A Way Too Early Offseason To Do List for the Ottawa Senators

OTTAWA, CANADA - DECEMBER 22: Alex DeBrincat #12 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his first period goal against the Washington Capitals with his teammates on the bench at Canadian Tire Centre on December 22, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
OTTAWA, CANADA - DECEMBER 22: Alex DeBrincat #12 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his first period goal against the Washington Capitals with his teammates on the bench at Canadian Tire Centre on December 22, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) /

"It’s only mid-march, but with the Ottawa Senators playoff hopes fizzling out, I felt it was appropriate to address what areas of focus are most important for Hockey Operations. The Senators have some areas to address, but not in the same ways as past off-seasons. The core is established and maturing. The areas of focus would be more addressing depth."

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Evaluate Coaching Staff

Entering the season, the Ottawa Senators coaching staff established some very clear goals for the year. The biggest of which was to play meaningful games up until the near end of the regular season in March. In simple terms, that goal has been met. We have arrived at the final 20-game mark of the season, and the Ottawa Senators are in the hunt for a playoff spot, even if it is unlikely they ultimately reach the playoffs this season. With that being said, DJ Smith has been the Head Coach of this team for 4 seasons and is currently the 7th longest tenure head coach in the NHL, being hired on May 23rd 2019. Four of the six ahead of him have won atleast one Stanley Cup since being appointed head coach, those being Jon Cooper with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche, Mike Sullivan with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Craig Berube with the St Louis Blues. The NHL is a results-driven league and head coaches are hired to later be fired. While the Ottawa Senators have seen a lot of progress with DJ Smith at the helm, it is time to consider if he is the coach for the future of this franchise or not.

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Sign Alex DeBrincat long-term

On draft day, the Ottawa Senators traded for Alex DeBrincat. His contract is now up and it is imperative to decide what to do with him. His play this season has dropped a bit compared to his Chicago days, but that can expected as he suited up for a brand new team with a completely different structure and system. While he will not be scoring 40 goals this year, he has still be one of Ottawa’s best forwards this year. It would be the wrong move to trade him away in my opinion. Given his current production and comparing the market, I have identified Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes as a possible comparable. Svechnikov signed an 8 year deal with Hurricanes beginning this year. Considering that Svechnikov is two years younger but provides similar value I felt this was a fair comparable. I believe that DeBrincat will want more money than Svechnikov, so I predict an eight year contract with a cap hit around the 8 million dollar mark.

Re Sign Shane Pinto

Shane Pinto is currently 2nd in the rookie goalscoring race. He has been forced up the lineup, playing in the top six due to injury to Josh Norris. Pinto has served well for the most part in this role, but long-term projects to be Ottawa’s third line center. It is important for the Senators to sign him for the lowest salary they can as they will need to save as much money as they can in order to fit everybody under the cap when Jake Sanderson and Jake Chychrun need extensions. For this reason, I believe that a bridge deal would be in the Senators best interest for Shane Pinto. I think a three year deal at a three million dollar cap hit would be a fair contract for the young center considering his long-term role on the team.

Assessing the bottom 6

As of right now, the only members of Ottawa’s bottom 6 that have a contract through this offseason are Mathieu Joseph, Mark Kastelic and Parker Kelly. The rest is completely up in the air. I would attempt to trade Parker Kelly away, or send him back to the AHL as he has not performed as expected in the fourth-line role. Assuming Ottawa re-signs Pinto, the third line would just need one more player to complete a trio with Pinto and Joseph. Ridly Greig is my favorite option. He would slot in at the left-wing spot in this line. Next, I would re-sign Derick Brassard to a one year deal to be the fourth line left winger as he has impressed this year. He arguably is the only member of the current bottom-6 to perform as wanted, as he currently sits at 11 goals on the year. Mark Kastelic earns the fourth line center role and the final spot would be awarded to Julien Gauthier, or give Angus Crookshank an opportunity. This means that Dylan Gambrell and Austin Watson are on the outside looking in for me. I’d rather move on from both players, but if I had to pick one to stay as the 13th forward, I would pick Gambrell as he provides more to the lineup than Watson.

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Assessing the third defensive pair

Ottawa’s first two pairs are pretty much set in stone, but the third pairing raises some questions. Evidently you have Erik Brannstrom to consider. The choice for him will be to keep him, or move him. I’ll start by saying that I am a big fan of Brannstrom’s and have appreciated what he has provided to the Sens this year. Unfortunately, he’s not going to see any top-4 time in Ottawa and for that reason, I’d prefer to see him traded. It’s not that I don’t want him on the team, it’s that I think he deserves an opportunity to play higher up in the lineup. Next question would be what to do with what’s left. Currently, the Sens deploy Brannstrom with one of Nick Holden or Travis Hamonic. Holden was a great piece for Ottawa last season, but his play has slowed down this year. For that reason, If I were in-charge, I would let him walk in free-agency, and thank him for his services. Hamonic is the interesting one. For the majority of the season, he played on the second pairing with  Sanderson. While that role was too much for him, he held his own. I much prefer him as a sixth or seventh defenseman. I would keep him in this role. If one of Jacob-Bernard Docker or Lassi Thomson is ready for the NHL, use Hamonic as the 7th, if not, use him at the 6th. The last question would be to consider what’s up with the left-handed defenseman for the 3rd pair. If Brannstrom stays in Ottawa, that’s his spot to lose. If he’s gone, I would like to see Tyler Kleven be given an opportunity to earn that spot in training-camp.

In net

Anton Forsberg is the clear starter for Ottawa should he be healthy enough to play. The question that arises is what is to happen for that backup goaltending spot. Cam Talbot is not expected to re sign with the Senators as he has already rejected a contact offer. In my eyes, there are two options for the Senators. The first option would be to give Mads Sogaard a chance as backup netminder, but I don’t think that option would be the best short term. Head coach DJ Smith has already said that Sogaard is the goaltender of the future for Ottawa, but he is only 21 years old and has plenty of time to continue to develop. He has emerged as the de-facto starter for Ottawa with all the injuries in net this season, but it appears as if he is not completely ready for the NHL just yet. This is not an indictment to him, but I’d rather give him one more year of development in the AHL where he will be the starter without question. This would mean that the Senators could opt to sign a backup netminder in the offseason. A few options could be Adin Hill, Joonas Korpisalo, Malcolm Subban, MacKenzie Blackwood, to name a few. A more in depth look at free-agent poised netminders will be posted in the coming days.

Closing thoughts

The Ottawa Senators have a lot to do this offseason. Not as much as years past, but still a significant deal of business to be had. In summary, it is imperative the Senators re-sign Alex DeBrincat, Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson. The bottom-6 should be reworked and a backup netminder has to be identified.