Barring any last-second stupidity, the Ottawa Senators will enter the NHL Draft in perhaps the most vaunted position of all attendees.
This team has everything: three first-round picks, including two in the top-five, four (!!!!!) second-rounders, an abundance of cap space equivalent to the GDP of a small nation and, most of all, a boundless world of possibilities.
Armed with those assets, literally — and I mean literally — everything is on the table.
The offseason is a blank canvas and general manager Pierre Dorion is Leonardo Da Vinci. Or, at least, he could be. Because there are a lot of ways this could play out.
Before we get started, let’s get something out of the way right off the hop: the third of Ottawa’s three first-round picks, No. 28 overall, is getting moved.
After asking around, a source close to the Senators listed the odds of them actually holding onto the pick at “one percent.” It’s going. Which, frankly, isn’t much of a surprise. Keeping it just wouldn’t make sense — not when taking into account a first-rounder’s cache on the trade market and the pressing needs on the Senators’ actual roster. At this point, using that pick for its original purpose would be to milk it for minimum value.
People tend to forget, given how much focus has been paid to the organization’s off-ice exploits in recent years, but the Senators are in fact required to ice an actual hockey team next season. It’s in the rulebook. I checked. At the moment, doing so might be pretty hard.
The Senators, as it stands today, have precisely nine players signed for the 2020-21 campaign excluding non-roster players and those currently being loaned to leagues overseas, with just three of those nine under contract beyond the coming season. Despite the Sens being a rebuilding team that should be looking to convert on-ice failure into a hoard of prospects, they still need living, breathing bodies to fill uniforms in the meantime and, in the event they ever want to be good again, eventually have a few of those bodies be able to contribute.
Thankfully, bodies are expected to sell like hotcakes in the coming days. And with roughly $43 million in cap space, an already-stocked cupboard now set to add two top-five talents, and a flat-cap climate in which to operate, Dorion could sell that 28th overall pick for a king’s ransom.
So, what would that look like? Well, there are two ways of looking at it.
Let’s say the Sens choose to ignore quite literally everything mentioned above and double-down on accruing draft capital. That would be incredibly rude, for one. It’s like they don’t even value my opinion. But personal slights aside, there is indeed a way it could work out.
Namely, the 2020 NHL Draft is billed as perhaps the deepest in years, with high-end talent seemingly up for grabs well past the first round. When swimming in a pool that deep, turning a late first into, say, two early-seconds wouldn’t be the worst idea, especially when taking into account how blurred the difference between picks gets from the 20s and beyond. In that case, parlaying their 28th overall chip into two (or more) prospects of relatively comparable value to who they would’ve spent it on while patching roster holes via free agency could be a wise move for the Sens. If anything, it would at least guarantee high draft picks in the coming years. (Hint: because they’ll be bad).
There are two hiccups with that strategy, however. The Senators already have four second-round picks, so adding two more might be overkill, and Eugene Melnyk wants to win, baby.
Lest we forget our Glorious Leader’s blueprint for success released back in February of 2019, which included a pledge for the Senators to embark upon an unparalleled five-year dynastic run beginning in 2021. Well, we’re now mere months away from that supposed start date. And while Eugene loves to be late when it comes to bonus payments and arena deals, he seemed pretty serious about his intent to contend.
This likely points the Senators towards using that 28th pick to improve in the present, rather than for the future. And how they do that begins in net.
After publicly parting ways with Craig Anderson last week there are now two goaltenders left on the Senators’ depth chart: Marcus Hogberg, a 25-year-old AHL vet with 28 games of NHL experience under his belt, and Anders Nilsson, a 30-year-old career backup with, admittedly, the sweetest pads in the game. Even if the Sens do plan to tank yet again, that’s rough.
Thankfully, the goalie market is about to go nuclear in the coming days with a cavalcade of prominent names set to either hit free agency or the trade block.
The most tantalizing of the bunch, at least as far as Ottawa is concerned, resides in Pittsburgh by the name of Matt Muray, a 26-year-old, two-time Stanley Cup champion who actually helped boot the Sens from Eastern Conference final back in 2017.
That was 86 years ago. Feel old yet?
All jokes aside, Murray projects as more or less the perfect target for the Senators in their current form. Namely, the fella has actually achieved tangible success in the NHL before. That seems important, no? Surrounding a stable of young and exciting players with a guy who won two Cups while maintaining Calder eligibility would seem to do wonders for a locker room set to lose noted Best Person on Planet Earth Mark Borowiecki™.
Not to mention, Pittsburgh is actively looking to get rid of him. The Penguins announced the signing of Tristan Jarry to a three-year extension on Saturday, more or less appointing him as their future starter while unofficially announcing the departure of their other netminder for what appears to be budgetary reasons.
Frankly, the chips are continuing to fall right where the Sens want them.
Coming off a lacklustre 2019-20 season — Murray put up a .899 save percentage in 38 games — the pending RFA’s value has never been lower, the team looking to ship him out is transparently operating under the mandate to cut costs which therein depletes their leverage, and the Senators have the cap space to lock him up to a tidy extension. Murray is also only 26, far from the dreaded age 30 mendoza line for goaltender decline, and young enough to think his performance can bounce back in different circumstances.
With assets to burn, a package which includes the 28th overall pick and possibly one of their four second rounders could net Dorion his future starter and, perhaps, even a decent (if overpaid) role player via salary dump.
Regardless of which route the Senators plan to take, one thing’s for sure: it won’t be boring.
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