With a little more than a month to go until the Entry Draft, it’s as good a time as any to take a snapshot of exactly where the Senators are when it comes to overall organizational depth in all positions leading up the upcoming offseason. I will also take the opportunity to use this depth chart in order to make a few guesses about possible signings and roster makeups next year for both the NHL and AHL clubs. Today, I’ll start with the Goalies and Defensemen (because talking about the Sens’ organizational depth in goal would constitute a very brief post and that’s not my style). I’ll finish up with the forwards in a future entry. A quick note that I’ve made some assumptions as far as which players are signed for the NHL roster as opposed to the AHL and any tweeners I will be sure to identify in the comments.
Signed for NHL roster
- Craig Anderson (cap hit $3.1875 million, signed through 2014-15 season –> UFA)
- Ben Bishop (cap hit $650K, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Alex Auld
Signed for AHL roster
- Robin Lehner (cap hit $870K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Mike McKenna
Well that’s a pretty short list huh? The nice thing about it is that the proper slots are being filled by players that are more than suited to fill those roles. For the first time in a long time, the Sens short term depth in nets is very reassuring. When the biggest priority in the offseason is to find a backup for Bingo, you’re pretty set. As for the free agents, Auld is obviously not coming back as he was effectively fired when the Sens acquired Ben Bishop. McKenna may or may not be back but AHL backups are fairly easy to pick up so I don’t think the Sens are going to rush into figuring out where they’re going there. And while I think it would be comforting for most Sens fans to have another young goalie in the longterm pipeline, I’m not sure if the Sens are going to expend a pick on a goalie in this year’s draft. The Murray regime have only drafted one goalie in their entire run since 2007 (Lehner in ’09) and you could make the argument that they already used next year’s 2nd rounder to get Bishop so I would not be surprised if they decided to not dip in that pool this year as well.
A final note regarding Lehner as I’m sure there are fans that might argue with an assumption that he will definitely be AHL-bound next season. The issue working most against Lehner is mainly about contracts. Ben Bishop was exempt from being exposed to waivers this past season but will no longer be exempt starting next year. Based on his performance and potential, there is no way he would clear said waivers if the Sens attempted to send him down to Bingo. So barring injury, Lehner is the odd man out. I am certain he’ll get a chance to play in a handful of NHL games this year just as he has in the previous 2. Now I love Lehner and think he’s the real deal but I don’t count myself as someone who thinks he has nothing left to learn at the AHL level. The Calder Cup playoff run was a remarkable feat but that achievement tends to gloss over the fact that in both that season and the one after, Lehner was outplayed in the regular season by his AHL-level backups where he ended up losing his starting position over the course of the year. Having a full AHL season with a consistent output would be a great stepping stone to his NHL career. My guess is that the Sens brass feels the same.
And do I even have to address the ridiculousness of trading Craig Anderson the minute the Sens finally have stable starting goaltending? No? Good.
Signed for NHL roster
- Sergei Gonchar (cap hit $5.5 million, signed through 2012-13 season –> UFA)
- Chris Phillips (cap hit $3.083 million, signed through 2013-14 season –> UFA)
- Jared Cowen (cap hit $1.265 million ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Filip Kuba
- Matt Carkner
- Matt Gilroy
- Erik Karlsson
Signed for AHL roster
- Patrick Wiercioch (cap hit $875K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Ben Blood (cap hit $825K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Frederick Claesson (cap hit $623K ELC, signed through 2014-15 season –> RFA)
- Mark Borowiecki (cap hit $610K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Chris Wideman (cap hit $590K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Tim Conboy
- Eric Gryba
- Craig Schira
- Michael Sdao (drafted 7th round 2009, entering Senior year at Princeton (NCAA))
- Bryce Aneloski (drafted 7th round 2010, entering Junior year at UNO (NCAA))
- Jordan Fransoo (drafted 7th round 2011, entering final year of junior eligibility with Victoria (WHL))
This group is an interesting one with some of the more serious decisions to be made and a fair number of holes to be patched. We can certainly move Erik Karlsson into the signed group soon enough as it’s not a matter of if he gets signed, just for how much and how long. The NHL UFA’s are where it should get interesting. By all rights, Filip Kuba should be leaving as a free agent since he’s getting older, he’s shown diminishing returns on the ice since signing his last deal and doesn’t appear to be a part of the Sens internal leadership core. His rebound this year from the previous 2 terrible seasons came just in the nick of time to allow him to cash in on this contract both in salary and term which is another reason why the Sens should be happy to bid him adieu. But Bryan Murray has a history of not letting guys that he likes leave via free agency. And I think that he likes Filip Kuba. The other question that immediately comes from allowing Kuba to leave is if you’re letting this Top 4 d-man go, who exactly are you bringing in to replace him? There doesn’t look to be an option internally and the free agent pickings are fairly slim (unless we’re all still living the Ryan Suter pipe dream). Pretty much every option available on July 1st looks like a downgrade contribution-wise from Kuba (Jason Garrison perhaps excepted, although there’s not much a history there either). The trade route seems like it could be an option as Murray most likely would like to find someone younger who could grow with the core and those guys don’t tend to be sitting on the free agent market.
After dealing with that, you’ve got the bottom couple slots. Assuming that the Sens carry the typical 7 bodies on the NHL roster, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to bring back Matt Carkner to be your 7th d-man (which is a role that requires you to be a great teammate, be fine with sitting for long periods and play a specific role well when called upon, pretty much what Matt Carkner’s Wikipedia entry says).
Matt Gilroy I think is the type of player that both Murray and Maclean want to have on the bottom pairing to use with Chris Phillips to provide offense and move the puck. It’s the main reason they gave up on Brian Lee since he was never going to fit that requirement. Unfortunately for all concerned, Matt Gilroy kind of sucked after being acquired so it is pretty much a given that they’ll be trying to find a better version of him and not bringing him back. In a perfect world, Patrick Wiercioch would be ready to come up and fill the spot this year because his skillset would be perfect. That doesn’t look likely though as Wiercioch, while still progressing as opposed to regressing, is just not ready yet to fill in as an everyday NHLer. So either the Sens attempt to fill this hole through trade/free agency or they try Mark Borowiecki out who is the AHLer closest to the NHL in the org. The issue with Borowiecki is that while he appears to be on track to be in the NHL at some point soon, this year may be too early. Not to mention that Borowiecki is the opposite of a puck mover and is known more for his stay at home defensive defenseman qualities. While always appreciated, that may not be what Maclean or Murray want to see on that bottom pairing if they’ve already got the Big Rig back there plugging things up.
These decisions are the most interesting ones to me this offseason and I’m really interested to see how they choose to move forward with the Top 6 given the opportunity to take the status quo, go younger, or look externally for more exciting options.
As for the AHL, there’s already a little bit of a log jam there given that they will have Wiercioch, Borowiecki (maybe), and probably Gryba as holdovers along with 3 more rookies graduating from the NCAA and SEL to incorporate (Wideman, Blood and Claesson). Gryba is technically a RFA and hasn’t taken the steps the Sens thought that he might a couple years ago when he started his pro career but I don’t think the Sens want to give up on him just yet as he’s a very hard worker and one of those tough as nails types that you always like to have at your disposal. I’m fairly certain he’ll be re-signed and made part of the everyday Bingo rotation. Craig Schira is the other RFA and I can’t see him being qualified, he doesn’t have a future in the NHL and the team needs to make room for the new rookies. Ditto the only UFA Tim Conboy who was brought in last year to be the veteran presence there and didn’t seem up to the task. Saying that, the B-Sens are in desperate need of some kind of veteran presence on the back end as it’s never a good idea to have your entire defense corps under 25 in any pro league. If the rumours are true that Andre Benoit is being lured back from Europe, that would be the ideal arrangement as he can lead this group and also be a half decent emergency callup to the NHL as he has shown in the past.
The prospect group on D for the Sens remains woefully thin with only a series of 7th round picks at various stages of their early development. The Sens overcompensation for lack of forward prospects at last year’s draft along with the Rundblad for Turris deal has left the longterm defensive depth in need of replenishing. I would suspect we’ll see that addressed somewhat at this year’s draft which doesn’t appear to be especially deep but chalk full of defensemen. In the meantime, I think that the NHL roster will certainly see the group augmented by a player or two from outside the organization which should be fun to watch unfold.
Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll tackle the overflowing group of Sens forwards.