I keep looking at the General Fanager page for the Sens, specifically the “43” at the top where the number of contracts is indicated. With only one more RFA to sign, Cody Ceci, that means that Ottawa’s entire complement of players will total 44, which seems remarkably low. And, that is before the likelihood of sending Thomas Chabot back to junior, which then removes his contract from the total number.
Do the Senators need more players? That depends on your perspective. Right now, Ottawa’s lineup, however it shakes out in terms of actual lines and defensive pairings, will include at least one rookie, likely Matt Puempel due to his waiver status. If you factor in backups, then the team could include Dzingel and Paul, two more rookies, or one or both of Tom Pyatt and Mike Blunden, two players best used primarily in the AHL. Moreover, the team’s seventh defenseman would be Mike Kostka, a serviceable rearguard also best used in the AHL or the above-mentioned Chabot, who’s development could be stalled if he’s forced to watch a lot of games from the press box. (Though, admittedly, that would require being outplayed on a daily basis by Mark Borowiecki, which should force most of us to ask why Chabot isn’t back in junior at that point.)
So, back to our question: does this team need more player depth? I’d argue “yes”. Without a doubt, the team needs at least one more defenseman and, considering that Dorion has said that’s the last thing on his wish list, there’s a good chance one will be signed. But, if the team is serious about winning now (as stated in reference to the trade from Derick Brassard), then at least one more NHL-calibre forward would be a good addition, as well.
But, this is the Ottawa Senators about which we are speaking. Short of whatever spare change can be collected under the cushions of the various sofas around the team’s offices, there is likely little to no money to spend on additional players. Consider the following numbers:
The first number, according to the same General Fanager page linked above, is Ottawa’s commitments against the salary cap. (Interestingly, CapFriendly.com has this number at $64,219,167. The difference is based on Buddy Robinson and his $750,000 contract making the NHL roster over Nick Paul and his $670,000 deal.) The second, which is by far the more useful one for our considerations, is the actual dollars committed to players for the 2016-17 season. Think about that number in light of Eugene Melnyk’s infamous comments from last year, specifically his mention of “throw(ing) $68 million dollars” at the team’s payroll. A number, he continued, that “puts us way over budget”. I’d argue that Melnyk is far more concerned with the actual dollars spent on players than on what the cap hit is and, at more that $65 million dollars *before* the team has signed Ceci, I think it’s safe to say that the team is going to be over budget again this year.
That leaves one option if the team is serious about adding even one more player and that’s to sign him at the lowest possible price.
Enter the PTO. Most years, one or two NHL players take a Player Try Out contract for training camp as a way to, hopefully, play themselves onto an NHL roster and avoid having to be a late signing in Europe, sign with an AHL team, or sit out the season until someone gets desperate for another warm body. But, if there’s any chance at all that the Senators will get a NHL-calibre player on a bargain-basement contract, it could be through a PTO.
Who are some candidates for this option? The chances of scoring Kris Russell this way are almost nil (and, with that, a giant sigh of relief is expelled across the Senators fanbase). Unfortunately, getting Brandon Pirri this way isn’t likely, either. Most of even the remaining higher-end UFAs will either sign real contracts with NHL teams just before training camp or will cut their losses and sign in another league. Looking at the bottom end of the free agent pool doesn’t help either as it means signing a player that likely isn’t even as good as the backup options outlined above.
That leaves the mushy middle–a group of NHL players who might be older and established in North America or who genuinely feel they’re better and worth more than what an AHL contract would compensate them.
I hear you. You want names. Here are four, in no particular order:
- Matt Frattin
Frattin offers a solid career positive possession having played for some pretty lousy teams. He also has been blessed by a little bit of puck luck (career PDO of 101.5) and all while starting in his own zone more often than not. As a right shot, he might be an option to spell Chris Neil after Neil passes the 1,000 game mark that seems to be the only reason he still has an NHL career.
- Jordan Szwarz
Szwarz is a Group VI free agent [http://www.nhlfreeagents.com/#!group-6-free-agents/c1nv7] which, by definition, means he hasn’t got a lot of NHL experience. But, he’s only 25 years old, has okay possession stats in a small sample size (especially in 2013-14 when he played in 26 games for the Coyotes) and started the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone.
- Dainius Zubrus/Domenic Moore/Barret Jackman/Dan Boyle
Okay, so I cheated with this one, especially since I’ve mixed forwards and defensemen into this mess. But, this group is the aged veterans who might still have something left in the tank and I don’t see the team giving more than one of these guys a PTO. Zubrus looked kind of terrible in the Stanley Cup finals, but was serviceable before that. Moore and Jackman seem to be the best options as the most likely to offer bottom of the lineup help. Boyle probably can’t play in the NHL any longer, but he’s an Ottawa native and that seems to count for a lot with the Senators.
- Adam Pardy
I’m not the first person to suggest Pardy as a target for the Senators, but at this stage in his career, he’d make for a serviceable bottom pairing defenseman. Yes, he had a terrible season last year and he’s started most of his career shifts in the offensive zone, but he’s had decent possession numbers in his career. Plus, like Chabot, he’d really only need to play better than Borowiecki every day to improve Ottawa’s defence.
The Senators flirted with bringing in Martin Havlat as a PTO last season and could be considering using the tactic again this season. Whether it’s one (or more) of the above players or others in similar situations, the NHL free agent market is such this season that there could be some legitimate NHL talent in desperate circumstances come the eve of training camp. Because of this, using PTOs could be the best way for Ottawa to add depth that will allow their young players to get more AHL time and improve the bottom of their lineup.