Sens brass must piece together looming free-agent puzzle
Maybe we’re all asking the wrong question on the Matt Duchene and unrestricted free agency front.
Perhaps the most pressing query isn’t whether the Senators will resign the newly acquired centre before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July 2019. That, as general manager Pierre Dorion said of making the trade that saw Kyle Turris, along with a top prospect and a pair of draft picks leave the organization, would appear to be a “no-brainer.”
The more intriguing question could be whether the Senators will re-sign centre Derick Brassard before he, too, becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, 2019.
In an ideal world, the Senators would lock up their top two centres long-term, giving them a formidable 1-2 punch that could possibly take them all the way into a new arena at LeBreton Flats.
Yet, the budget squeeze never ends. Can the Senators afford to spend in the neighbourhood of $13 million-$14 million to keep both of them here for years to come?
As it is, Dorion will be spending next summer dealing with the highpriced puzzles of Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson.
Stone will be a restricted free agent when the 2017-18 season ends. As the points keep piling up — he’s tied for fourth in the NHL with 12 goals — so will the contract demands. Stone is currently playing out the final year of an team friendly three-year, $10.5-million contract.
On top of that, there’s the notso-small matter of signing captain Karlsson to a colossal extension before his unrestricted free agency kicks in, also in July 2019. (Pardon the aside here. If Senators owner Eugene Melnyk doesn’t want to talk about attendance problems now, the crowds will dwindle further unless he’s willing to fork over at least $10 million per season for the world’s best defenceman).
The money for Karlsson and Stone has to come from somewhere — or more appropriately, has to be taken away from somewhere — which brings us back to the Duchene/Brassard dilemma.
Like Stone, Brassard is currently a bargain for the Senators. While he carries a salary cap hit of $5 million, he’s being paid only $3.5 million in actual dollars this season and next. If his five-year, $25-million contract didn’t work that way, Dorion might not have had the financial wiggle room to make the shrewd swap that sent Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers back in the summer of 2016.
Lined up with Stone this season, Brassard has six goals and 15 points in 16 games, on pace to score 37 goals and 77 points. What’s the open market value for a 12-year NHL veteran centre with those kinds of numbers? Meanwhile, the Senators aren’t going to easily skate away from Duchene, given that they gave up Turris, 2017 firstround draft pick Shane Bowers, a 2018 first-round selection and a 2019 third-round selection in the exchange.
There are many parallels to the 2013 trade that saw Bobby Ryan come to the Senators. Should Duchene produce the way the Senators hope — we saw snippets of his skill during the Swedish sweep — we could also eventually see something along the lines of the seven-year, $50.575 million deal Ryan signed with the Senators in 2014.
Again, the Senators would like nothing better than to keep both Duchene and Brassard.
Yet if forced to choose between the two, logic suggests the Senators would go for the younger option. When the 2019-20 season begins, Duchene will be 28 and Brassard will be 32.
Brassard himself talked about the NHL “being a business” in discussing the bitter-sweetness of losing Turris while gaining Duchene.
Part of that business means a regular turnover of bodies, while watching the game lean more and more towards younger players.
Sooner or later, the Senators have to open the door to give top centre prospects Colin White and/ or Logan Brown the opportunity to live up to their potential. The reason the Senators felt comfortable in moving Bowers, a centre, is because they felt they were well stocked with a forward prospect pool that includes White, Brown, Filip Chlapik, Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton.
At the risk of getting way ahead of ourselves, keep the following in mind for next season: Brassard owns a limited no-trade clause, whereby he can submit a list of eight teams he would not be willing to accept a trade to. Dorion deserves credit for removing potential dressing room contract distractions early this season, signing goaltender Craig Anderson to an extension and by trading Turris when it became clear the sides had a different view of his future here.
Right now, the Senators have the look of a playoff team, with the dangerous duo of Duchene and Brassard down the middle.
Then comes next year, with its own set of financial hurdles to step over. email@example.com Twitter.com/ Citizenkwarren