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The changing of the guard has started in Ottawa.
And, the departure of veteran defenceman Mark Borowiecki won’t be the biggest change made in this long off-season by the Ottawa Senators.
One of the most anticipated National Hockey League drafts in the history of the Senators franchise will take place, in three weeks with commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy Bill Daly at the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., on Oct. 6-7.
Not only will the Senators have three picks in the first round — they currently have the No. 3 and No. 5 selections — but the organization also has nine selections in the first three rounds and 13 total in what’s considered a strong draft.
General manager Pierre Dorion will spend a lot of time in the next month or so shaping the roster for next season, and those picks will play big roles, not only because the club will get two huge assets that will eventually play massive roles in the rebuild, but some of those draft picks will also be used to address roster needs in the short and long term.
The organization has cap space and draft picks that will be coveted by other teams, huge assets for Dorion and the Senators.
Though the Senators wanted to keep Borowiecki, they likely weren’t willing to meet the money or term he wanted in a new deal. He’ll get a two- or three-year deal on the open market when free agency begins on Oct. 9 as several teams are looking for help on defence.
A big part of this rebuild means the club will have younger players of its core.
The organization has made it clear that defenceman Thomas Chabot will be the centrepiece of the rebuild, signing him last summer to an eight-year extension worth $64 million that kicks in this coming season, and he’s the top candidate to be named Senators captain.
Veterans Nikita Zaitsev and Mike Reilly, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens just before the deadline, are also under contract. From there, the Senators will either make a trade involving a draft pick or get help on the free-agent market on a short-term deal if veteran blueliner Ron Hainsey either decides not to return or retires at age 39.
Yes, the Senators could have used Boroweicki next season, but they’re also looking at the depth chart down the road and figuring out where everybody is going to fit. The thinking here is that with defensive prospects Erik Brannstrom (Belleville), Christian Wolanin (Belleville), Lassi Thomson (Finland) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (North Dakota) in the system, the club will be in good shape on the blue-line.
Brannstrom and Wolanin should both pencilled in for spots this coming season, while Christian Jaros and Andreas Englund, a restricted free agent, will have the opportunity to compete for jobs when camp is held.
Up front, the Senators could use at least one centre, perhaps even a No. 1 pivot because there’s not much depth now at the moment. Right now, the middle of this roster is made up Colin White, Chris Tierney, Artem Anisimov while Matthew Peca was brought in as a UFA to finish out the season, but it should be noted that need may be addressed in the draft.
After a standout first year in Belleville, centre Josh Norris should push for a spot on the top two lines while Logan Brown, the No. 11 overall pick in 2011, is also going to have the opportunity.
All that being said, the Senators may spend one of those picks to go get a veteran centre who can play top six minutes via trade. The other option is wait for free agency, but there’s not a whole lot available on the UFA market but there’s no shortage of demand.
And, then there’s the net where big question marks remain.
Goaltender Craig Anderson is expected to go to free agency after a decade with the Senators. Yes, the club would like to go with Anders Nilsson and Marcus Hogberg this season, but that may not be possible.
If the league starts as its currently scheduled to on Dec. 1, Nilsson won’t have suited up for a game in nearly a year because of post-concussion syndrome. As we’ve seen in the past, the recovery from a concussion is unpredictable and it’s not known if he’s even been on the ice in Sweden after passing baseline test in April.
Yes, the Senators have no shortage of goalies in the organization, and a lot with good upside potential, but if Nilsson can’t play then this would be an area the club needs to address.
The belief is the Senators are one of several teams scouring the goalie market and the indications are they have kicked tires with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Matt Murray. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes are all looking to move netminders while the Vegas Golden Knights may be in that mix as well.
If all that’s not enough, The Senators also have to sign restricted free agents Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown, Nick Paul and Tierney. They need to make a decision on the likes of Rudolfs Balcers and Jayce Hawryluk, who was picked up from Florida at the deadline.
The chatter surrounding the Senators is about to heat up.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020