After announcing their long-awaited rebrand, picking twice in the top five of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and acquiring Matt Murray from Pittsburgh, the Ottawa Senators had given fans unconditional optimism for the first time in… well a long time. That’s part of the reason fans were so surprised to hear that the Sens had decided not to qualifying Anthony Duclair, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Despite some struggles in the second half of last season, Duclair finished last year as the team’s leader in goals with 23 and looked to be cementing himself as a legitimate top 6 forward. Considering he was essentially a throw-in in 2019’s Ryan Dzingel trade, the Sens appeared to have found a diamond in the rough. But the negotiations fell through, with Duclair representing himself and reportedly asking for more than the Sens were willing to offer, resulting in his unceremonious exit from the team.
As Friedman’s tweet mentioned, a major concern for the Sens was the possibility of having to pay Duclair too much after an arbitration ruling. The team could walk away if the arbitrator awarded Duclair more than ~$4 million though, a figure that seems more than reasonable for a player of Duclair’s calibre.
This off-season, Ottawa has been more willing to spend than they have in the past, opening up their wallets to lock-in players like Murray and Evgenii Dadonov to multi-year deals. The team is also scheduled to head to arbitration with restricted free agent Connor Brown, with the deal likely to fall somewhere between $3.5 and $4 million.
Duclair was likely asking for a multi-year deal worth more than that, maybe even much more, something in the $5 million range perhaps. In the first half of the 2019-20 season, that would have felt like the right price, instead, Duclair struggled greatly down the stretch and likely cost himself that big raise. So yes, Duclair seems to be valuing himself much higher than he actually is worth, but that’s what a player should do when they have a chance to cash in. The problem here isn’t Duclair but on the Sens lack of patience.
If Duclair was, in fact, holding out for significantly more than Brown, a player one year older than him who provides similar value, although in a different way, then the Sens would probably be right not to sign him, worst-case scenario they could file for arbitration and then walk away if the price is too high. But by refusing to qualify Duclair, the Sens lost any leverage they had over the 25-year old.
The Sens have also been able to extend Duclair since January, so they had to have had some idea what he was asking for. If the price was too high and they knew letting him walk in the off-season was a possibility, they could have traded him when they had the chance and recouped an asset or two. Instead, Ottawa badly misplayed their hand and turned one of the smartest moves they’d made in recent years into nothing.