Previewing The Ottawa Senators’ Free Agent Situation In 2016

With each off-season comes expiring contracts. The Senators had quite a few this past year and were able to lock up Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Marc Methot and Craig Anderson before they saw free agency. In addition to their UFA’s, the Senators RFA crop included young forwards Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Alex Chiasson.

Next year, the Sens have a number of expiring deals. Although the group isn’t as prominent as this year’s, there are still a few important pieces who need contracts before the 2016-17 NHL season.

 

 

Unrestricted Free Agents:

The two Chris’ (how the heck do you pluralize “Chris”?) are both due for new contracts. 

At 38-years-old, it appears as though Chris Phillips might be ready to call it a career. He struggled mightily this past year and injuries kept him out of the lineup. However, back surgery this off-season means he has plans to join the Senators again.

Look for him to fight for a roster spot this year, but it’s hard to imagine the Senators offering a contract considering their depth on D and youngsters like Chris Wideman and Fredrik Claesson still looking for a shot.

It certainly depends as to how Phillips feels and whether he wants to try and play somewhere else. But at this point, all signs point towards retirement.

Prediction: Retires after 1179+ games as an Ottawa Senators

At 36, he’s younger than Phillips, but Chris Neil is certainly not a young hockey player.

Neil has played 893 games, and will probably look to achieve the 1000 milestone in his career. The question is.. does it happen in Ottawa? And while there is no doubt that there is something sentimental about spending your entire career with one team, if he’s not a fit in Ottawa’s top 12 forwards, there is potential he’s dealt at some point this season.

There was interest in Neil’s services this past deadline and with his role not seeming to be a fit in Ottawa, it’s a strong possibility that he takes a job elsewhere for the first time in his career.

Prediction: Is traded/signs with another team as a UFA

The UFA group in Binghamton is far from grand, as just two defenders make up those who are set to be UFA’s. Mike Kostka’s play will be assessed in Bingo, and there is certainly potential he is brought back on a one-year deal. The fans aren’t too high on Patrick Mullen, as he needs to earn another deal as a pending UFA once again.

 

Jan 8, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Ottawa Senators defenseman Cody Ceci (5) controls the puck in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Senators 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Restricted Free Agents:

The Senators’ restricted free agent group is highlighted by Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci while at the same time, there are quite a few depth players in Binghamton also due for new contracts.

Fans are high on Wiercioch after a good end to the season last year. His play earned him a nod to the World Championships, where Canada took home gold. Wiercioch now returns to the Senators holding the prospects to act as a top 4 defender and another chance to prove himself. This comes after months of speculation last year where it may have only taken a 4th or 5th round pick to scoop a 6foot5, puck moving d-man. Now, he seems like an important piece once again.

He’ll be 25 when his deal is up and will look to cash in. All it would take is a big year this season and then Wiercioch, a second-time RFA will be looking for a deal. If we get that big season, then a multi-year deal doesn’t seem unrealistic. If not, then perhaps a one-year deal where RFA status is still retained is more fitting.

Prediction: re-signs in Ottawa, 1 year/multi-year deal. AAV > 3.0 million

Cody Ceci, one of Ottawa’s most important youngsters will be looking for a new deal as his entry level contract is about to expire. Much has been made about Ceci, who holds potential to really step up his game and solidify the Senators’ d-group.

He’s still 21, so goals and expectations need to be kept reasonable. However, he did manage to stay in Ottawa’s top 4 last season, a fairly big feat for a youngster.

He’ll seek a bridge deal and the Senators will push for three years of term, much like they did on RFA’s Robin Lehner and Mika Zibanejad.

Prediction: re-signs in Ottawa, Bridge Deal. AAV 2.0 – 3.0 million

In Binghamton, there are 14 players who are set to be restricted free agents. Highlighting that list are players like Chris Wideman, Shane Prince, Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick, Fredrik Claesson, Eric O’Dell, Matt Puempel and Buddy Robinson. All of which are considered important pieces. So, be sure to see the Senators lock them up to one-year, two-way deals, at the minimum.

The issue that becomes clear is that only so many can make the NHL. So, for these young prospects, 2015-16 will be a huge year. Matt Puempel needs to have a great season, or the future may be in question. The same can be said for many others on that list.

The second group of RFA’s are ones that have questions as to whether or not they’ll be re-signed. That group includes players like Travis Ewanyk, Alex Guptill, David Dziurzynski, Cole Schneider, Troy Rutkowski and Michael Sdao.

Those who can contribute at the AHL level may be brought back for support, but it’s unlikely the organization views those players as future NHL pieces at this point.

 

Recap

Compared to this past year, the Senators’ NHL brass has a relatively easy off-season coming up. Just Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch are restricted and although emotional decisions will have to be made about Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, they aren’t particularly hard contracts to do.

The AHL roster brings 16 pending free agents, including some important pieces. Matt Puempel and Shane Prince could be considered NHL players by next off-season and others like Dzingel, McCormick and Robinson aren’t far off.

Of course, a lot will depend on how these players do next season. It’s been seen in the past how quickly a fanbase’s views can change towards a player, making a lot of these predictions hard to be exact on. Either way, the Senators shouldn’t expect any dramatic changes, especially with a majority of the NHL contracts on the books past this season.

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