UFA Tracker

Rumor Roundup: What will the Senators do about next summer’s UFAs?

The Ottawa Senators are a team that spends closer to the salary minimum than the salary cap, which may make it difficult to keep all their players who will be UFA eligible next summer. Who is most likely to go and who is most likely to stay?

The Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan recently observed the Senators could enter training camp with eight NHL defensemen, seven of whom are under one-way contracts. If the Senators decide to make a deal, Brennan feels they could draw upon their blueline depth for trade bait.

Defenseman Patrick Wiercioch could become a trade candidate. Brennan noted coach Paul MacLean had some issues with Wiercioch’s game last season. He also cited a league executive praising the 23-year-old’s passing skills, which could make the young blueliner an attractive trade chip.

Another option could be veteran Marc Methot. The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren reports contract talks between Methot and the Senators are at a stalemate. Warren claims Methot, who’s in the final season of a four-year, $12-million contract, has been compared to Washington’s Brooks Orpik (five years, $27.5 million) and Tampa Bay’s Matt Carle (six years, $33 million).  

If Methot seeks a contract comparable to Orpik and Carle it could prove difficult for the cost-conscious Senators to re-sign him. They’re also negotiating with goaltender Craig Anderson and forwards Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur. Like Methot, they’re also eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. Warren speculates Methot could be dealt if talks remain stalled.

The Senators currently have more than $35 million of cap payroll invested in 13 players for 2015-16. In addition to the aforementioned unrestricted free agents, they must also re-sign restricted free agents Mika Zibanejad, Alex Chiasson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Mark Borowiecki.

If the Senators spent to the cap ceiling this wouldn’t be an issue, but in recent years they’ve kept payroll close to the salary minimum. This season, for example, their current payroll is around $54 million, hovering close to the minimum of $51 million.

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If the Senators stick close to next season’s cap minimum they won’t have much room to re-sign or replace key players. Assuming the minimum rises to $54 million for 2015-16, retaining Anderson (whose cap hit this season is over $3.1 million), Ryan ($5.1 million) and MacArthur ($3.25 million) will be expensive. As the trio will seek substantial raises, it could cost a combined $17 million to retain them, pushing the Senators’ payroll to over $54 million.

The Senators could pass on re-signing Methot if his asking price proves expensive, but he’s proven valuable as Erik Karlsson’s defense partner. They could instead trade Wiercioch, who’s signed through 2015-16 at a cap hit of $2 million, and put the savings toward retaining Methot.

Much will also depend upon contract negotiations with their other pending free agents. Anderson could get moved later this season if Lehner challenges him for the starter’s job. It also remains to be seen if Ryan and/or MacArthur re-sign before season’s end or decide to test next summer’s free-agent market.

Management will also want time to assess the roster before making any significant moves. If the Senators make a trade it probably won’t happen until pre-season at the earliest.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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