Leading up to June’s NHL 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. If you haven’t already, please check out my review of the Goalies and Defensemen here . Today, I will tackle the clusterfuck that is the Sens forward group. 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 (10)
- Jason Spezza (cap hit $7 million, signed through 2014-15 season –> UFA)
- Daniel Alfredsson (cap hit $4.875 million, signed through 2012-13 season –> UFA)
- Milan Michalek (cap hit $4.333 million, signed through 2013-14 season –> UFA)
- Chris Neil (cap hit $2 million, signed through 2012-13 season –> UFA)
- Kyle Turris (cap hit $1.4 million, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Bobby Butler (cap hit $1.05 million, signed through 2012-13 season –>RFA)
- Colin Greening (cap hit $817K, signed through 2013-14 season –> UFA)
- Peter Regin (cap hit $800K, signed through 2012-13 season –> UFA)
- Zack Smith (cap hit $700K, signed through 2012-3 season –>RFA)
- Erik Condra (cap hit $625K, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
NHL UFA’s (3)
- Jesse Winchester
- Zenon Konopka
- Rob Klinkhammer
NHL RFA’s (3)
- Nick Foligno
- Jim O’Brien
- Kaspars Daugavins
Signed for AHL roster (14)
- Mika Zibanejad (cap hit $1.744 million ELC, signed through 2014-15 season –> RFA)
- Cole Schneider (cap hit $925K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Wacey Hamilton (cap hit $900K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Jakob Silfverberg (cap hit $900K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Mark Stone (cap hit $873K ELC, signed through 2014-15 season –> RFA)
- Andre Petersson (cap hit $730K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- Mike Hoffman (cap hit $677K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Pat Cannone (cap hit $625K, signed through 2013-14 season –> UFA)
- Corey Cowick (cap hit $612K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Derek Grant (cap hit $605K ELC, signed through 2013-14 season –> RFA)
- David Dziurzinski (cap hit $600K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
- Darren Kramer (cap hit $600K ELC, signed through 2014-15 season –> RFA)
- Jakub Culek (cap hit $593K ELC, signed through 2014-15 season –> RFA)
- Louie Caporussio (cap hit $565K ELC, signed through 2012-13 season –> RFA)
AHL UFA’s (3)
- Mark Parrish
- Corey Locke
- Francis Lessard
AHL RFA’s (2)
- Nikita Filitov
- Stephane Da Costa
Unsigned Prospects (8)
- Stefan Noesen * (drafted 1st round 2011, returning to Plymouth (OHL))
- Matt Puempel * (drafted 1st round 2011, returning to Peterborough (OHL))
- Shane Prince (drafted 2nd round 2011, eligible for AHL/NHL once contract signed)
- JG Pageau (drafted 4th round 2011, eligible for AHL/NHL once contract signed)
- Max McCormick (drafted 6th round 2011, entering sophomore year Ohio St (NCAA))
- Ryan Dzingel (drafted 7th round 2011, entering sophomore year Ohio St (NCAA))
- Jeff Costello (drafted 5th round 2009, entering Junior year Notre Dame (NCAA))
- Brad Peltz (drafted 7th round 2009, entering Junior year Yale (NCAA))
(* signed but not eligible for AHL because of age)
Wow, that’s a crowd. Let’s look at the NHL roster first:
The first problem I see is a mathematical one, as in there are just too many bodies for not enough spots. Let’s use the assumption that the Sens will carry 2 extra forwards on the roster this coming season (if you carry the standard 1 extra D, that puts you at the 23 man roster limit). As it stands, there are 10 forwards already signed, 3 RFA’s (Foligno, O’Brien and Daugavins) who all have already had their rights retained with qualifying offers according to Joy Lindsay (my favourite Sens reporter even though she’s in Bingo on account of her being willing to ask Sens brass questions that fans want answers to). So now you’re at 13 and you still have your 3 UFA’s (Winchester, Konopka and Klinkhammer) to make decisions on. Add to that the intention of Bryan Murray to sign at least 1 UFA forward for the Top 6 (although he said the same thing last offseason and didn’t pull the trigger until he realized that he forgot to and went and traded for Kyle Turris.) And finally, this group does not include any of the young players who the Sens management feel could be NHLer’s right now (Silfverberg and Zibanejad) or who could definitely challenge in the very near future (Stone and Da Costa).
It feels like there are a few moves still to be made before we can make a real determination on the NHL roster. It’s easier to break these possibilities down by looking at the Top 6. I feel very strongly that Daniel Alfredsson will be coming back next season and I think the Sens think that he will too so all plans should be made with that assumption until he says any different. With Alfredsson, the Sens have 4 legitimate Top 6 players (Spezza, Alfie, Michalek and Turris). They are down 2 scoring wingers. While there could be some internal options to play there I think that Murray has made it clear that the team is looking to upgrade here.
When asked about Nick Foligno at the end of this season, Murray stated that they were giving Nick the challenge this summer to see if he could become someone who could be a Top 6 player on the team which tends to be code for “you’re going to be on the outside looking in now and we’re not handing you this spot”.
Peter Regin could have at one point been considered an option but the Murray’s have been very specific in saying that they see him as a Top 9 forward (ie a 3rd liner) which is a smart move considering the way his past couple seasons have gone. If everything goes right for him, then he may be able to work his way into a winger role on the top 2 lines but it’s highly doubtful that’s how he’ll break camp.
Colin Greening spent a lot of time playing on the top lines last year and he certainly was a pleasant surprise. He’ll always have a role to play on an NHL team because he’s a coach’s dream, he works very hard and has that rare combination of size and speed that teams always look for. And 17 goals in his first full season is nothing to sneeze at. But I think everyone realizes that his offensive ceiling isn’t too much higher than this and he probably projects long term to be a very good 3rd liner who can occasionally fill in on the top lines. as opposed to a bonafide scoring winger.
Bobby Butler sticks out like a sore thumb in this group as he had such a horrendous year that the only real reason that he’s most likely still on the roster is because he’s got another year left on the contract he signed. It’s highly unlikely the Sens are counting on him being a contributing member of the Top 6 (or even the Top 12 for that matter). I’d actually put better odds on the Sens trying to send him to Bingo by exposing him to waivers then him getting any kind of significant playing time on the team next year. I’m sure the Sens are loathe to simply give up on him given how much promise was there in his rookie season but he’s going to force their hand pretty soon. You can’t continue to carry a player who doesn’t do anything well.
I’m a huge advocate of the Sens bringing in an established scoring winger to play in the Top 6. I also think that another Top 6 spot should be allocated for one of Zibanejad or Silfverberg and allow them to compete in camp to see who can win it with the other one going to Bingo to get top line minutes there and be available for the inevitable callups throughout the season as injury replacements.
If this happens though, players like Foligno, Regin and Greening will be pushed into the Bottom 6 which makes things very crowded there. I have been banging the drum of putting Regin into the 3rd line centre role for a while now and I think this is the perfect opportunity to start him in the spot that suits him the best. By doing so, you bump Zack Smith into the 4th line centre spot which he may be slightly overqualified for but there are far worse problems to have. When trying to address the roster logjam, some guys will have to be forced out and I think that unfortunately means that the Sens shouldn’t bring back Jesse Winchester as they already have 1 injury question mark on the roster in Regin and can’t afford to hope that he recovers fully. I still like Konopka as an extra forward because he’s a great teammate and fills some of the veteran leadership quotient for many of the young teammates. I don’t see a place for Rob Klinkhammer on this team and thought he was kind of overrated by many last years anyways. There’s just no room. Then you still have to choose between Kaspars Daugavins and Jim O’Brien for your final roster spot. While O’Brien can safely be sent to Bingo without clearing waivers while Daugavins can’t, I still feel like O’Brien has more of a future with the team and would keep him around to cycle into the lineup when everyone’s healthy and get more of an everyday role once injuries start popping up. While I think Daugavins is completely acceptable as an NHL player and a popular character, I also don’t think I’d miss him if he left and if it were up to me, I probably wouldn’t have retained his rights this offseason and let him leave given the lack of roster spots.
So given these changes, here’s the way I would construct things for the forwards next year:
I would also anticipate that top prospects like Mark Stone and Stephane Da Costa (along with whoever loses out in the Zbad/Silfverberg battle) would get a chance to play some NHL games throughout the season as well.
Looking at the AHL roster, things are even more muddled. There are currently 14 forwards signed. Maybe, as suggested, one of Zibanejad or Silfverberg starts in the NHL but there’s also a decent chance that one or more of Butler, O’Brien or Daugavins could be sent down from the overflowing NHL squad. That number does not include RFA Stephane Da Costa who will certainly be re-signed. The only other RFA is Nikita Filatov who will be qualified but not signed as he has already agreed to terms with a KHL team so they won’t need to account for him. I don’t think any of the UFA’s (Locke, Parrish or Lessard) will be coming back but that leaves the B-Sens with precious little in the way of veteran presence which usually is not a great idea in the AHL so we’ll see if they find anybody to fill that role.
While signed prospects Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel are not yet eligible to play in the AHL and will return to their junior teams, it should only be a matter of time before both Shane Prince and JG Pageau are signed (they may very well be by the time you are reading this) and both of those players are eligible to play in the AHL. So by my count, that’s about 17 forwards with the real chance of a couple more being added to the mix. The ECHL is an option to put some of these players but that’s not necessarily the ideal spot to put prospects and teams don’t usually have more than a couple players there at a time. As it stands, the Sens could be forced to have nearly 2 lines worth of forwards playing below the AHL level which is not an ideal situation. The Sens have never gone the route of sending signed players back to their Junior teams to play as overagers but they may be forced to this season (players like Jakub Culek, Darren Kramer, Prince or Pageau would be the candidates). Should be interesting to see how this unfolds.
While this all seems a little uncomfortable right now, these things have a way of working themselves out as the offseason and training camps unfold. And I’m certainly more happy to ponder a problem of how to incorporate so many new highly touted faces into the organization than too few.