Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk recently pledged he’ll spend close to the salary cap in every year from 2021 to 2025 once the current roster rebuild is completed, at least by his estimate.
Melnyk won’t be spending to the cap next season. However, the Senators’ recent trade-deadline firesale of veterans Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel means he’ll have to invest a lot of money just to reach the cap minimum.
Cap Friendly indicates the Senators have just over $44 million invested in 13 players next season. Assuming even a modest increase in the salary-cap minimum from the current rate of $58.8 million to $60 million, they’ll have to spend over $16 million to become cap compliant.
Even if they re-sign all their pending free agents, they still won’t have invested enough to reach the cap floor.
Recently-acquired forwards Oscar Lindberg and Brian Gibbons, along with winger Magnus Paajarvi and goaltender Anders Nilsson, are slated to become unrestricted free agents. Each earned $2.5 million or less this season and none of them are due for significant raises. It wouldn’t be surprising if most end up departing via free agency on July 1.
Defensemen Cody Ceci and Christian Wolanin, along with forwards Colin White and Anthony Duclair, are their noteworthy restricted free agents. Ceci and Duclair both have arbitration rights while White and Wolanin are completing entry-level contracts.
Of these, re-signing Ceci would be the most expensive. He’s currently on a one-year deal worth $4.3 million and will likely cost over $5 million annually to re-sign.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggests Ceci might not fit into the Senators’ plans beyond this season. He points out he was awarded his current contract via arbitration last summer. With Ceci a year away from UFA eligibility, Friedman speculates they might not want a repeat of the drama that dogged Duchene, Stone, and Dzingel this season.
If re-signing Ceci isn’t an option, the Senators could shop him before July 1 in hopes of getting a decent return. Unless he’s bundled in a significant package offer, he won’t attract a quality player that can help the Senators reach the cap minimum.
One way to reach the floor would be to bring back Duchene. Despite shipping him off to the Columbus Blue Jackets before the recent trade deadline, Friedman believes the Senators have a legitimate shot of signing him this summer.
Duchene reportedly enjoyed living in the Ottawa region, so perhaps a return to the Senators isn’t far-fetched. It might be possible if they offer him around $9 million annually on a seven-year deal. That would eat up over half of that $16 million needed to hit the cap floor.
However, the ship has probably sailed on Duchene returning to Ottawa. In his 10 NHL seasons, the 28-year-old center only appeared in two postseason rounds. He might prefer joining a perennial playoff contender, something the Senators won’t be for a while.
Given their cap space, the Senators could attempt to make a big splash in this summer’s free-agent pool. They can afford to bid competitively for notable talent such as Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski, Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner, Winnipeg Jets center Kevin Hayes, or Nashville Predators winger Wayne Simmonds.
It’s doubtful, however, those players are interested in joining a rebuilding team with an owner who has a rumored reputation for meddling in management decisions.
The most likely option will be to target cap-strapped clubs looking to shed salary. Already loaded with draft picks (especially in 2020), the Senators could boost their stockpile by insisting on a quality pick, a top prospect, or both being included as part of the return.
NBC Sports’ James O’Brien wondered if the Senators could be tempted to taking goaltender James Reimer from the Florida Panthers if a couple of draft picks were included in the deal. Reimer carries a $3.4-million annual cap hit through 2020-21.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets are also facing a salary-cap crunch this summer. While the Leafs and Senators rarely trade with each other, maybe the latter could be enticed to accepting the rights of the virtually-retired Nathan Horton ($5.3-million cap hit) if a good young player or prospect were included as a sweetener.
Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov‘s modified no-trade clause expires on July 1. Frequently rumored as a cost-cutting trade candidate this season, perhaps he’ll become a Senators’ target for the right package.
The Minnesota Wild are looking to shed salary and shake things up. They reportedly almost shipped winger Jason Zucker ($5.5 million annually through 2022-23) to the Calgary Flames at the deadline. Blueliner Jonas Brodin ($4.16 million through 2020-21) also surfaced as a possible trade option.