asked about whether Ottawa would be “active” in free agency, his response made very clear that the team would be seeking to sign only depth players and not anyone that might be a top six forward/top four defenseman.
So, considering the realities of the Ottawa budget and the team’s general aversion to risk, I’ve made some suggestions below for free agency targets for the team. I’ve included handedness for defenders and position for forwards and, for all, 2015/16 cap hit and whether the contract included a two-way (2W) clause. I’ve also linked each player to his hockey-reference.com page. Statistics (courtesy of Puckalytics.com) provided in the embedded images are for the past three years to ensure a significant sample size:
- Jamie McBain (RD) – $600,000 (2W)
- Justin Falk (LD) – $600,000 (2W)
- Korbinian Holzer (RD) – $750,000
- Klas Dahlbeck (LD) – $605,000 (2W)
The unfortunate reality is that Ottawa doesn’t value defensemen who lack size, current bottom pair defender Chris Wideman notwithstanding. The suggestions above are all above 6’ tall and are not exactly possession darlings. Each has strengths that mean they’d be an upgrade over the existing pairing, but weaknesses that exclude them from climbing higher up the depth chart. McBain seems to be the most offensively gifted with 110 points in 345 games, but also has played very sheltered minutes in his career. Dahlbeck (a victim among the unusually high calibre of unqualified restricted free agents this year) is by far the youngest of the group with comparable possession numbers to the others. None of these players will radically transform the Senators blue line, but each would make for a quality depth signing at a low price.
- Colton Sceviour (C) – $650,000
- Scottie Upshall (LW) – $700,000 (2W)
- Jiri Tlusty (C/LW/RW) – $800,000
- Michael Santorelli (C) – $875,000
Again, little separates these forwards, though I was surprised to find that both Sceviour and Santorelli have exceed Tlusty in individual points per 60 minutes over the past three years. Nonetheless, all four have decent possession numbers for fourth line players who generally start their shifts in the defensive zone. Upshall’s numbers are particularly interesting as he seems to have maintained a very good 51+% Corsi despite his offensive zone starts dropping well below 40%. Tlusty could also be useful due to his abilities to play all three forward positions and, as recently as 2014/15, to score 30+ points in a season.
Beyond these players are many others that Ottawa could consider, many of which would not cost much more than what these players will likely sign for. A player like Matt Martin fits the makeup of a player that Ottawa’s hockey operations staff have loved in the past (e.g. a big, tough forward who’s got “intangibles”) and, considering last year’s cap hit, I suspect he might sign for something like Chris Neil’s $1.5 million salary. But, that would mean the team is spending $3 million on fourth line wingers and I just don’t see that happening.
Also, as mentioned above, a third pool of free agents has emerged this year that could be ripe for exploit. Many teams left surprising restricted free agent names out in the cold by not offering them a qualifying offer. These players, cast somewhat unexpectedly into unrestricted free agency, likely would command extremely low salaries. A quick glance at some of the bigger names (Joe Colborne, Brandon Pirri, Dahlbeck) show players with less than appealing analytics. Still, taking some time to find a diamond in the rough could yield a quality player for a rock-bottom price. Unfortunately, I suspect the one that glitters most would turn out to be the one Ottawa threw away, Patrick Wiercioch.
Assuming Ottawa wants to give its younger players more time to develop in the minor leagues, signing a few unrestricted free agents will be necessary to fill out the roster. As we see, there are players to be had at very low prices that can provide the kind of depth Ottawa will need to perhaps push for the playoffs while also shielding players who are not quite ready for prime time.