Expansion Draft Preview: Ottawa Senators

This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.

Following our preview of the Detroit Red Wings, today we take a look at another team almost guaranteed to finish near the bottom of the league, and as such, miss the playoffs. This is a calculated move on our part.

Suck-ass teams are less likely to have long lists of quality players, meaning very few (if any) quality players will be left exposed. They are also unlikely to be either buyers or sellers at the trade deadline — they won’t be acquiring players to make a playoff run; and there is nobody on their roster that other teams will be eager to acquire.

With a shortage of marketable assets, and no impetus to acquire any before the off-season, it stands to reason that these teams’ rosters are unlikely to change in any substantive way during the remainder of this season. This makes it much more plausible that the predictions we make now will still be valid when the season concludes and the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is imminent. So we’re getting these teams out of the way early.

Protected List

In arriving at our expected list of protected players, we have drawn on a number of sources, and made a few assumptions. First, there’s no point in protecting a player that you don’t own the rights to, or that you don’t have under contract. Ottawa is in re-build mode and will likely let nearly every UFA walk at the end of this year. Thus, our first assumption is that UFA players will be left exposed.

Additionally, anyone under contract for next season who is currently in your top-six forwards or top-two defense pairings will be protected. To do otherwise would be shooting yourself in the foot.

Beyond that, we have leveraged the opinions from Ottawa media sources — print, broadcast, and online — who are intimately familiar with the team and its players, management, coaches, and history with cap management.

Thus armed, we have assumed that the Senators will adopt the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:

Forwards: Evgeni Dadonov, Colin White, Connor Brown, Nick Paul, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Vitali Abramov.

Defense: Thomas Chabot, Nikita Zaitsev, Josh Brown.

Goaltender: Matt Murray.

Now, there is some uncertainty surrounding the protection of the Senators’ goaltender. This off-season the Sens traded to acquire Pittsburgh’s former #1 goaltender Matt Murray, and promptly signed him to a $6.25 million AAV contract. Murray, as it happens, is playing like complete dog shit. So it is not outside the realm of possibility that Ottawa cuts bait on that bad investment, and leaves Murray exposed.

I will posit that this means nothing to the Seattle Kraken; when compared with the other goaltenders that are likely to be left unprotected around the league, none of the Ottawa goaltenders is worthy of consideration. So in the final analysis, whether it’s Murray that gets protected or somebody else is immaterial.

No Thank You

There are players that we expect to be left exposed that are either 1) too expensive, 2) not performing, 3) too old, or 4) fall into two or more of the aforementioned categories. As such, we will be dismissing the possibility of selecting any of the following players:

Forwards: Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Chris Tierney

Defense: Erik Gudbranson, Braydon Coburn

Goaltenders: (*none*)

It should be noted that everyone on this list will be UFA at the end of the current season, except for Chris Tierney who is signed for another year.

We will add here that the two young forwards who are making quite a go of things this year for the Sens, C Josh Norris and LW Tim Steutzle, are exempt from the draft.

Who’s Left?

The remaining players on the Ottawa roster can most accurately be described as the Island of Misfit Toys. You have Cedric Paquette, a bruising winger who can’t stay out of the penalty box; Alex Galchenyuk, who delivered over 40 points for 5 straight seasons, but is currently playing on Ottawa’s 4th line; hulking Austin Watson, who delivers crushing checks but still manages respectable plus-minus numbers; and Mike Reilly, who seems to excel at absolutely nothing, and yet there he is earning $1.5 million a year playing on the middle defensive pairing.

That pretty much wraps up the NHL-caliber players; it gets only slightly more interesting when you dive down to the AHL level. The vast majority of the prospects that are eligible for the draft have topped out either in Juniors or the ECHL, and can’t consistently make the jump beyond that. The notable exceptions are below.

C Filip Chlapik, $735,000, RFA. It has been a long, hard road to the NHL for Chlapik, a Czech center who was drafted in the 2nd round by Ottawa in 2015. He has cracked the Senators’ lineup for 57 games over the last 5 years, including one game this season. Chlapik is a two-way center, 6’1″ and 196 lbs., who could compete for a bottom-six role with the Kraken. (Editor’s note: Chlapik was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. He was not claimed, and his contract was terminated on February 26th. He is, therefore, not on the Ottawa roster for the expansion draft.)

C Clark Bishop, $700,000, RFA. Bishop, too, has had call-ups to the NHL over the last several years, a total of 25 games. But unlike Chlapik, I believe the best we can hope for from him is some veteran leadership on the AHL club in Palm Springs.

D Christian Wolanin, $900,000, RFA. A product of the NCAA powerhouse University of North Dakota, Wolanin is a puck-moving defenseman who still manages to keep solid plus-minus numbers. At 25 years old he is just at the make-or-break age for most NHL defensemen; so his performance this season will be crucial. If the last name sounds familiar, that’s because his father is former NHL defenseman Craig Wolanin who played nearly 700 games with Quebec, New Jersey, Toronto, Tampa, and Colorado. Sons of former players have a marked advantage over those without an NHL pedigree, so this works in his favor.

Let’s Make A Deal? PLEASE?

With so few players who have anything to offer, the remaining option becomes the possibility of a side deal with Ottawa that will result in the Kraken obtaining something of more value. With the threat of taking a decent player off their roster being moot, that leaves only one other possibility.

Ottawa is re-building, and they are a so-called “small market team” with a limited budget. Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion will want to re-build around a core of young, inexpensive players who have lots of upside potential. The Kraken have the opportunity to select a wealth of such players during the expansion draft.

So, the potential move for Kraken GM Ron Francis is as follows: find out who the Senators will want off the other 29 teams’ lists of exposed players, select that player, and trade him to Ottawa for an early-round pick. Francis is no stranger to such transactions; he crafted precisely the same type of deal with the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights while he was GM of the Carolina Hurricanes — acquiring defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk from (not Las) Vegas after he was selected from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The unfortunate thing is, that deal won’t be possible until the teams’ protected lists are submitted. So if it’s going to happen, it will happen inside of a 72-hour period in late July. We won’t have any knowledge of it ahead of time, and speculating about which exposed player might pique Ottawa’s interest is pointless.

Snookered

The NHL got caught by surprise in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. They had very little time to get their houses in order before Golden Knights GM George McPhee laid waste to their rosters in what can only be described as highway robbery.

That object lesson was ingrained in the minds of NHL GM’s as they were licking their wounds in 2018, many of them screaming bloody murder to the press, and vowing to their owners that they would not be caught with their proverbial pants down when Seattle’s turn came.

Thus, the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft has turned into a game of snooker: craft a roster out of players that you will be able to protect, or that you can afford to lose, leaving Seattle with virtually no viable option on the exposed list.

Ottawa, it seems, has the Kraken snookered.

In the end I suspect what will happen is, there will be no deal at the 11th hour, and the Kraken will select a low-dollar unrestricted free agent off the very bottom of the Senators’ exposed list — Matthew Peca or Michael Haley, for instance — and then decline to offer that player a contract. Nothing of value for the Kraken, but ultimately nothing lost either. Given the alternatives, this may just end up being the best option for the Kraken given their long-term plans.

Congratulations, Mr. Dorion. You win.

Author: Tim Currell

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