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GARRIOCH: The Ottawa Senators will be doing a lot of talking before the NHL draft

Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.

It’s a week to the Round 1 of the National Hockey League draft next Tuesday night and phones are buzzing.

“The level of activity has certainly increased,” a league executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told this newspaper Monday. “I think we’re going to see a lot of moves. Teams are anxious.”

It’s believed the Ottawa Senators are in the middle of a lot of these discussions.

General manager Pierre Dorion noted during his media availability last Wednesday that there had been a “lot of chatter,” and later that same day he indicated it was the busiest he had been since he took over the role from the late Bryan Murray following the 2015-16 campaign.

Not only do the Senators have $22 million in cap space with five or six restricted free agents to sign to get to the floor, they have a more valuable asset with plenty of draft capital as several other teams try to deal with a cap that is expected to remain flat. Many are seeking a piece of that draft capital in return for a player who might help Ottawa immediately.

A look at the depth chart indicates the Senators need a centre who can play top-line minutes plus a couple of wingers and possibly a couple of defencemen. Some of these decisions will depend on how young prospects like Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Erik Brannstrom, Logan Brown and Vitaly Abramov perform in training camp.

It’s nonsensical to suggest the Senators will move all four of their second-round picks in the 2020 draft for immediate help, but never say never even if it’s doubtful that will be the case. The belief is the organization may deal one or two of those picks for the right return.

The Senators have 13 picks in the seven-round draft, including the No. 3, No. 5 and No. 28 overall selections, so there’s little chance they’ll use all of them, but it’s a good year to have assets, especially if the Senators want to bring in players who will contribute quickly.

With a cap of $81.5 million and people not sure what the NHL’s economic landscape will look like next season, given the threat of COVID-19 even when it does begin, owners and GMs are assessing their rosters to see how they’ll make everybody fit, which has left some looking to get money off the books.

Heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday night in Edmonton, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to enjoy their time in the bubble because breaking up was going to be hard. GM Julien Brisebois will have no choice but to move good players before next season.

The Lightning has $68 million committed to 15 roster players. They’ve got to sign five restricted free agents, including centres Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli. The reality is they won’t be able to keep everybody, and Brisebois will have to move some contracts.

The Tampa Bay organization also has to make decisions on the future of forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn in the coming weeks. All have been contributors, but the Bolts just don’t have room for everybody.

Johnson and Killorn both have money and term remaining, so they’re like the ones the Bolts will try to focus on moving. Palat, who has a cap hit of $5.3 million, is only two years from unrestricted free agency, too.

The Bolts are just one example of possible trade partners for the Senators, and there are plenty others also trying to get cash or contracts off the books in exchange for picks.

Look at the Detroit Red Wings. On Saturday, they received a second-round pick in 2021 and defenceman Marc Staal from the New York Rangers. Staal gives the Wings a veteran presence in the dressing room and he’ll play out the final year of his $5.7 million contract in Detroit.

“It’s a bit of a crazy environment out there right now,” one high-profile player agent said Monday.

The next few weeks will also a long way in shaping the Senators’ roster for next season.

In the coming weeks, they will sign restricted free agents Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown, Chris Tierney, Nick Paul, Rudolfs Balcers and Filip Chlapik to new deals.

If they’re going to sign unrestricted free agents on Oct. 9, those athletes will have to be the right fits, and there’s strong consideration being given to re-signing veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey.

Dorion noted last week that the Senators were looking at every avenue.

“We want to make sure we follow a plan. We don’t take any shortcuts,” Dorion said. “We don’t want to jump any steps that we should be jumping to make sure we have some long-term success here. That’s the first and foremost. At the same time, when we bring our younger players, we want to make sure they’re well-surrounded, whether that’s through trade or free agency.”

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