This offseason may be the biggest in Ottawa Senators history. Lots of rumors have swirled around about the contract of franchise player Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is due for a massive raise, and there have been lots of questions whether or not the Sens are willing to give it.
Most of this stems from the Senators history of not wanting to pay big money. Under owner Eugene Melnyk, Ottawa has often been referred to as a budget team. However, whenever you have a contract as big as Erik Karlsson, you will need to save money somewhere. Whether that be for cash reasons or cap space, there are some other ways the Sens can save money to spend on Karlsson.
Erik Karlsson’s Money Can Come From Elsewhere
#1: Trade Other Contracts
The Senators have a few options this offseason on who to move. There are some names that could be gone, and some that are likely to return but maybe should be gone. There are two players currently on the Sens roster and it could be beneficial to move them.
The first player to look at is Zack Smith. Smith has a 3.25 million dollar cap hit for three more seasons. Smith is a solid bottom six forward, however, at age 30 it is likely to see nothing but regression from him. Even if he is still a solid player, his cap hit may be one to move to make space for better players such as Karlsson. Smith is a grinder and lots of teams around the league would likely have interest. This deadline the Calgary Flames were interested in Smith. He may be a target this offseason.
Another team may be the Carolina Hurricanes. Owner Tom Dundon made comments earlier this season about adding toughness. While they may not be true, that doesn’t mean the Canes won’t look for some toughness. Smith would provide just that.
Getting that hit off the books would not only save money for Erik Karlsson but likely get an asset in return as well. This could be a really good deal for the Sens.
Now, this is the most unlikely to leave of the three. Cody Ceci is a very divisive player in Sens fandom. Some see him as a young D with lots of potentials still. Others see him as someone who won’t be getting much better and is way overused. Regardless, the team is high on him and he is an RFA this summer. Matt Cane has one of the best contract predicting models to the public. He has Ceci between 4 million and 5.8 million. This would depend on the length of the deal.
This really depends on how you view Ceci. 4 million for 2 years is still way too much for a guy who needs to be sheltered to play even relatively effectively. However, what both sides can likely agree on is that 4-6 million is a lot that could possibly go towards a Karlsson contract. With Thomas Chabot ready to take on a bigger role, it is very possible for the Sens to bring back guys like Fredrik Claesson and Chris Wideman to fill out the blueline.
Ceci also still has value. Trading him would likely bring back a decent asset. This is something the Sens should at least explore this summer.
This option may be unlikely, given Melnyk and the money situation. However, the Sens retained on Dion Phaneuf earlier this season, something people thought they’d never do. So who would be the buyout target? The man who came back in the Phaneuf deal, Marian Gaborik.
Most people would think Alexandre Burrows, and this would be fine too. The problem is because Burrows is over 35 there would be no cap relief. So, at this point, it wouldn’t make sense. Gaborik has three years left at 4.9 million dollars. Buying him out would see a cap hit for the Sens for the next six seasons. According to Cap Friendly, the cap hits would look like this; 1.5, 2.9, 3, 1.2, 1.2, 1.2.
So, the Senators would see some marginal savings in years 1-3, but take on an extra 1.2 for three years after. The upside for the Sens is it would give immediate cap relief for the first two seasons of Erik Karlsson and his new contract. The downside is the cost for the rest of the year.
On top of this, Gaborik is still a fine player when healthy. Ideally, if you were to lose Gaborik’s hit it would be through LTIR. However, this may not happen if he doesn’t fit criteria. This isn’t a likely option, but another thing for the Sens to look at.
#3: Playing Rookies
This was a huge complaint of Guy Boucher last season. He often refused to play young guys. It wasn’t the only Sens struggle, but it was one of many. Even by the end of the meaningless season, some prospects were stuck in Belleville.
The NHL is changing and playing young guys is key. Not only for their speed and skill but their cost control as well. Most young players are on ELC’s or cheap contracts. This could mean they are an effective way to have skill for cheap.
Using young guys such as Logan Brown, Colin White and others allows you to bury guys like Max McCormick, Burrows, and even Tom Pyatt. They could be either in the minors or just in the press box. Allowing these young players to come up will make room for Erik Karlsson’s upcoming cap hit, and also add to the team’s performance.
Whatever the Sens end up doing, they have ways to make room for Karlsson. At the end of the day, if Karlsson is traded, it isn’t because of cap space. The Ottawa Senators have multiple other places to draw cash from to make room for Erik Karlsson.
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