Sens News & Notes

The positivity continues as the Sens re-signed all but one of their pending RFA’s: diminutive Erik Brannstrom returns on a one-year deal (900k); Mathieu Joseph (see below) chimes in with 4-years at 2.95; and the electric Tim Stutzle signed an eight-year extension at 8.35. The only player currently left on the docket is Alex Formenton. The moves were well received (I don’t count Nichols worrying over Stutzle‘s defensive play, is that’s a by rote concern with offensive players), as the hype train continues. I’m apparently the only voice of caution at the moment, so is there a fly in the ointment with these signings? The one that occurs to me is the salary cap–not for this year, but for the 23-24 season.

The Sens have 61 million committed to 23-24 (minus Formenton). That’s 74% of the cap. If we imagine keeping Debrincat at roughly what he makes now (unlikely, but let’s be generous) and toss in Formenton (let’s ballpark 2.5), that’s 70 million committed (85%) when the team will need new contracts for Shane Pinto, possibly a goaltender, and half their blueline (Zub, Hamonic, Holden, and BrannstromLassi Thomson taking a spot doesn’t change much).

That’s very little cap space to work with, which likely means Dorion will be forced to move someone from the forward group. The Sens are disproportionately committed to their forwards, a gamble that did not produce playoff success last year (as Travis Yost notes, “No team with a below-average top four on defence reached the postseason [last year]“). Even if the Sens move Formenton without taking salary back, they’d still have just 15 million to work with (assuming Debrincat stays near his current salary). The Sens blueline has been awful (cf Nichols), so simply locking-up what’s in place will not suffice [after I posted this Ian Mendes echoed the point].

This scenario is one of the reasons why I brought up the potential cost of overpaying in the deals they’ve signed (I think both Giroux and Norris could have been signed for less). The odds are that at least one of the new deals will turn sour and the Sens will struggle to move the player (Zaitsev is still here, which is the perfect example of how hard it is to get rid of underperforming cap problems). I’ve seen no reflection of this issue either in the press or from fans–some of that is due to it being an issue for next season, but cap management is a key component for success, so it will be interesting to see when it does start getting debated (how the season starts will likely determine it).

Cap aside, I’m happy with the Stutzle deal–I’ve always been in favour of paying for skill and that’s what he brings. While we can’t know how he’ll project out (cf), there are no high end center prospects within the org and they are practically impossible to trade for, so it’s essential to keep him.

Nichols bent over backwards to praise the re-signing of Mathieu Joseph whose brief, meaningless late season numbers undoubtedly impressed Sens’ brass. The reason I’m dismissive of Nichols’ analysis is because he only looked at the numbers in Ottawa–Joseph has played 232 NHL games, so I’d rather see the whole picture for a breakdown. As for the deal itself, I don’t like its length, although Dorion avoided giving him Colin White money. While I don’t expect Joseph to perform like he did at the end of the season, if he truly underperforms (which I’m not saying he will, it’s just a potential) at least his salary is reasonable enough that he can be moved.

Erik Brannstrom is at a turning point in his career (Ary argues that’s not necessarily the case–link below–and while he’s right abstractly, I don’t think the org has patience for him). He’s only 23, but his numbers are underwhelming. When drafted he was compared to Victor Mete (ouch) and Timothy Liljegren (whose curve seems better). He’s undeniably fourth on the chart on the left side at the pro level (behind Chabot, Sanderson, and Holden), so outside of injury or someone playing their off side, it’s hard to know how much he’ll play. I think the Sens had to re-sign him (for depth reasons and to pump up his value), but I doubt much enthusiasm remains for him–I don’t think the coach is a fan.

I mentioned that we’d have to wait for sources outside of Ottawa to see words of caution about the Debrincat trade. That caution has arrived via an article by Sean McIndoe (which is ostensibly about Matthew Tkachuk), where he talks about how rarely trades like this (when the player is resigned long term) work out.

“…the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. … The scenario is in play when a team acquires a star player in a major trade, usually to great fanfare, and then has to immediately contend with an extension. … That puts the team in a bind. Sure, it’s great that they added a new player, but now they have to keep him. Their fans are excited. The GM is reading media coverage about what a great job he’s done. They may even be selling a few more season tickets. But all that positivity disappears if they let this new star walk away for nothing in a year or so.”

McIndoe then includes a long list of such failures (Seth Jones, Jeff Skinner, Erik Karlsson, Jacob Trouba, Jonathan Drouin, Justin Faulk, Ryan McDonough, Corey Schneider, 2012’s Jordan Staal, Ottawa’s own Bobby Ryan, and 2014’s Jason Spezza). The Sens have not yet signed Debrincat long term, but the expectation from both the fans and media seems to be that they will lock him up long term.

Travis Yost had an interesting look at goaltending performance. In it you can see some warning signs about Cam Talbot (using Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAE); the newly acquired ‘tender hasn’t been above average in his last five seasons and below it twice. We know the Sens don’t believe in analytics, so this wouldn’t factor into their decision to trade for him, but it’s something to keep in mind for the upcoming season. This doesn’t concern me too much, since Talbot is here as a short-term back-up, but if there are injuries it’s worth keeping in mind. I don’t want the org to have to lean on Sogaard if things go wrong, as the Dane is very young and we’ve seen how pushing young goaltenders can turn out poorly (Lehner, Elliott, Hogberg, etc).

In a minor league deal the Sens added winger Jayce Hawryluk. This is his second tour of duty with the org, as he was a waiver pick-up in 2020. At that time the former 2nd-round pick put up solid season ending numbers (11-2-5-7) which was enough to convince Vancouver to sign him (he proceeded to bomb out completely). He spent this past season with Skelleftea in the SHL, where he was unimpressive (39-8-11-19, finishing 10th in scoring). While Hawryluk isn’t an NHL player, his AHL numbers are adequate (148-27-68-95 0.64). On the surface it’s an unimpressive addition to the BSens, but it’s not an obvious fail like some of last summer’s signings (cf).

This article was written by Peter Levi

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