Senators Re-Shape Roster Ahead of Free Agency

To say that the past few days have been exciting for fans of the Ottawa Senators would be an understatement. It’s not simply the deals they made or the players they selected, but what those things mean to this team’s direction. In a matter of days, it’s become clear that the team is here to seriously compete this season. It’s time to break down those moves and what they say about the future and the upcoming season.

DeBrincat Trade Immediately Adds Goals

The Chicago Blackhawks are puzzling, to say the least, as they’ve opted for a full “scorched earth” rebuild. Having said that, ditching a 24-year-old with a track record of 40-goal seasons is an odd choice, even for a rebuilding team. Getting only a handful of picks in return, with only one first-rounder is even more outlandish. But it happened, and the acquisition adds a scoring threat to a Senators roster that desperately needs it. It’s easy to see that much of Alex DeBrincat’s scoring is tied directly to the elite-level play of Patrick Kane. It’s even more easy to worry that his production drops off without his old linemate. However, Tim Stützle is able to make many of the same crafty plays and passes. Even if it’s not to the same level, he’ll be able to provide numerous set-up opportunities for the 5-foot-7 dynamo.

Alex DeBrincat Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat, with the Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

DeBrincat is a much-needed upgrade to the Senators’ top six, as his shot is elite and he has the speed to break away from defenders and drive play. But what’s more interesting is, that none of this comes at a major cost to his defensive play. Sure, he’s not winning a Selke Trophy anytime soon, but he’s exceptionally responsible for someone who could potentially chase down a 50-goal season. He also spent some time with the penalty kill unit in Chicago, typically hopping over the boards in relief and not in a starting role. Though don’t expect him to have the same level of defensive usage with the Senators, he’s here to find the back of the net.

Out From Under Murray’s Contract

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Matt Murray has a career resurgence. It just won’t happen as a Senator. Coming off two Cup wins in Pittsburgh, he signed a hefty contract. Plagued by injury and an overall downturn in play, the contract proved to almost immediately be a mistake. It’s important to remember that at the time, it wasn’t necessarily an overpay, as he was a career .914 save percentage (SV%) goalie with the Penguins, so a contract north of $6 million wasn’t really absurd. Even though last season was short for him, with only 20 games played, he still managed to post a .906 SV%.

Given that Murray played less than 50 games over two years for the Senators, it’s a major feat that they managed to dump his contract without giving up a prospect or a first-round pick in the deal. Clearly the Toronto Maple Leafs see a bounce back in his future. It’s a tremendous success for general manager Pierre Dorion to have pulled off the cap clearance without depleting the prospect pool. It’s even more astounding if the rumoured trade to Buffalo that was nixed by his no-trade list is true.

Related: Ottawa Senators Still Lack Key Elements of Stanley Cup Contender

To fill the gap left by Murray, Dorion pulled off one more slick move ahead of the free agency period, trading netminder Filip Gustavsson to the Minnesota Wild for veteran goalie Cam Talbot. In a one-for-one deal, the team now has their goaltending tandem set for the 2022-23 season. As Talbot and Anton Forsberg will share the net for a minimal price, there’s still plenty of cap space left for more contracts.

Cam Talbot Minnesota Wild
Cam Talbot, with the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With a major addition in DeBrincat and a significant subtraction in Murray, the Senators are clearly committed to being competitive this season. With the rumour mill swirling about Claude Giroux signing as a free agent and numerous reports of the team being in on a trade for a defenseman, the roster is nearly set. As they enter the next stage of the rebuild, they are well on their way to finding themselves a spot in the playoffs in the near future.

Sign up for our regular 'Senators Newsletter' for all the latest.