Staying Put During NHL Free Agency Was Right Move By Ottawa Senators

Pierre Dorion
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Genral Manager of the Ottawa Senators Pierre Dorion speaks with a runner prior to the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After a terrible year both on and off the ice for the Ottawa Senators, many teams in their position may have looked to make a splash in NHL Free Agency. The Sens signed two minor league deals in Paul Carey and Mike McKenna. Both options for the AHL Belleville squad at $700,000 salaries.

Now, the Sens often stay away from free agency. Having an internal cap, it’s often hard to overpay for players like many teams do. However, the internal cap saves Ottawa year after year from what is NHL Free Agency. Doing nothing on July 1st is actually a win.

Sens Play Safe By Staying Put During NHL Free Agency

Senators Recent History On July 1st

Let’s start by taking a look at what the Sens have done in the very recent history of July 1st. Last season, they made a few signings, most of them for the Belleville squad. Their biggest name was Nate Thompson, who they signed to a two-year deal at $1.65 million per year. It wasn’t a crushing deal like some made on July 1st are, however, it took away a roster spot from a younger, better player.

Thompson was traded along with Dion Phaneuf to the Los Angeles Kings prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. This was after a year of somewhat poor results from Thompson and an obvious need for change in the bottom six.

A year prior to that, the Senators once again signed mostly AHL players for the Belleville squad. The most notable signing was Max McCormick who will be on a one-way deal this year. This once again is not a deal that will crush a team in any way. However, still, McCormick may not be the best option for the NHL squad but may get a spot anyways.

Overall, these are still fine deals when comparing to the rest of the league. Who tend to overpay depth and old players for too much money and too much term. Let’s look at the deals this year.

Around The League – Bad Signings

There were lots of signings on NHL Free Agency day. A few solid ones, but the majority of them were at best market value. That’s the problem with Free Agency, so many teams are willing to overpay. Between paying for players who are 30 years old or older, years which often see non-stars take a rapid decline, and overpaying fourth liners, it’s hard to justify why you’re signing most of these contracts.

For example, this year we saw players like Jay Beagle, Leo Komarov, Jack Johnson, and Antoine Roussel all get contracts of three or more years at $3 million dollars AAV or more. There are many problems with these deals. The first is that almost all these players are barely NHL level anymore. They are known for their “grit” in a league where youth, speed and skill have taken over. Not only will these contracts take roster spots away, they are huge overpayments. There are not many situations where a player on your fourth line should be making much more than $1 million to $2 million. Having these players signed for big money and for multiple years is unnecessarily tieing teams to depth players, something that is easily replaceable.

The other types of contracts that were signed were for players on the wrong age of 30. Giving five-to-seven year deals to players like James Neal and Ryan McDonagh and three years to Ilya Kovalchuk means that teams will be paying for these players in their late 30s. It has been shown that players fall off at this point in their careers.

Not all players age the same, most stars are still very good into their 30s. However, even players who are solid second liners quite often see a drop off later into their career. How often have you seen teams sign big money players like this and almost immediately regret it? Even last year the Montreal Canadiens signed Karl Alzner to a five-year deal which they are already regretting. Milan Lucic may be on his way out of Edmonton after just two years. Andrew Ladd is a shadow of the player the New York Islanders thought they signed. The list goes on and on. Paying big money to non-stars outside of their prime is a bad idea.

Around The League – Good Signings

Obviously, not all signings in NHL Free Agency are bad. There are some that are good. Many of these are cheap, $700,000 to $1.5 million dollar contracts to players who can still help the team or may be undervalued. Free agents such as Petr Mrazek or Fredrik Claesson who may still have more to give. There’s usually two or three each season that show that NHL Free Agency isn’t all bad.

This year the Leafs landed John Tavares, aka “The Big Fish”. This was obviously the smartest signing as he is a legit star. However, after that, the list of good contracts to big names gets pretty short. Paul Stastny looks like a good deal because the term was kept to just three years. Players like Michal Kempny and Philipp Grubauer, who are younger and on shorter-term contracts, look like decent signings as well.

The problem with this is there are just a few good signings to the lots of bad signings that happen on Free Agency day. Staying away from it as the Sens is not a bad idea unless you’re absolutely sure you can get good value for a player. Even then, you should be thinking twice about it.

Flexibility For Ottawa

Not going out and signing a bunch of fourth liners to a bunch of money like the Canucks and Islanders did has its advantages. The obvious one is it keeps the bad players off the team and allows room for rookies to play. Rookies like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White and Filip Chlapik. The other reason is it allows them to be flexible in the future.

If the Sens do trade away Erik Karlsson there should be no doubt that some sort of rebuild will have begun. Even without next year’s first rounder they still may look to tear it down for a few years. Part of this is playing the young guys and getting them experience. When you have lots of big contracts that you can’t move because the players are bad it makes it harder to find space for these guys.

Look at teams like Vancouver, Detroit and the Islanders. All teams who should have been on full rebuilds for a while now but keep signing these older players. It eventually will come back to haunt them. Whether that’s in cap space or roster spots, or both.

Space For Better Players

This should be true for all teams, but especially for a budget team. When you have limited dollars to work with you should not be using them on something that time and time again proves to fail. Use the money saved by spending it on players like Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Karlsson. Use it to keep the good players you already have then found cheap depth other ways.

Not all contracts are bad on July 1st. Depth contracts for under $1 million are low risk with reward. However, 364 days a year it is fair to yell about Eugene Melnyk and his unwillingness to spend, NHL Free Agency is the one day that staying quiet and making nothing but small moves can really help a franchise out.


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  1. Good article. However while this team is going through a rebuild our ownership should a least provide and proper compensate a player in his prime like Karlsson. Without him we will have little reason to attend games. Additionally Eugenes perplexity of dumping the Ryan contract is quite insane since he obviously approved the deal in the first place.


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