The Rebuild & Upcoming Free Agents

The Ottawa Senators are not participating in the postseason for 2019-20. Instead, the team is getting ready for the Draft Lottery on June 26 and the 2020 NHL Entry Draft that is coming later. That the team has missed the postseason is really no surprise — the Senators are in the midst of a rebuild.

Related: The Ottawa Senators and the Promise of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft

How long that rebuild might take remains in question. However, with the number of draft choices the team has stockpiled, if the team chooses wisely, that rebuild might take less time than originally planned. In the meantime, the team will stay the course.

Item One: The Senators’ Plans Entering the 2020-21 NHL Season

But, what does it mean for the Senators to “stay the course?” That likely means the team won’t be spending big money on salaries for the upcoming season. In fact, Matt Larkin of The Hockey News reported that the Senators would likely become a salary-cap “floor” team for the 2020-21 season. Similar to last season, he believes the team will pursue a small number of free agents and also might trade one or two of their 13 draft picks for a player of substance. However, fans shouldn’t expect the team to spend big or to seek wins at all costs next season.

There’s so much still up in the air as the NHL begins to consider the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the salary cap. It might not be a bad time for a general manager like Pierre Dorion to diligently watch the situation, looking for some low-hanging fruit in the shape of an unrestricted free agent (UFA) or two he might sign cheaply to a single-season contract with hope of flipping that player at next season’s trade deadline for even more draft picks.

Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last season, Dorion sent Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the New York Islanders, Vladislav Namestnikov to the Colorado Avalanche, and Tyler Ennis to the Edmonton Oilers for draft picks. The Pageau trade to the Islanders garnered a first-round draft pick in 2020, a second in 2020, and a third in 2022. That’s great return. Might he do that again?

We will see first how the Draft Lottery goes, because that could be telling. Then, it will be fun for fans to watch how the Senators will negotiate the terrain of what will likely be a complex offseason.

Item Two: The Senators and Their Upcoming UFAs

As I noted, because the Senators are a rebuilding team, part of the team’s future centers around making smart choices when utilizing salary cap limits to create a competitive team on the ice while simultaneously preparing for a more promising future. As the organization looks toward next season, Dorion needs to make some tough choices. Specifically, what will he do with the team’s current UFAs?

Related: 5 Worst Trades in Senators History

There are, to my count, three UFAs on the team. Mikkel Boedker also was a UFA, but in May he signed a two-year contact with Swiss team HC Lugano. So he’s out of the picture. That leaves goalie Craig Anderson and defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Ron Hainsey. All have been good soldiers and offered solid service to the team. But should the Senators re-sign them?

Like it or not, NHL hockey’s a business. That means that, even if you have been a good soldier, your team must consider the questions: (a) What can you do for us now? and (b) How much will it cost us to have you do it?

That means the Senators simply won’t spend resources to sign all these players. If that’s the case, which of the team’s three UFAs should it re-sign? Each player’s contract situation, age, and the probability of good return on investment have to be taken into account when making these decisions.

Craig Anderson Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Goalie Anderson earned $4.75 million last season. He just completed his 10th season with the team and is 39 years old. Defenseman Borowiecki earned $1.2 million last season. He just completed his ninth season with the team (although he’s been up and down between the NHL and the AHL) and is 30 years old. Defenseman Hainsey earned $3.5 million last season. He’s only completed his first season with the team and is 39 years old.

Which of these players should be re-signed?

Craig Anderson

This season Anderson had an 11-17-2 record, a 3.25 goals-against average (GAA), and a .902 save percentage (SV%) in 34 games before the season was suspended. He had a great GAA of 2.28 in 2016-17, but in his last few seasons it has been 3.25 or higher.

Related: Why the Vezina Trophy Deserves Its Name

Although he’s been a workhorse for the team, I don’t think he should be re-signed. However, it might depend upon cost and term. If Anderson sees Ottawa as home and wants to remain and contribute in a limited capacity, he might sign a team-friendly contract to act as an insurance policy. But, for all of Anderson’s contribution to the team over the seasons, it’s time to pass the torch to Marcus Hogberg and Anders Nilsson.

Mark Borowiecki

Borowiecki is a physical presence on the ice. He’s an over-achieving, smash-mouth player who beats on opponents and blocks shots. Although scoring is not his job, he did rack up 7 goals and 11 assists this season. He’s one of only nine NHL players to have at least 120 hits and 120 blocked shots during the 2019-29 season.

Mark Borowiecki Ottawa Senators
Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He should definitely be re-signed. I value Borowiecki’s character, and I’m not alone in that assessment. In February, Dorion announced to TSN Radio 1200 in Ottawa that “We hope to make Mark Borowiecki a Senator for life.” And, I don’t see any reason Dorion wouldn’t follow through to keep his pending unrestricted free agent in Ottawa for the remainder of his career.

Related: Ottawa Senators News & Rumors: Tkachuk, Brannstrom & Batherson

Borowiecki’s already on a team-friendly contract and deserves a bit of a raise, but something just over $2 million should hold his place on the roster. Although I might not sign him to a long-term contract because his game is high-risk and an injury could put him out of the NHL, re-signing him is a no brainer.

Ron Hainsey

Ron Hainsey’s interesting. One of these seasons, he might retire and simply settle into an off-ice leadership or coaching position with a team. He’s respected for his intellect, and was a member of the Return to Play Committee this season along with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ John Tavares, Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele, and Philadelphia Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk. As well, his former head coach Mike Babcock used to say that Hainsey was a good defenseman because he “knew where to stand.”

Ron Hainsey Ottawa Senators
Ron Hainsey, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hainsey is also an on-ice mentor. But his salary is too high to support limited production. He only scored 1 goal and 12 points in 64 games during the season. He should not be re-signed.

What’s Next for the Senators?

This question is easy: the Draft Lottery and the NHL Entry Draft are almost like waiting for Christmas morning. However well the team does during the Draft, the organization already has Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk on the team plus a raft of young players coming through the organization who might make a difference. Plus, I believe they have a good coach in D.J. Smith.

Thomas Chabot Ottawa Senators
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The differences might not be enough to put them over the top next season, but within a couple of seasons, the Senators will probably become an NHL force once again. It might not take as long as people believe. I’m looking at 2021-22.

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