The arbitrator has made a decision and awarded Cody Ceci a one-year $4.3MM contract. Ceci had filed for $6.0MM, while the team had countered with $3.35MM. He will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the deal, but is now prohibited from signing an extension until January.
That is of course if Ceci and the Senators sign the deal at all, given that it is above the walk-away threshold of $4,222,941. The Senators could decide to allow Ceci to go to unrestricted free agency instead of taking the award, though that seems extremely unlikely in their current position. The team relies on Ceci heavily as the anchor of their defensive pairing, and if Erik Karlsson is indeed traded in the next few weeks Ceci would become the de facto #1 defenseman in Ottawa. The 24-year old already logged more than 23 minutes a night for the past two seasons, though that has come with very mixed results.
As the analytical community will point out, Ceci has never put up good possession numbers through his NHL career. That assessment comes in opposition of how the Senators obviously view him, and how his skills present themselves on the ice. A good skater with a quick pass and active stick, Ceci looks like he should be a solid two-way contributor for Ottawa. With just 19 points last season—and only 14 of those at even-strength—the offensive side of his game has still never really materialized, and he’s been given more and more difficult defensive matchups. With partner Dion Phaneuf now gone, Ceci will likely be paired with either Mark Borowiecki or Ben Harpur on the second pairing (assuming Karlsson is still around) to allow young Thomas Chabot more offensive freedom.
Next summer, Ceci will be eligible for arbitration again and would only be eligible for a one-year award. Similar to the situation Mark Stone found himself in this summer, Ceci would have to decide whether he wanted to explore a long-term deal or take his chances on the unrestricted free agent market in 2020. It’s not clear if the rest of the NHL holds him as high as Ottawa does, but there’s no doubt that he would have several suitors interesting in bringing him aboard. The Senators will obviously try to re-sign the young defenseman, but as with almost everyone on their roster they’ll have to consider a trade at some point.
We examined the Senators situation yesterday, and noted that they have almost no one on the books past the 2019-20 season. That allows them to pick and choose how to rebuild their franchise after falling so far in the last year, and Ceci will be a key decision. Since an arbitration award next summer will likely be even higher than the $4.3MM, they’ll have to decide whether he’s a core piece going forward or just more trade fodder to cash in for future assets.