What We Learned: Senators in a nightmare UFA scenario

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/5152/" data-ylk="slk:Mark Stone">Mark Stone</a> will soon need another contract. (Getty)
Mark Stone will soon need another contract. (Getty)

On Friday, the Ottawa Senators cleaned up most of their summer business, signing both Cody Ceci and Mark Stone for a combined $11.65 million.

That’s probably an overpay, collectively, but not by such an absurd amount that it’s worth dunking on an already heavily dunked-on franchise. And now the actual dunk-worthy bit: They are both one-year deals, meaning that next summer, the Senators will (in theory) have to re-sign Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Codi Ceci, Ryan Dzingel, and Colin White, just among guys who are mostly worth re-signing.

And while Ceci and White are both pending RFAs, meaning the Senators are likely to get them back, all those other guys are UFAs. Meaning that this club could lose Stone, Karlsson, Duchene, and Dzingel for nothing at all on July 1.

Obviously Karlsson and Stone both seem like trade candidates, and for good reason, but at some point Pierre Dorion faces the rather uncomfortable question of exactly what he’s going to do with this club. It’s already looking pretty on-track for being among the absolute worst in the league this coming season, and the problem is if you trade either (or both) of Karlsson and Stone you eventually have a hard time even fielding a semi-competent NHL team. Especially if the Senators are also able to offload Bobby Ryan in the Karlsson swap.

One choice is to go through all or most of the season with any combination of those four players, knowing you’re likely to lose all of them to unrestricted free agency, and see if you can work deals at the deadline for any or all of them. But history tells you that trades for big contracts — and only Dzingel at a $1.8-million AAV doesn’t qualify for that label — in the middle of the season don’t always yield the best returns just because it’s harder to work out the money on the fly.

The other choice is to trade as many as three of those pending UFAs because it’s easier to make the money work and teams might be more inclined to give you a little extra something because they’ll get 82 games of service time out of those guys instead of, say, 15 or 20.

The problem is that it’s hard to figure out what the Senators actually want to do here because they apparently thought they were going to be good last year and you see what happened with all that. The situation in Vancouver — and the hands-on nature of how Eugene Melnyk seems to want to run things reminds one of Francesco Aquilini’s likewise hare-brained approach — indicates that owners who want their teams to be competitive will often just act as though they are, and we’ve been given little indication Ottawa isn’t going to operate under that assumption.

With that in mind, it’s reasonable to ask whether this team will trade anyone at all this summer. Even if they only trade Karlsson — and maybe Ryan — that would seem to be a really unreasonable thing to do because of the risk that comes with holding on to the other pending UFAs. If you can’t trade them, or can’t get a reasonable price for such a trade, you’re stuck holding the bag and maybe hoping someone gives you a fourth-round pick for their negotiating rights sometime around the draft.

This is, obviously, a team that should be heavily pursuing a rebuild, but there are only so many players in the league whose big-money AAVs also carry smaller actual salaries, which is the kind of thing this cheapskate organization seems to want. The acquisitions of Marian Gaborik and Mikkel Boedker in recent months highlight that fact nicely. To not trade at least trade Karlsson, Stone, and Duchene — who are going to get comparable big-money offers from elsewhere next summer that don’t come with the grim emotional baggage of playing for this woebegone franchise — would be “letting a 2-year-old play with a Zippo”-level irresponsible.

And yet if the directive from ownership is that you can’t trade these players because this team is trying to be competitive, well, that’s not on Dorion. He’s gotta listen to the guy who signs his paychecks regardless of whether that’s in the club’s long-term best interests because, hey, he wants to remain a GM as long as possible.

It’s difficult to imagine a team letting as many high-level players go as the Senators have and will do from June 2018 to July 2019. Mike Hoffman got traded for basically nothing of value, albeit out of necessity, on June 19. Karlsson and maybe Ryan might be gone before training camp. One assumes Stone and Duchene are as good as gone in July if they can’t be traded before then. And while that’s not an All-Star lineup or anything, that’s as many as four top-six forwards and a defenseman who ranks among the highest-end of the elite in the world. It’s almost impossible to envision another team letting that much talent go in 12 and a half months, but with Ottawa, we just kind of sigh and go, “That’s Melnyk for ya.”

Now, some might point out that we can perhaps expect the Senators to make good-faith offers to any or all of these players, in an attempt to keep them long-term, but if they low-ball any of those guys like they did Karlsson this summer, that’s just insulting. More to the point, why would anyone with any kind of interest in the free agent market want to stick around? Even if they weren’t revulsed by the idea, how many millions of dollars more on such a deal would, say, Duchene need to get to want to stay in Ottawa beyond this season?

It would be much easier to just let this kind of potential drama simmer throughout the offseason if this looked like a team with anything resembling a plan. In fact, a team with a plan might have moved to address literally any of these looming concerns already.

But instead, it’s the Ottawa Senators, for which chaos, discontent, and a general air of impending doom are all par for the course.

What We Learned: August roundup edition

(Hey there’s not a lot of news out there for every team and I don’t want to spend the next month dunking on every bad “This third-line guy could score 30 next year” take from some team blog. Give me a break!)

I honestly think John Gibson is one of the best goalies in the NHL so by that token it’s a real good deal to get him at just $6.4 million. But with that said, I have a lot of long-term concerns about these guys. …  That Jeff Skinner trade is so far beyond being a steal that any concerns you have about Skinner as a potential top-line player due to his potential defensive deficiencies basically don’t matter. … Artemi Panarin would consider going back to Chicago next summer. Well, that’s good news for Chicago, if they can Mike-Richards Brent Seabrook. … Alex Faust should absolutely be the host of Jeopardy when Alex Trebek retires. … Yeah let’s fire Austin Watson into the sun. Thanks so much. … This is some kinda take on the Penguins and Capitals. … I had some Sharks fan going off on me the other day about how the Sharks have plenty of room to add talent and here’s the thing: You gotta actually add it. … I love defending myself from back-stabbing claims. … When I said Vegas and Karlsson should go one year at around $5 million, and they went with one year at $5.25 million, that’s me being right. How does he do it? … They’re charging European fans 20 euros to watch the Jets and Panthers practice in Helsinki. This is the kind of thing that leads to Brexit.

Gold Star Award

Just thinkin about how many more assists Jack Eichel is gonna have with Jeff Skinner this season. Jeff Skinner scores a lot of goals when his linemates stink!

Minus of the Weekend

Do you think anyone could have seen that Troy Brouwer buyout coming on July 1, 2016? Probably not!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “connormcmuffin” is smart.

To Colorado
Auston Matthews

To Leafs
Nate MacKinnon

Signoff

The McWhat?

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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