If the Senators get answers from pending UFAs, their rebuild could be great

It’s become increasingly clear that Ottawa’s pending UFA trio of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel are not particularly interested in playing for the Senators much longer.

You can’t really blame them, because this is a franchise that has acknowledged it is continuing its not-nascent-enough rebuild for at least the next two seasons. The good news is the knowledge that none are likely to return frees up Pierre Dorion to do what he should have been planning to do all along: Trade the lot of them and get back a ton of futures.

Between the three of them, the guys who should be near the top of everyone’s list of intriguing trade bait as they’ve combined to score 71 of Ottawa’s 172 goals. Dzingel brings up the rear with 21, while Stone and Duchene have 25 each, while no one else on the team has more than 12.

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Depending upon the market, the expected return for any two of them, let alone all three, is multiple first-round picks, at least two high-end prospects, and probably a few more “B” prospects. Really helps you ramp up toward that big-spending year in 2021, right after a potential lockout.

Embattled Senators GM Pierre Dorion has some big opportunities again. (NHL)
Embattled Senators GM Pierre Dorion has some big opportunities again. (NHL)

But there is a problem here: Ottawa was going to throw a bunch of money at Stone and Duchene specifically. Probably Dzingel too, but obviously not as much as the other two. If they trade those guys — which they absolutely should — they have some pretty gaping holes in the lineup for next year; with 14 players signed, they would have less than $45.5 million committed to next year’s cap.

The cap ceiling is expected to rise to somewhere between $78 million and $82 million next year, which would move the floor to something like $62 million. That gives them about $16.5 million to spend on five or six players, but some of them will be RFAs getting new deals (like Cody Ceci and Colin White) and some of them will be call-ups (like Logan Brown and Christian Wolanin). Altogether, the Senators might still have to spend something like $8 million on players just to get to the cap floor, and the problem is that of course top players will have to want to sign with this particular organization, which doesn’t seem like a move most guys will want to follow through on given how it’s run.

The idea, then, should be to address these concerns through trades without taking on a lot of term that ties them up beyond when they want to Spend Money in 2021, and fortunately there are a lot of really bad contracts around the league that the Sens should be happy to take on. And all they would need from the teams they’d be helping out with this mutually beneficial arrangement is, I don’t know, let’s say a few picks and prospects. They might even be able to get in between some trades as a way to launder cap space for other parties — “We’ll retain 50 percent on so-and-so… if you make it worth our while.”

This is all perfectly legal under the CBA and would probably be a bigger benefit for the Senators because frankly, a lot of bad deals in this league are back-diving and they would have to pay guys less money than what their cap hit actually is.

You’d have to do it in the summer, but there’s no reason the Sens shouldn’t use their cap space as an asset to facilitate deals. Even if it’s a little complicated.

Let’s take, just for example, Boston’s woeful David Backes contract: It’s a $6 million cap hit the next two seasons for a guy who’s been healthy-scratched recently, but is only owed $4 million in signing bonuses and $4 million in salaries for the next two seasons. He’ll get $3 million of that signing bonus in early July, and after that, the actual cost of employing Backes for the next two seasons, when the Senators absolutely need money on the books, is $5 million despite his AAV of $6 million.

That’s maybe not the best example because Backes has an eight-team no-trade list next summer and why would anyone agree to go to Ottawa? It’s the same reason the Sens probably won’t be able to help Edmonton by taking Milan Lucic off their hands. That also goes for Ryan Callahan.

But could you help out Chicago with Connor Murphy? Philadelphia with Andrew MacDonald? Pittsburgh with Jack Johnson? Winnipeg with Dmitry Kulikov? Vegas with Cody Eakin? Buffalo with Zach Bogosian? The Islanders with Casey Cizikas? Detroit with Jonathan Bernier? Calgary with Michael Stone? Hell, Arizona with Marian Hossa?

(I almost said, “Edmonton with Kris Russell?” but remembered that of COURSE Russell has a no-move.)

I’m just going off the top of my head here, but you get the idea. Call every GM in the league and offer to make their problems go away, for a price. The goal for the Senators is to field as bad a team as possible. There are a lot of clubs with the kinds of contracts that will help them achieve that goal while also building their war chest so they can either develop or trade for young talent when 2021 rolls around.

We all know the Sens don’t have a first-round pick this year, as well as a relatively weak farm system. They should angle to change that in the next week or two. But they do have eight in the first two rounds of the next three drafts (through 2021), which isn’t a bad number if you’re looking to rebuild.

However, the number could always be better, and few teams are as well-positioned as the Sens to improve it.

That is, if they’re being run competently, and well…………

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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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