It’s no secret that the Ottawa Senators have put themselves in a cap crunch that has left them currently unable to sign promising youngster, Shane Pinto.
The solution many fans have come to terms with over the course of the summer is trading veteran forward, Mathieu Joseph, and his $2.95 million cap hit. However, Joseph’s strong play in the pre-season and his reliable defensive acumen, something the Senators’ current forward group is severely lacking, has forced some to reconsider if the team should be so quick to write him off.
This has led to some exploring other possibilities of how the team can free up the necessary cap space to get Pinto signed before the season starts. That’s exactly what this article will do, but before that, let’s take a look at the Senators’ cap situation and how they got here. It feels like not long ago fans were begging the team to spend money and try to be competitive after years of dumping big players instead of handing out a new contract.
Those times have changed and the team has definitely started spending, so much so, that they currently only have roughly $120,000 in cap space. However, this spending hasn’t always been wise. This season the team will be paying big money to franchise players Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. These are the types of deals the team needed to sign to show the fanbase they’re serious about winning.
Where the Senators’ have really hurt themselves is the big financial commitments they’ve made to lesser players which are now coming back to haunt them. This season the Senators have $5.02 million counting against the cap in dead money for the likes of Matt Murray, Bobby Ryan, Colin White and Michael Del Zotto. That money alone is enough to sign Pinto and have cap space left over to maneuver with.
As there’s nothing the Senators can currently do about these past mistakes, what can they do to fix them going forward?
Trade Mathieu Joseph, 3 years x $2,950,000 remaining
As previously mentioned, this has been the most widely speculated option this summer. It has however, been reported that interest in Joseph has been low, likely due to his poor play last season, only scoring three goals in 56 games. Therefore, the team would likely need to attach a sweetener in the form of a draft pick or prospect for a team to take on Joseph’s contract.
This begs the question, with the potential we’ve seen from Joseph when the Senators first acquired him and during the pre-season, is it really worth giving up an asset just to be rid of his contract? I’d have to say no. Joseph is a strong penalty killer, can usually contribute effectively offensively in a bottom-six role, and is committed to the team for at least two more seasons after this year. So what other options are there?
Trade Dominik Kubalik 1 year x $2,500,000 remaining
Kubalik hasn’t even played a regular season game for the Senators. He was acquired as one of the key pieces in the Alex Debrincat trade with Detroit. Kubalik is coming off a 20 goal season and has a lethal one-timer to add to the Senators powerplay. However, a certain Vladimir Tarasenko makes Kubalik expendable. It is very possible Kubalik was acquired with the expectation that there was no way the team would be able to sign Tarasenko.
However, when that dream became reality, it not only pushed Kubalik off the second-line but also took away any chance he had at first unit powerplay time. This now pushes Kubalik into the same role Joseph would be playing, however Kubalik’s defensive game is nowhere near as effective as Joseph’s. Kubalik’s offense game is stronger, but the gap is not enough to compensate for the hole this makes defensively. Additionally, there is no guarantee Kubalik extends his contract with the team and could walk for free this summer. It is much more productive to trade Kubalik and acquire an asset than to package an asset with Joseph to be rid of him.
Trade Erik Brannstrom 1 year x $2,000,000 remaining
Brannstrom has been a polarizing player amongst fans ever since he was acquired for fan-favourite, Mark Stone. While Brannstrom certainly hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding him when he was acquired by Dorion, he has proved to be a very effective puck mover when he’s in form. The issue is when he isn’t, he can be a defensive liability and his smaller stature can lead to him getting pushed around. These reasons have led many fans to give up on him and believe he should be the cap casualty to make room for Pinto.
While Brannstrom certainly isn’t the cornerstone prospect he was believed to be, the Senators’ defensive depth gets VERY thin when he’s taken out of the equation. Without Brannstrom, that leaves two of Jacob Bernard-Docker, Tyler Kleven, and Lassi Thomson, who was put on waivers, to play a significant amount of games for a team with serious playoff hopes this season. None of these players have shown enough to prove that Brannstrom has become expendable yet. I believe trading him at this point would be a mistake.
These are the most likely routes the Senators can take to alleviate their cap pain this season and sign Pinto. It’s been reported he has been looking for a deal in the $2.5 million range and all of these deals would likely free enough room for him. I’m of the belief that moving Kubalik would be the team’s best option of the three. Let us know what move you would make to solve the Shane Pinto dilemma!