More often than not this season, the Ottawa Senators have underachieved and failed to look like a serious contender for a Stanley Cup playoff spot.
But the thing is, they’re not all that far away from being one, either. And the equally positive news for Sens fan is, there’s going to be a player out there who can push them past the threshold of lower-tier mediocrity, and into the group of genuinely threatening teams night-in and night-out.
That player just changed employers, and likely will again this summer. His name is Claude Giroux. And he’s exactly the kind of veteran, legitimate difference-maker who’ll be on the market, via trade or free agency, before next season begins. As a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, Giroux also is reported to be intrigued by the prospect of playing for his hometown Senators. And he has every reason to think he can help them out.
Indeed, you can make an argument that, although the Sens currently sit in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, the injury/COVID-19 pandemic has taken an especially big bite out of Ottawa’s year, and that may be the chief reason they are where they are in the standings. But when you look at the talent they’ve got in place, you can also argue they’ve got more necessary-to-win pieces than the fifth-place Detroit Red Wings and the sixth-place Buffalo Sabres.
When you look at the rosters of those three teams, you see that the Senators have a slew of emerging young stars at center, including Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, and Shane Pinto; you also see they have impressive high-end talent on the wings, including captain Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton; and last, but not least, they employ skilled young defensemen in Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson. It’s not a perfect roster, by any means. And Giroux’s addition wouldn’t be the final piece of the puzzle. But at age 34, Giroux remains a potent force on offense – he had 18 goals and 44 points in 58 games on a terrible Philadelphia Flyers team before being moved as a rental to the Florida Panthers earlier this week – and he would instantly give the Senators a top-six group of forwards that would be the envy of numerous NHL teams.
Here’s the catch – to acquire Giroux, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is going to have to spend a good deal of money. It’s no secret Ottawa is a “budget” team, but they’re still spending some $70.5 million in cap space this season, and, per CapFriendly.com, they’re projected to have more than $22.5 million in space this summer. Giroux isn’t likely to break the bank with his new contract, but he has a cap hit of $8.275 million this season, and there are going to be teams prepared to give him a short-term deal that doesn’t stray too far from that cap hit. If Melnyk thinks he can lure Giroux to his hometown on the cheap, he’s fooling himself. However, if he can give Giroux something in the vicinity of his current salary for the next two or three seasons, Melnyk has the chance to acquire the biggest name in many years.
It’s still going to take some tweaking of the roster – they’re in need of depth, particularly in their bottom-six forwards and on defense – but the Senators are, at long last, ready to make their way out of the dark hockey wilderness, and into the light. They’ll need a push from a player of consequence like Giroux to finally get there, but it will take a terrific sell job from Sens brass to land him.