A pattern has surfaced.
In contract negotiations involving the Senators, discussions seem to be left to the last minute.
In a few instances, it did not work out particularly well.
Stalled negotiations with Mark Borowiecki fostered feelings of resentment. Feelings that became so strong, they compelled the popular player to leave. In Anthony Duclair’s case, the Senators’ limited budget fuelled fears that arbitration would give Duclair an award that the organization was not comfortable with. By refusing to tender Duclair with a qualifying offer, the Senators allowed a 23-goal and 40-point player to hit the open market without returning the organization a tangible asset.
For restricted free agents with little leverage like Nick Paul, the negotiation process went smoothly. But, for the arbitration eligible Connor Brown, leaving things to the last minute worked to perfection.
Shortly before today’s arbitration hearing, the Senators announced they had reached an agreement on a three-year extension. Like other contracts being signed around the league, Brown’s contract is backloaded. The right winger will earn $2.8 million for the 2020-21 season before earning $4.0 million in each of the last two years of his deal.
The contract itself should not be characterized as anything but a definitive win for the organization. It is relatively inexpensive and carries the benefit of not being prohibitively long in term.
Although Brown certainly plays up the lineup now, as the Senators’ roster improves, Brown will eventually be pushed down the lineup as more talented alternatives pass him by.
The Senators deserve credit for taking advantage of a soft market created that is punishing middle-tiered players.
Evolving-Hockey.com’s contract projection tool that does not account for the revenues lost from the Covid-19 pandemic predicted that Brown would land a four-year deal worth an average annual value (AAV) of $3.938 million. The gap in savings is not as sizable as the model’s predicted contract for Evgeni Dadonov (six years, $7.0 million), but the Senators still capitalized and arrived at a modest multi-year deal on another useful piece.
Brown’s deal only continues to look better when recognizing that the player simply could have been satisfied with a one-year arbitration award that likely would have fallen in the same AAV range that he ultimately agreed to. It would have been easy for the player to look at the Senators’ situation and decide that better alternatives may exist next offseason, but Brown re-upped with Ottawa.
It is a decision that the organization should be able to market and promote. It not only speaks to the player’s loyalty to the organization (and DJ Smith perhaps), but his willingness to be part of the leadership core and see the most difficult years of the rebuild through.
In retaining Brown, the Senators’ right wing situation certainly looks a lot clearer in the near future. Together with Drake Batherson and Evgeni Dadonov, the Senators have complemented the right side with a nice blend of age and talent. And in locking up these three players for at least the next three seasons, it affords the organization more time to supplement what is arguably their thinnest position in the prospect pipeline.
Accounting for changes because of the 2020 NHL Draft, The Athletic‘s Corey Pronman re-released his organizational rankings of the teams who have the best stockpiled players and prospects who are under the age of 23.
Following the 2020 draft, the Senators moved up from their previous seventh-overall ranking to third.
The jump was to be expected for anyone who has been following Pronman’s favorable analysis of Ottawa’s selections.
Earlier this month, Pronman awarded the Senators with an ‘A’ letter grade for their picks.
In assessing the Senators’ system, Pronman had this to say:
“The Belleville Senators and the 2020 draftees aren’t enough, even with Brady Tkachuk, to become a good NHL team. But there are enough pieces that you can start to see it come together. I think there are better days ahead for this organization.”
Some draft prognosticators are less enthusiastic about the skill that the Senators left on the table when they made their selections this year, but it is always reassuring to hear prognosticators say that it is only a matter of time before the Senators rise up the standings.
Inevitably this team’s young core is going to grow and organically improve, but there is a lot to be excited about when discussing the depth within the system. And even if Pronman’s write-up of the system pales in comparison to Eugene Melnyk’s promises of a Stanley Cup within four years, if the Senators can add some more high-end talent to the depth that they have accumulated — which is very realistic considering it could take another season or two before this team competes for a playoff spot — this team could be a dangerous team to play against in five years time.
Sticking with Pronman, the prospect analyst compiled his ranking of the top 155 players and prospects under the age of 23.
The Senators had eight prospects represented on Pronman’s list with only the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils having more (nine).
Of note, Ottawa was one of three teams (Vancouver, New York Rangers) to have two players being ranked in Pronman’s top 15 in Brady Tkachuk (12) and Tim Stützle. Josh Norris (36), Alex Formenton (40), Drake Batherson (42), Jake Sanderson (58), Erik Brannstrom (59) and Ridly Greig (153) rounded out the rest of Ottawa’s list.