Senators free agency preview: Dorion poised to make more big moves

By CityNews Staff

Even in their glory years, the Ottawa Senators were not the biggest newsmakers in the National Hockey League (NHL) free agency frenzy.

Free Agent ‘Meh’ was more like it. You know the drill. American-based teams have had an easier time attracting the big names and Ottawa has generally not had the financial resources to compete with the big spenders.

And yet, prior to these past few seasons where the free-agent pickups were mostly veteran castoffs (think Michael Del Zotto, Tyler Ennis, Evgenii Dadonov etc.), Ottawa did make some judicious mid-range signings that were on the mark.

I’m thinking of summer contracts given to Clarke MacArthur, Sergei Gonchar and Dominik Hasek, among others. The Sens had a legitimate Cup contender in 2006, with Hasek in goal, before he got hurt at the Turin Olympics.

John Muckler was the general manager (GM) who signed Hasek while Bryan Murray brought in Gonchar and MacArthur, while also trading for Bobby Ryan after Daniel Alfredsson left for Detroit.

Well, move over Muckler and Murray, here comes current GM Pierre Dorion. After deftly acquiring sniper Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks at the draft, Dorion proceeded to unload goaltender Matt Murray on the Toronto Maple Leafs without losing a player off the Sens' current roster. Bonus — the Senators cleared more than $3 million US in cap space for this season, despite taking on 25 per cent of Murray’s salary. (Ottawa’s cash savings over the final two years of Murray’s deal – $11.25 million).

To this point, Dorion’s best free agent signing has been defenceman Artem Zub, scooped from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). 

Now, as Wednesday’s opening of free agency approaches, Dorion is setting his sights on adding a top-four defenceman and another scoring winger via free agency or trade. Senators fans are usually keeping their expectations in check as the off-season moves kick in. Not this year. They wonder what Dorion is going to do for an encore.

Salary cap space: $23,731,786

Roster size: 23

Salary committed to forwards: $27.3 million

Salary committed to defence: $22.2 million

Salary committed to goalies: $3.5 million

Potential unrestricted free agent targets

C Claude Giroux

Anyone who thought the Senators were done with their forward moves after DeBrincat can think again.

The Sens have targeted Giroux, the long-time Philadelphia Flyers captain, from the moment he got moved to Florida at the trade deadline.

At 34, Giroux remains very productive — better than a point per game with the Panthers in the regular season, plus eight points in 10 playoff games.

Giroux has played a lot of right wing recently, which means he could slide in at centre or wing with Ottawa, which has good pieces down the middle with Josh Norris, Tim Stützle and Shane Pinto.

Giroux and his wife and two sons make their home in Ottawa, an obvious draw.

How badly does Giroux want to join a Stanley Cup contender, and is he convinced the Sens can be there in a few years? Ottawa might have to add a year of security and compete dollar-wise on what will be an expensive deal.

For the first time in years, we can say they might actually do just that.

Giroux is coming off a cap hit of $8.275 million. It will likely take $9 million-plus to sign him. Ottawa has already shown a willingness to go that high with DeBrincat.

D Josh Manson

Manson, 30, is big (six-foot-three, 220 pounds), physical and could be a perfect fit as a right-shot, top-four defenceman for the Sens. Head coach D.J. Smith would love to add the grit of Manson on his blueline, to complement the fluid skaters on the left side such as Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson.

Manson played a significant role for the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche, after coming over from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline.

During the regular season, Manson contributed 179 hits, 70 blocks and 16 points. He had three goals and five assists during the playoffs.

Manson will be looking for a raise off his $4.45 million salary of last season, but should not be too rich for the Senators tastes at the moment.

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