As the playoffs wind down and interest in the NHL Draft continues to ramp up, it was only a matter of time before some offseason roster-planning information started to leak into the news feed and get people talking about what could be in store for the Ottawa Senators this summer.
Pierre LeBrun got the ball rolling earlier this week when he explained on Twitter that teams have until 5:00 pm ET on October 7th to submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents.
Capfriendly.com lists the Senators’ restricted free agents as: Connor Brown; Chris Tierney; Jayce Hawryluk; Rudolfs Balcers; Nick Paul; Anthony Duclair; Andreas Englund; Filip Chlapik; Christian Jaros; JC Beaudoin; and Joey Daccord. Daccord’s a slightly different case because the combination of his age (24) and years of professional experience (1), means that he qualifies as a restricted free agency under clause 10.2 ( c ) of the CBA. Players in Daccord’s situation are “only eligible to negotiate and sign a contract with the club that holds their signing rights. They are ineligible to negotiate a contract (offer sheet) with any other club. They are also ineligible for arbitration.”
Like any other restricted free agent Daccord still needs to be qualified to avoid becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Looking at the list of names eligible to receive qualifying offers, my assumption is that because the Senators have only used 28 of their allotted 50 contracts for the 2020-21 season, there’s a good chance that the Senators will qualify all of their restricted free agents. The only names that jump out as possibilities not to be qualified are Andreas Englund and maybe JC Beaudoin.
Some may look at Jayce Hawryluk as a potential candidate as well, but he played pretty well down the stretch for the Senators last season. Some of it may be attributable to the small sample size (11 games, 136:06 5v5 TOI) and a fortuitous on-ice shooting percentage, but I think the combination of his point production and good possession numbers are enough to warrant an extended look for 2020-21 – especially since it shouldn’t cost the Senators much more than the league minimum.
The only wrinkle is that with the NHL’s flat cap next season, it could create a situation in which good RFAs on other teams become available in trade or simply aren’t qualified because of the financial ramifications of this flat cap and effects of the pandemic on teams’ revenue streams.
Bruce Garrioch had a number of important news items in his latest article for Postmedia hitting on Mark Borowiecki’s impending free agent departure and the possibility that the Senators could trade some of their draft picks to acquire a veteran centre who can play in the team’s top-six.
Borowiecki’s departure was first discussed in Hailey Salvian’s article for The Athletic last week, so fans have had time to digest the news, but according to Bruce, the Senators elected to move on from Borowiecki because they “likely weren’t willing to meet the money or term he wanted in a new deal.”
Garrioch guessed that Borowiecki is looking for a two or three-year pact on the open market and considering the young depth that the Senators have accumulated on the blue line, they likely do not want to box out some of their prospects one, two or three years down the line.
Moving on from Borowiecki makes a ton of sense strictly speaking from an on-ice performance perspective. Over the years, Boro’s frequently been chastised for the team’s poor results whenever he played even strength minutes and for it, analytically-inclined fans and pundits have been quick to assert that the lineup would be more efficient if other alternatives played instead.
Even in Borowiecki’s career offensive season last year in which he led Senators defencemen in goals with seven and scored a career-high 18 points, the team’s shot metrics with him on the ice were putrid.
The Senators’ percentage of shots for (43.92 CF%) when Borowiecki was on the ice at five-on-five was the worst mark amongst Senators regulars. Other metrics like the percentage of shots on goal (46.93 SF%), goals for (43.28 GF%), scoring chances for (45.09 SCF%) and expected goals for (48.48 xGF%) were not particularly flattering either, but help underscore the fact that even in what was widely heralded as a career season, Borowiecki was still somewhat of a liability on the ice.
Since the Senators acquired Mike Reilly last season, it felt like Borowiecki’s days with the organization were numbered, but to his credit, he provides elements to the team that no one else does. In that sense, he’s a unique figure on the ice but it is off the ice where his actions and behaviour has really resonated with this fan base.
At a time when the organization appears content to do the absolute bare minimum and simply check off boxes when it comes to using their platform to promote social initiatives, Boro has gone above and beyond, instantly making himself one of the most genuinely likeable and recognizable persons in this city.
Even with the obvious shortcomings in his game, it is hard to believe that the Senators could not find room on the roster for Borowiecki as a seventh defenceman. Judging by his teammates’ responses whenever he scored last year, they obviously seem to pull hard for him.
Considering his work ethic, the intangibles and his physicality coupled with his ability to not only lead and be a mentor to the next wave of kids coming through the system, but be the kind of brand ambassador that this organization so desperately needs, I have a hard time believing that the Senators could not find room for him on a short-term deal that places him in a mentorship role. (As an aside, hopefully Borowiecki’s departure doesn’t compel the organization to re-sign Scott Sabourin.)
Hockey has a longstanding tradition of believing that it is the ultimate team sport and that fans are more interested in the team’s product and not on the individuals within that team framework. In looking at how the organization has not only failed to promote and give a larger platform to Mark Borowiecki, they have failed to promote Anthony Duclair and his Hockey Diversity Alliance.
Ottawa’s a diverse and multicultural city and in Duclair, the Senators have something unique. They not only have one of the few persons of colour playing in the NHL, but they have a 2020 NHL All-Star. Instead of using his voice, message and cachet to promote and be at the forefront of change, the Senators have literally done nothing. They relied on the Sens Foundation to put out a statement calling for change and an end to racism.
Under any other set of circumstances, it would be inexplicable, but not with this team. Not with this owner.
Getting away with the bare minimum has become the mantra in all manners of operation and Borowiecki walking out that door, maybe the conversation can focus on why good people on the hockey and business-side of operations continue to move on.
The Need For a Top-Six Centre?
The second interesting subject from the aforementioned Garrioch piece was his assertion that the Senators could use their surplus of draft picks to acquire a centre who can play in the team’s top-six.
The team desperately needs to get better down the middle, but I can’t help but believe that it would be an immense waste of assets to address a short-term need.
I obviously do not know what kind of pressures are on Dorion from ownership to make the team more competitive now, but the organization has often exhibited a pattern of moving valuable assets for good but not great players who struggle to move the needle. Knowing this, maybe there is a chance that the organization is exploring this avenue.
Unless an unbelievably gifted talent hits the market, I hope the Senators avoid the pitfalls of making another Bobby Ryan-like splash, especially when the opportunity cost would imaginably resemble something similar to what the Senators fetched for Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
They can afford to be patient here and grow this organically.
With the third overall selection in this year’s draft, the presumption is that the team will use it to select their future number one centre in Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle.
In Colin White’s rookie campaign, he played as the first line centre between Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk and if not for an early season injury that caused him to lose his spot to Jean-Gabriel Pageau and his torrid production, maybe White spends most of the season in Ottawa’s top-six.
The point is, White has played there before and thanks to the presence of Chris Tierney, Artem Anisimov and some combination of Josh Norris, Logan Brown, Filip Chlapik, Jayce Hawryluk or maybe even Byfield or Stützle, they should have enough experience and talent to get by in a season in which the team isn’t expected to reach the postseason anyways.
It is an evaluation year and ideally, of the Senators’ young players’ development will continue to trend up, but at the very least, the Senators should have a better read on players like White, Brown, Norris and understand their upside.
Pronman’s Biggest Draft Needs
Over at The Athletic, Corey Pronman assessed the biggest draft need for all 31 teams and for the Ottawa Senators, Pronman interestingly made a case for the goaltending position.
“The Senators have a deep organization in terms of young talent at a lot of positions. If there was one that sticks out as lacking a true answer for the big club, it would be the goaltender. Ottawa used the 37th pick in 2019 on Mads Sogaard. And while I think he’s one of the most athletically talented young goalies outside the NHL, his 2020 season didn’t inspire and I would argue there is more depth needed at this position. The other need is a true top young defenseman. If only they had a high pick.”
The Senators’ most obvious need is a number one centre and presumably, they will land one in Tim Stützle or Quinton Byfield.
As Corey mentions, the Senators have a lot of depth everywhere, the Senators do lack a safely projectable high-upside goaltending prospect. Considering the position, its volatility and the attrition rate of goaltending prospects, the Senators have obviously gone the route of stockpiling as much young depth as it can in hopes that one of their prospects pans out.
A quick glance what the Senators have already accumulated at the professional level in Filip Gustavsson, Joey Daccord and Marcus Hogberg or in the amateur levels like Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese, certainly takes the pressure off the organization to go out of its way and reach on goaltenders early in the draft.
Pronman’s assertion that the Senators could use another top young defenceman is true, but I’m not sure that the Senators will select one early in this year’s draft. Although the team has been linked to talents like Jake Sanderson and Jamie Drysdale at times with the fifth overall selection, with the 2021 NHL Draft being so rich in defencemen and the team holding numerous second round picks, I could envision a scenario where the Senators select two forwards in this year’s draft and then look to address some positional need in the second round and in next year’s draft.
I could not conclude this post without plugging Sylvain St-Laurent’s latest for Le Droit. If you have not had the chance, give it a read here.