Heck, team owner Eugene Melnyk said as much. All kidding aside, this was really no secret. Dorion wants to shore up those two positions in order to make a run at his club’s first playoff berth since 2017.
Finding a d-man to pair up with Chabot won’t be easy. Minute-munching, mainly stay-at-home blue-liners are always in high demand.
However, the Senators GM will have plenty of options available. There are handful of right-shot d-men potentially available through unrestricted free agency or through trade.
The addition of the Seattle Kraken next season means several teams will run into protection issues; that is having one-to-two too many D to protect in the upcoming expansion draft. Those clubs have no choice, but to wheel and deal.
Whether it’s directly with the Kraken or an alternate, teams will be forced to be creative – not to mention clubs that are up against the salary cap.
First, let’s take a peek at the Senators current top eight defensemen:
On the left; Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom, Victor Mete, Jonathan Aspirot.
On the right; Artem Zub, Nikita Zaitsev, Josh Brown, Jacob Bernard-Docker.
|Scoring||Goals||Assists||Ice Time||Point Shares|
While the right side of the Senators back end appears solidified with Brown as the extra, there’s a chance JBD opens next season in Belleville.
Bernard-Docker looked solid in his five games with Ottawa and the World Championship but similar to Brannstrom, it may be best served for the soon-to-be 21-year old to skate 20-25 minutes per night with the BSens, playing in all situations.
Belleville head coach Troy Mann may have dropped a subtle hint to Full Press Hockey when asked about surrounding his young roster players next season with capable veterans.
“You start by looking at guys like (Mark) Kastelic, (Cole) Reinhardt, (Angus) Crookshank, (Egor) Sokolov, (Roby) Järventie, (Lassi) Thomson – a young crew, right? (Maxence) Guenette coming and potentially JBD (Jacob Bernard-Docker – a lot of young talent, so it’s important that those guys are the right guys to make sure we’re competitive – in the playoff picture. That’s going be our goal.”
In theory, the Senators can remain status quo on the blue line come October. Zub or Zaitsev have the ability to play alongside Chabot in the interim. Bernard-Docker may only require a month or so in the ‘A’ before taking his spot on the top pair.
The possibility remains Brannstrom shifts to the right and Dorion acquires a left-shot D. Though, it’s not the preference of head coach D.J. Smith who made his case clear earlier this season. However, things can change on a dime.
At some point, space will have to be created to make way for 2020 fifth overall selection Jake Sanderson. This will likely be April when the University of North Dakota standout is expected to join the Senators defense corps.
When this occurs, what happens to Brannstrom or Mete?
Lassi Thomson is also on the cusp of cracking the roster. The right-shot defenseman’s game improved as the campaign wore on for Belleville. And the young Finn displayed a surprising physical side. However, Thomson is still another year away.
Organizational depth on the back end is never a bad thing. It’s a position that lends to attrition.
Dorion also has the option of moving out one or two of his existing d-core if the Senators GM receives an offer he can’t refuse. Based on the the team’s current depth chart, Dorion may have to utilize this scenario based on pure numbers alone – which begs another question; does the club add for the short-term or seek a long-term fixture?
Who’s potentially available?
Latest Senators News
- Senators Leevi Merilainen – Adjusting to the North American Style of Play
- NHL Revamped Rosters for 2021-22: Atlantic Division Pt. 2
- Senators Extend GM Pierre Dorion’s Contract to 2024-25 And Possibly Beyond
- Ottawa Senators Mailbag – Better Late Than Never
- At Least Six More Seasons of “Bath Time” in Ottawa
Pending RD UFA’s
The crown jewel right-shot defenseman on July 28 is Hurricanes’ Dougie Hamilton. The soon-to-be 28-year old led all rearguards with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) this season. Hamilton currently leads all postseason players with 50 shots on goal.
Other right-handed D receiving large paydays will be a pair of Oilers Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson. The Swede, Larsson would fit in nicely on the Senators’ blue line. However, Larsson has indicated his preference to remain in Edmonton.
David Savard is one defenseman, Dorion may look into. Dealt to the Lightning by the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, Savard is coming off arguably his worst NHL campaign of his 10-year career. Turning 31 in October, Savard and Chabot share the same agent, Ian Pulver who has a good relationship with the Senators GM. A short-term contract may work on a low-risk deal.
Other pending RD UFA’s include; Zach Bogosian (TOR), Jani Hakanpaa (CAR), Travis Hamonic (VAN), Brandon Montour (FLA), Tucker Poolman (WPG), Sami Vatanen (DAL).
At $77 million, the Washington Capitals are one team that’s already near the ceiling of next season’s $81M salary cap. Alex Ovechkin needs a contract. The team will dangle centre Evgeny Kuznetsov. They’ll attempt to get the Kraken to take 34-year old T.J. Oshie’s $5.75M cap hit for the next four seasons.
One player the Caps won’t want to move is Dmitry Orlov. But if all fails, Orlov is definitely a d-man the Senators should target.
Orlov can play on the left or right side. A fire hydrant at five-foot-eleven, 208 pounds, the 29-year old plays a physical style who can chip in offensively. His $5.1M cap hit with a salary of $3.3M the next two campaigns is an eye-opener.
The Tampa Bay Lightning once again have to do salary cap gymnastics this offseason. The club is already $5 million above the cap heading into the summer.
The team will attempt to coax Seattle to select Spokane native, Tyler Johnson and his $5M cap hit. But one player who may be on the move is six-foot-three, 233-pound blue-liner Erik Cernak.
Having to protect Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev for the Expansion Draft, Cernak may be on the trade block.
At age 24, and two-years remaining on his current deal, the Lightning will not want to lose the Slovak for nothing in return, especially if he’s targeted by the Kraken.
While every club acknowledges they’re going to lose a player, the Senators included, there are some that have some intriguing decisions to make.
The Minnesota Wild have three defensemen with no-move clauses, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter. Wild GM Bill Guerin can ask Suter to waive his NMC. However, the Senators learned with Dion Phaneuf during the Vegas Expansion Draft, Suter may not facilitate.
If Suter chooses not to waive, one of Matt Dumba and LD Carson Soucy will likely be on the move. With $12.6M of actual salary owing over the next two seasons, Dumba is a big-ticket, but the Regina resident with a booming shot can play in all situations and is certainly capable of handling large amounts of ice time.
A familiar name to Sens fans, Dylan DeMelo is another RD who may be available. The Jets will obviously protect Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. Rangy Logan Stanley needs to be protected as well. This leaves DeMelo on the outside. Would Dorion look into bringing the fan favourite back into the fold?
Other right-shot d-men who won’t be protected include Justin Braun (PHI), Radko Gudas (FLA), Scott Mayfield (NYI), one of Josh Manson, Kevin Shattenkirk (ANA), not to mention, one of Preds Mattias Ekholm/Ryan Ellis. Ekholm mans the left side. Acquiring Ekholm would result in Mete or Brannstrom being dealt or Brannstrom shifting to the right side.
If the Senators choose this route, Stars Jamie Oleksiak is also a pending UFA who plays the left side.
As you see there are a plethora of possibilities for Pierre Dorion and his pro scouting staff to ponder. One key date to note; clubs have to submit their expansion protection lists to the league on July 17 5 pm. Other offseason markers include, the actual Expansion Draft July 21, Entry Draft July 23-24, Free Agency opens July 28.