The Ottawa Senators cap space is plentiful walking into the 2019 offseason. With over 30 million dollars in space and even more expected to come, the Sens have just a few players to re-sign. This leaves them with plenty to work with.
Gary Bettman says the league is waiting on the NHLPA to sign off and there should be a salary cap announcement Saturday. My wine sense is it’s going to be either 81.5 or 82.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 21, 2019
Questions about Ottawa’s owner’s willingness to spend are fair, however, there are ways around this. The Ottawa Senators cap may not be enough to reach the floor as it is. They are currently 10 million under last years floor and will need some spending to reach it. Here are some ways the Ottawa Senators cap room can be used.
Ottawa Senators Cap
Trade For Bad Contracts
The first way the Senators can use their cap space is acquiring bad contracts. The idea would be to acquire an asset, whether that be a player or pick, along with the bad contract. There are a few teams that really need help and the Sens could help that. The Vegas Golden Knights are rumoured to trade a big name just to get some cap room. However, they also have David Clarkson and his 5.25 million dollar cap hit for one more year to get rid of.
The reason this could work in Ottawa is that Clarkson could be put on Long-Term Injury Reserve. Meaning the money will not come necessarily come out of Melnyk’s pocket. The reason Ottawa can do this and Vegas can’t is because to begin a year a team needs to be under the cap before using LTIR. Gaining a higher pick to help relieve a cap crunch could be a very smart move for Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
Other targets include Ryan Callahan and David Backes. Backes would likely play out the year but a veteran presence could help a young Sens locker room. It sounds like Callahan may be done playing hockey due to a very unfortunate situation. He was placed on long-term injury reserve by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and could be a likely candidate for the IR if dealt to Ottawa.
All of these players could bring in some kind of pick or player as a useful asset. The Clarkson contract may even help bring in a high pick given Vegas’s desperate need to find cap space.
Avoid Long Contracts
The key for Ottawa is to avoid long contracts. Some contracts like Nikita Zaitsev or Milan Lucic stretch on for so long it could hurt Ottawa in the future. While they don’t need cap room now, in three or four years the Sens will very likely need space to re-sign their own players.
Having guys like Lucic or Zaitsev still on the payroll at that time could hurt the Sens like it is hurting their current teams right now. Avoiding deals that are three years or longer is key for the Senators. This will ensure that when guys like Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Erik Brannstrom are due for big raises the Sens will have the space to do it.
Buy Low Prove It Deals
The next option for the Ottawa Senators cap is a cheaper option that could also be helpful. The Sens could try and find some players that are cheaper and sign them to one-year ‘prove it’ type deals. The Senators have already done this with Anthony Duclair. Looking to see if he can keep a longer streak of the great play he showed when traded, Ottawa signed him to a one-year deal.
The benefit to this is if the player plays well you get a guy you can re-sign to help you moving forward. Or you can use the said player as trade bait come the Trade Deadline. It is pretty likely that the Senators will be lower in the standings this year, so anyone who shines but isn’t part of long-term plans can be used to swap for more assets come the deadline.
The downside to this is teams only have a certain amount of roster spots. It will be hard to sign more than one or two players. This is because the Sens have so many potential rookies looking for a full-time spot. Drake Batherson, Filip Chlapik, Logan Brown and more are all competing for a spot on this team. Ottawa also needs to keep their own talent in mind if they look to sign free agents.
Short-Term Veteran Deals
Much like the above option, the Sens could look to add some veterans to this team. The key to this, again much like signing ‘prove it’ deals, is that they need to be short-term. Ideally nothing more than a one-year deal.
A Jason Spezza return to the capital could be something fun for the season. While Spezza isn’t what he used to be, he could still be a solid depth piece that adds leadership to the room. Another name to look out for is Corey Perry. He was bought out of his contract this offseason but could likely find a new home in Ottawa. However, with Perry, there may be more competition, so the Sens may have to look elsewhere. However, if he is available he can still be a bit of a pest and also may be a great option on the second powerplay unit. Derick Brassard and Eric Fehr are two more veteran names that may find themselves without a home.
The upside and downside are pretty much the same. The Ottawa Senators cap may be plentiful but roster spots are limited. If the right deal comes up the Sens should absolutely take it. However, signing even more than one of the above-mentioned players along with someone younger could make a logjam in the system.
Stay Away From Big Names
The Sens almost always do this every July 1st anyways, but staying away from big names is crucial. Not only is Free Agency known for being the times GM’s overpay for players but big name and big contract players don’t fit the Sens current situation.
This team should still be looking to add young talent as their young players grow. Adding a guy who is already near the end of his prime will not benefit in any way on a long-term deal. When he is worth it, the Sens won’t need the production. Then when Ottawa does need production, more often than not, the deals are not worth it.
Once again, it almost never happens anyways but staying away from the big players looking for four-to-five year deals, at least, will be key for the Ottawa Senators cap space moving forward.
In House Extensions
At the end of the day, the Sens still need to re-sign RFA’s Colin White and Cody Ceci. This will increase the Sens cap hit. Depending on the AAV it may even be enough to hit the floor. I wrote about why it’s time to move away from Ceci, but if they do re-sign him it needs to be short-term. Ceci is likely an NHL player, just not in the role he is used in. He could be a great third pair guy but Ottawa will never pay or play him like that so it is important they don’t lock themselves into a contract they’re likely to regret very shortly.
As for White, there are lots of options. If the Sens are not sure what they have yet, a bridge deal could be a good option. A shorter-term deal that wouldn’t pay a ton but would likely get good value while White develops. If the Sens do that and White does become a really good top-six centre, like expected, the next contract could be expensive.
That is why, if Ottawa is confident in his abilities now, locking White up may be a good call. Six years or so at a lower cap-hit than what his future contract would be could be a solid deal. It also has the potential to backfire if he doesn’t develop as expected, so the Sens need to be confident in what they have.
Ottawa Senators Cap Stays Put
If the Sens do re-sign White and Ceci to hit the cap floor, it is very possible that they could just stay put. This would be a disappointing outcome from an asset management standpoint as the Sens have the potential to pick up some good assets for short-term contracts.
Either way, the Sens have some big decisions to make this summer and they have a lot of cap room to work with. This fits nicely with the plenty of options the Sens have available.