The Ottawa Senators are a team in trouble. The Senators finished with a 28-43-11 record last season for a total of 67 points, second-lowest in the NHL. The team also placed close to the bottom in both goals for and goals against, which combined for a the league’s second-worst goal differential of -70. Ottawa dealt with a public relations nightmare this summer surrounding Mike Hoffman and ended up having to deal the dependable scorer away for pennies on the dollar. They have thus far failed to add any difference-makers via trade or free agency this off-season as well. On top of that, owner Eugene Melnyk is reportedly hemorrhaging money and appears to have a singular focus of spending as little as possible this season. That task is made difficult by a roster that features overpaid, ineffective veterans such as Bobby Ryan, Marian Gaborik, and Mikkel Boedker and a 37-year-old goalie coming off the worst season of his career in Craig Anderson. The Senators are the popular pick to be the worst team in the NHL in 2018-19, but even that has no silver lining, as the Colorado Avalanche own Ottawa’s first-round pick, potentially the first overall pick in next year’s draft.
It almost seems like so much is going wrong in Ottawa that things can only get better. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. Early in this off-season, the Senators made a contract extension offer to all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is slated for free agency next summer. When Karlsson dismissed this initial offer, the team made it know that they were open to trading the face of the franchise. Just this week, the team was unable to come to terms on a long-term extension with top scorer Mark Stone, instead signing him to a one-year deal that will make him an unrestricted free agent after the season, where he will potentially be the biggest available name behind Karlsson. Perhaps the biggest bargain on the team, Ryan Dzingel’s team-friendly contract runs out after next season and the young forward will want a significant raise, even if that means it doesn’t come from the penny-pinching Senators. Finally, Matt Duchene, who Ottawa gave up substantial trade capital to acquire early last season – when their future looked much brighter – is also entering the final year of his contract and may not want to stick around any longer in Ottawa after the team fell apart soon after his acquisition.
With Hoffman and Derick Brassard already gone, the Senators face a very real possibility that they will begin the 2019-20 season without all of their top six scorers from the 2017-18 season (make that top seven if they succeed in trading Ryan). Between the value each would have on the open market prompting them to test the waters and the mounting pressure on the team to trade them during what will almost certainly be another season of struggles, the odds of each of them returning is slim. If the team was second-worst last year, did nothing to improve this off-season, and doesn’t have the pick that could otherwise land them a franchise cornerstone in next year’s draft, it is scary to think about how much worse things could get in Ottawa if all four of these prominent free agents depart.
This begs the question: how many of Karlsson, Stone, Dzingel, and Duchene will still be Senators this time next year?