As the calendar turns to October, under normal circumstances the Ottawa Senators would have wrapped up the exhibition schedule and they’d be preparing for the start of the regular season.
That’s not the case this year and nobody is sure when life will be normal again.
Nearly a year after starting the season, the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton and now the off-season work will get under way with the NHL draft being held virtually next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The next couple of weeks will be pivotal for the Ottawa Senators with three picks in the first round, nine in the first three rounds and 13 overall. The club also has to send qualifying offers to its restricted free agents by Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST and then unrestricted free agency kicks off Friday at noon.
All this means at a time the Senators usually have a roster selected, general manager Pierre Dorion, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the staff are trying to put more pieces in place. The season is supposed to start Dec. 1 but that’s not going to be the case with bets now being placed on a January or February opening.
Since the final is over, the trade talk has increased because teams are more engaged in the off-season. This is the time of year where you shape your team for next season and the Senators are among those trying to make determinations on their roster.
A check with league executives indicates because of the flat salary cap several teams are offering up good players that can help that may have a year or two remaining on their contracts. The Senators have cap space and draft picks which makes them an attractive team to do business with.
That’s why chief scout Trent Mann noted during his conference call with reporters Tuesday the club has to be ready for any scenario when the first round gets under way.
For example, the Senators have the No. 28 overall pick as part of the deal for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. If Dorion decides he needs a goaltender that can help the club right away and wants to make a trade the belief in league circles is that pick may be valuable.
Two league executives told this newspaper Wednesday though the Arizona Coyotes have claimed they’re not going to move goalie Darcy Kuemper because of the success they had during the Play-In round, that could change if new GM Bill Armstrong gets the first-round selection and another piece he wants in return.
Kuemper has two years at $4.5 million left on his contract so he’s viewed as an attractive option.
The Senators can also use a centre, a couple of wingers and maybe a couple of defencemen and depending on what teams want in return then they may be able to find that help in the current marketplace.
Of course, we all know the Lightning are celebrating their title, but they’ve got huge cap issues and GM Julien Brisebois was working the phones even before he lifted the Stanley Cup Monday. The club has to move at least a couple of big contracts while also getting RFA’s Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli signed.
On Real Kyper at Noon Wednesday, former NHLer Nick Kypreos and ex-GM Doug MacLean speculated the Senators should consider an offer sheet for Cirelli, who played for coach DJ. Smith in Oshawa. The reality is the Lightning would match.
Teams that suffered playoff disappointments like the Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Nashville, Calgary and Washington want to make changes as well. The best way to put it is there’s no shortage of dance partners and Dorion admitted as much during conference call with reporters last week.
Even Chicago GM Stan Bowman confirmed in a call with reporters in the Windy City Wednesday he’s been doing a lot of talking.
“I’ve been on the phone quite a bit and I’ve heard some interesting ideas,” Bowman said.
That’s why Dorion is listening to offers to move back in the first round with his No. 5 selection. Who knows? Maybe a team between No. 6 and No. 10 _ Anaheim, New Jersey, Buffalo, Minnesota and Winnipeg _ will offer up a sweetner for the Senators to move back and still get the player they want with that second pick in the first round.
What’s making this difficult is nobody knows what next season will look like. As reported in this space Aug. 31, one scenario being discussed was having teams go into division hubs and play eight games over the course of two weeks. They would then have a week off before moving elsewhere.
The players didn’t enjoy the bubbles and the owners don’t want to play without fans. Right now, there’s so much happening with the spread of COVID-19 in North America that the best bet for everybody involved is to focus on what their team is going to look like when they do take the ice in 2020-21.
Stay tuned because the next 10 days or so will be interesting and will set the stage for what the Senators will look like whenever they return to play.
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