Early Look at the Belleville Senators

belleville sens

With both the expansion and entry draft ahead there’s roster uncertainty ahead for the nascent Belleville Senators, but there’s a lot we do know about the Sens affiliate, so it’s worth going through it.

First, let’s start with some basic AHL information: teams are permitted six “veteran” players (veteran status is determined this way: only five players can have more than a combined 320 AHL, NHL, or European league games under their belt, with the sixth vet at 320 and under; CHL players must turn 20 in that calendar year (as in the first half of the season), or else have played in 4 CHL seasons.

Historically Ottawa’s AHL affiliates have frittered away their veteran contracts with useless “character” players (examples from the last ten years: Zack Stortini (x2), Brad MillsTyler EckfordHugh JessimanMark ParrishFrancis LessardJeremy YablonskiGeoff Waugh, and Greg Amadio), and Pierre Dorion has shown the same tendency in his short tenure (so keep that in mind).  Here’s the list of signed players who can or will play for Belleville next season (broken down by position, rookies in italics, veterans in bold, I’ve given their current age as well):

Goaltenders (1)
Marcus Hogberg (22, 2 year ELC)

Defensemen (8)
Thomas Chabot (20, ELC)
Cody Donaghey (21, 2 year ELC)
Macoy Erkamps (22, 2 more years)
Andreas Englund (21, 2 more years)
Ben Harpur (22, 1 more year)
Christian Jaros (21, ELC)
Maxime Lajoie (19, ELC) – while AHL-eligible he could return to junior
Jordan Murray (24, 2 year AHL contract)

Forwards (9) [Logan Brown is signed but isn’t AHL-eligible]
Mike Blunden (1 more year)
Filip Chlapik (20, ELC)
Chris DiDomenico* (28, 1 year)
Vincent Dunn (21, 1 more year)
Kyle Flanagan (28, 1 more year on his AHL contract)
Gabriel Gagne (20, 2 more years)
Nick Paul (22, 1 more year)
Francis Perron (21, 2 more years)
Colin White (20, 2 more years)
* I’m assuming his time in Italian leagues count

Theoretically the Sens have two other draft picks to make decisions on (both NCAA grads: Chris Leblanc (6-161/13) and Robert Baillargeon (5-136/12)), but at this point it seems unlikely they will be signed (other than, perhaps, the former getting an AHL or ECHL contract).  Among the other draft picks the only conceivable signing (to my mind) would be Filip Ahl (4-109/15), but it’s more likely they’ll let him play another year before making a decision on him.

Here are the RFA and UFA situations from the 2016-17 roster (again, broken down by position):

Goaltenders (3)
Chris Driedger (23, RFA)
Scott Greenham (30, had an AHL contract)
Matt O’Connor (25, RFA)

Defensemen (5)
Chris Carlisle (22, had an AHL contract)
Brandon Gormley (25, UFA)
Guillaume Lepine (30, had an AHL contract)
Chris Rumble (27, had an AHL contract)
Patrick Sieloff (23, RFA)

Forwards (8)
Jason Akeson (27, had an AHL contract)
Casey Bailey (25, UFA)
Marc Hagel (28, UFA)
Alex Krushelnyski (26, had an AHL contract)
Max McCormick (25, UFA)
Chad Nehring (29, UFA)
Jack Rodewald (23, had an AHL contract)
Ryan Rupert (23, RFA)
Phil Varone (26, UFA)

Here are my thoughts by position:

Goaltenders

Signing Marcus Hogberg (3-78/13) signals that one of Matt O’Connor (NCAA FA 2015) or Chris Driedger (3-76/12) is on their way out.  While the difference between the two isn’t large, O’Connor is older and shown little sign of improvement, so I’d guess Driedger will be retained (he’d also be cheaper).  There’s the possibility Andrew Hammond could be buried in the AHL this season, but I doubt Melnyk will tolerate his salary rotting away, so I expect the org to remove him one way or another.  On the ECHL side of things it would be easy to retain Scott Greenham, despite a subpar year, but they could easily sign another ‘tender to replace him.
Expectation: Driedger/Hogberg; ECHL Greenham 50/50

Defensemen

I suspect Chabot (1-18/15) will play in the NHL, but even so it’s a crowded blueline, as such I suspect that Lajoie (5-133/16) will be returned to junior for his final WHL season.  There’s no chance former Arizona first-round pick Gormley (1-13/10) sticks around and we can hope that we’ve seen the last of ECHLer Lepine.  The org could keep Sieloff–he’s an unremarkable defensive defenseman, but decent AHL depth (my guess is no, but the possibility remains). I suspect Carlisle will be retained (both Richardson and Kleinendorst liked him), especially if he’s willing to accept an AHL contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rumble walked (he could make good money in Europe).
Expectation: Donaghey, Erkamps, Englund, Harpur, Jaros, Murray, Carlisle, plus a FA signing (a veteran)

Forwards

As large as this group seems, Dunn (5-138/13), assuming he’s not moved, will be buried in the ECHL.  I also believe White (1-21/15) will remain in the NHL, leaving us with seven players signed.  I suspect the org would like to keep Varone, but he may decide to explore his options (I believe Akeson will leave on his own accord, just as he did last season–his return to the team early last season was unplanned).  Of the remaining players the org will fall over itself to re-sign McCormick (6-171/11), with the possibility they’ll give him a one-way deal (something I see as likely).  We could see Rodewald get another AHL-contract and the team might try to keep Bailey, but the rest are gone.
Expectation: Blunden, Chlapik, DiDomenico, Flanagan, Gagne, Paul, Perron, Rodewald, Varone; four or five other players will be signed including at least one veteran

This would make for a very inexperienced roster, particularly on the blueline and in net, but with more talent than the previous season.  What Belleville really needs is scoring and it remains to be seen if DiDomenico can show the touch he had in Europe (he’ll need support regardless).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)