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Senators mailbag: Puljujärvi, RFA offer sheets, Alfredsson anecdotes, and Stützle vs. Norris

These offseason mailbag columns have been a lot of fun, but I will be putting this feature on pause next week.

I’ll be on the ground in Montreal with plenty of Senators content surrounding the NHL Draft. So I’ll be skipping the mailbag next week in order to focus on the busiest news week of the offseason, which hopefully includes some trades and roster upgrades for the Senators in addition to the draft.

But rest assured, the mailbag column will be back the following week, so I can tackle all of your questions after the opening of the free agency period.

And once again this week, you’ve jammed our mailbox with a bunch of engaging questions spanning a wide range of topics. You had a lot of Daniel Alfredsson-related questions this week and I tried to get a sampling of that into this column.

So let’s dive right in.

With the #AlfieToTheHall news official, which former or current Senator do you think could be the next one?  — Patrick S.

A few different people asked this question in a similar way for this week’s mailbag.

I think the next ex-Sens player to get a Hall of Fame induction would be Zdeno Chara. However, he’s probably more closely associated with the Boston Bruins than Ottawa, so he doesn’t quite fit the criteria. It’s kind of like Marian Hossa going into the Hall of Fame. A good portion of his case was solidified while winning three Stanley Cup championships in Chicago.

I think there are two potential people we should keep an eye on in the next decade.

The first would be Erik Karlsson. While his productivity has declined, Karlsson’s peak seasons probably vault him into the Hall of Fame conversation when his career is over.  Karlsson was drawing comparisons to Bobby Orr at least from a statistical standpoint during that window from 2012-2017. He won the Norris Trophy twice and had another season (2015-16) where he finished top five in league scoring. In the history of the NHL, 13 defencemen have won the Norris Trophy multiple times and 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only two who aren’t are Karlsson and Duncan Keith both of whom are still active players.

Maybe Karlsson won’t be a first-ballot guy, but I suspect he ends up in the Hall of Fame eventually. Rod Langway, who also won the Norris Trophy twice, was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 six years after he was first eligible for enshrinement. So if Karlsson doesn’t get in on the first couple of tries, I fully expect a #KarlssonToTheHall hashtag to start trending in the future.

The other person potentially on the radar would be Bryan Murray in the Builder category. Murray had a career that spanned almost four decades in the NHL. He left a tremendous imprint in places like Washington, Detroit, Florida, Anaheim, and Ottawa. He reached the Stanley Cup Final in various capacities with the Panthers, Ducks, and Senators.

I would look at Murray’s impact on the game in a similar way to Pat Quinn. He never won a Stanley Cup but had a tremendous influence on several organizations over the course of his colourful career. The selection committee inducted Quinn posthumously in 2016, so I think there is precedent for doing something similar for Murray.

With Kevin Fiala landing in Los Angeles, who’s the next big player on the Sens’ wishlist? — Matthew B. 

I know a lot of Senators fans were hoping that Fiala would end up in Ottawa.

With him off the table, there are several other names to consider. My Chicago counterpart Scott Powers and I dove into the idea of the Senators targeting Alex DeBrincat this week. In so many ways, DeBrincat would be the perfect fit in Ottawa. He’s 24 years old, has multiple 40-goal seasons under his belt, and would provide a much-needed injection of high-end skill into this lineup. However, as I stated in my piece with Scott this week, DeBrincat’s contractual situation adds an uneasy element to the equation. I think the Senators have the assets to land DeBrincat. That’s not the question. The issue becomes, do they have the resources to sign him to a long-term extension beyond the 2023-24 season?

If DeBrincat is too rich for Ottawa’s blood, a lot of fans have suggested that Jesse Puljujärvi should be on the radar.  Analytics guru and math wiz Micah McCurdy even thinks this could be a really nice fit:

Puljujärvi, with 15 goals as a career high, does not have the offensive upside of a player like DeBrincat. But the acquisition cost would be significantly lower to land him. The Senators could absolutely find another Anthony Duclair-type situation where they buy low on a player who has worn out his welcome in another city. But does acquiring Puljujärvi on his own constitute enough for the Senators? Does that satisfy the need for a top-six forward?

My gut answer would be no, but I’m willing to see how this plays out. There is an unknown element surrounding Connor Brown to consider here. If the Senators decide to part ways with Brown this summer, Puljujärvi could theoretically be a third-line replacement for him. And maybe the Sens take the return they get for Brown and spin that into a legitimate top-six forward. Or a top-four defenceman.

I will continue to bang the drum for Ilya Mikheyev as the ideal candidate for a top-six role in Ottawa. I think you can get him on a fairly reasonable deal (say $4.5 million AAV over four or five years) and he wouldn’t cost you any assets to acquire. I think Mikheyev has the speed and skill to flourish in a bigger role and I believe he has 25-goal potential.

The next two weeks are going to be very interesting around here and I think there is immense pressure for the Senators to improve their roster at the NHL level. I don’t think there is any reason to fret about missing out on Fiala. There are plenty of other options available right now.


Defenseman Nicolas Hague. (Photo by Jeff Bottari / NHLI via Getty Images)

Hey Ian, do you think the Sens would be willing to offer sheet anyone this summer? I’m looking at Nic Hague or even Noah Dobson. They have enough draft capital to go around and this would make them a better team right now. — Enea L. 

I think a lot of Ottawa fans would like to see the team improve the blue line. And not enough teams use the offer sheet mechanism to try and lure restricted free agents from other teams. To me, it’s mind-boggling. It’s totally legal to make a predatory offer on a young star from another team, but most general managers decline this option because it seems to go against some unwritten code.

A guy like Noah Dobson would be a home run for Ottawa. He’s a 22-year-old, right-shot defenceman coming off a 13-goal, 51-point season last year. He’s coming off his entry-level deal and appears to be in line for a sizeable raise this summer. Evolving Hockey projects an eight-year deal in the $6.5 million range for Dobson.

So let’s imagine if Ottawa decides to make a predatory offer on Dobson this summer. According to CapFriendly, the Islanders have roughly $12 million in cap space for next season, but they only have three defencemen under contract. In order to make a predatory offer sheet, the Senators would have to get to a number that makes it uncomfortable for New York to re-sign Dobson. Would that number be $7 million per season? $8 million? Something higher?

We should note how the offer sheet compensation works for this summer. Any offer between $6.3 million and $8.4 million would require a team to give up a first-, second-, and third-round pick.

Where it gets tricky is going north of that threshold. An offer between $8.4 million and $10.5 million would cost you two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and a third-rounder. That seems too steep in my estimation.

So would Ottawa fans be willing to offer a seven-year, $50 million deal (Roughly $7.15 M AAV) for Dobson, knowing it would cost the team a first, second, and third-round pick? That might be reasonable, but don’t discount the fact it’s Lou Lamoriello on the other side of this. So who knows how it plays out.

But I think the smarter play might be on a player like Nic Hague. You take a team like Vegas that is up against the salary cap and you force their hand with a fair offer for Hague. You could probably make an offer like three years at $3.5 million and it would be too rich for Vegas. And under those terms, the Senators would only have to give up a second-round pick as compensation.

The issue on Hague is that he’s a left-shot defenceman. And I truly think the greater need for Ottawa is for a right-shot defenceman.

And if we’re thinking about potential free agent targets, I wouldn’t mind if the Senators took a run at Jan Rutta. He’s played a part in Tampa’s success over the past three seasons and he’s spent time as Victor Hedman’s partner. At 31 years old, this probably represents his best chance to get a decent payday on the open market, so I’m assuming he prices himself out of Tampa’s range. A three-year deal in that $3 million range would represent a significant raise over his current $1.3 million salary. And because he’s an unrestricted free agent, there wouldn’t be any compensation attached to acquiring him.

Glad to see Alfie is in the Hall. When looking at some of his stats, I noticed in the 2005-06 season he ended up in the top five in voting for the Hart, Selke, and Lady Byng. Is that feat very rare? — Leander C.

To find the answer to this question, I needed to look at the awards voting in each season from 1977-78, since that is the first season they awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward in the game. And it turns out that what Alfredsson did in 2005-06 is pretty rare.

In addition to Alfredsson’s 2005-06 season in which he finished fourth in the Selke and Byng voting, and fifth in the Hart race, I was able to find six other instances where a player finished in the top five in voting for those three awards:

1983-84 – Rick Middleton (Finished second in Byng and fourth in Hart and Selke)

1993-94 – Sergei Fedorov (Won Hart and Selke, finished fourth in Byng)

2000-01 – Joe Sakic (Won Hart and Byng, finished second in Selke)

2003-04 – Martin St. Louis (Won Hart and finished third in Byng and fourth in Selke)

2008-09 – Pavel Datsyuk (Won Byng and Selke, finishing third in Hart)

2017-18 Anze Kopitar (Won Selke, finished third in Hart and fourth in Byng)

Jonathan Toews had a near miss in 2010-11, finishing second in Selke voting, and fifth in Byng but falling just short by ending up sixth in the Hart voting. Aleksander Barkov also narrowly missed out on this distinction in 2020-21, winning the Selke Trophy, finishing fourth in the Byng voting, and sixth for the Hart Trophy.

An interesting side note for Alfredsson, when he finished fourth in Selke voting in 2005-06, he was actually behind his teammate Mike Fisher, who finished third in voting for the award that season.

So from what I can gather, Alfredsson and Middleton are the only two players to finish in the top five of voting for those three awards but did not end up winning any of them.

Your compatriot at The Athletic, Corey Pronman, says that the Sens’ best path to success at this year’s draft is to pick someone for the blueline. Given the likes of Sanderson, JBD, and Lassi Thompson, who each seem ready to step up to the big team next year, do you agree with him? Do you see a greater need for the club that can be addressed at this year’s draft, given their current position in the first round? Thanks. — Fr. M

First of all, Corey Pronman knows more about prospects, depth charts, and farm systems than I do. So when he says the Senators should take a defenceman, I think you have to listen to his advice.

However, I think I would be inclined to draft an impact forward if possible. I suspect the two best defencemen in this draft Simon Nemec and David Jiricek will be off the board if Ottawa is drafting at No. 7. The one caveat I have is that if either of them is available, I think the Senators should draft them.

In all likelihood, they’ll be off the board. And so I tend to lean towards the philosophy of taking the best player available at that point. And if this draft plays out the way a lot of people suspect it might, I think a player like Joakim Kemell could be sitting there at No. 7. And so I would take him if he’s the best available player on the board.

When the Senators had two picks in the top five back in 2020, I was of the opinion they should draft two forwards at that point. I thought they could have a massive injection of skill at the top of their lineup. They opted to take a forward (Stützle) and a defenceman (Sanderson) and in hindsight, I think they made the right call.

But I still feel like this organization is lacking some high-end skill at the forward position. So if it were up to me, I would take a forward in the No. 7 spot.

In the spirit of ridiculous roster building, and with the draft coming up, what’s the best roster (or even the best six-player lineup) you could construct from players drafted by Ottawa who never played a game for the Senators? This pool of players was surprisingly thin considering I pessimistically assumed Ottawa had traded away someone who immediately became a star elsewhere, so maybe I should amend it to “players who barely played for the Senators” or “players drafted by the Sens who blossomed elsewhere.” — Jonathan T.

Great question. And let’s keep it to players who were drafted by Ottawa, but never played a game with the Senators. I thought Brooks Laich was an automatic starter on this team, but then I remembered that he actually played one game for Ottawa. So that takes him out of the running and makes this a very difficult question.

So this would be my starting lineup:

Centre: Alexei Kaigorodov (6 career GP)

Winger: Marcus Sorenson (226 career GP)

Winger: Jonathan Dahlen (61 career GP)

Defence: Bryan Berard (619 career GP)

Defence: Tim Gleason (727 career GP)

Goalie: Mathieu Chouinard (1 career GP)

I’ve been dying to drop a Kaigorodov reference into my columns, so this checks a box for me. I think Jonathan Dahlen has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer in this league. And the defence pairing is actually pretty solid here with Berard and Gleason.

And I always felt bad for Mathieu Chouinard, because the Senators drafted him not once but twice and he still didn’t get a chance to play an NHL game with the Senators.

What are your top 5 under-the-radar wants for the new LeBreton arena? Ideally, small items that are extremely specific. — Chris F.

  1. Strong, free WI-FI inside the arena. I didn’t realize that Canadian Tire Centre doesn’t have great service for the general public, so this would be at the top of my wishlist.
  2. Food truck alley. Maybe it’s outside near the entrance. Or maybe they figure out a way to do this inside, but everybody loves the options from food trucks. Tacos, burgers, gourmet sandwiches, etc. Maybe you have a rotation of them during the course of the season too. But let’s push for some unique and fun cuisine at the new arena.
  3. Heated or underground walkway from the LRT stop to the arena doors. Trust me, you’ll appreciate this in January.
  4. Steeper seating inside the arena bowl. I think the sloping inside the 100-level at Canadian Tire Centre is a bit too gradual for my liking. Make the seating a bit steeper to improve the sightlines.
  5. A cool exterior look to the building. Either incorporate a wood theme to pay homage to Ottawa’s historic logging culture. Or a limestone finish to tie into some of the historic buildings down the road on Wellington.

Who will average more ice time in March and April 2023, Tim Stützle or Josh Norris? If it’s Stützle, when can we stop calling his line the “second line”? — Christopher G.

Let’s start by looking at how this played out in March and April last season.

From March 1 onwards, here is how things broke down between Stützle and Norris:

PlayerGPAvg TOIG-A-PTS

29

19:01

10-21-31

30

18:36

17-12-29

So already, Stützle crept ahead of Norris in terms of ice time, but their production was relatively similar, as they both produced at about a point-per-game rate down the stretch.

I would imagine that if we looked ahead to next season, it might look very similar to this, with both players hovering around the 19-minute mark on a nightly basis. I don’t really see a scenario where one of these centres is playing a lot more than the other. I think it’s fair to say Ottawa has a solid 1 and 1A situation here with Norris and Stützle.

The labeling of lines is often a fruitless exercise because ice time is usually the best reflection of a player’s worth. In Ottawa, for example, Connor Brown receives the most ice time, but hardly anybody would consider him a first-line player here.

If the Senators are able to land a talented winger for Stützle this summer, it will certainly strengthen the argument that he’s the No. 1 centre here. But no matter how this plays out, I think the Senators appear to be set down the middle for years to come.

Do you think Sanderson’s expectations are too high, especially given his injuries? And how will that injury and the related scar tissue impact his ability? He also is among a bunch of young Sens coming off a shoulder injury. He plays a position that will lead to a lot of body contact. He also flies and that can be great as long as you can avoid open-ice hits. Does he have that ability? I just feel in my gut that he won’t come close to playing an 82-game season. And if that happens we’re in trouble. So encourage me!!!! — Peter O.

I think we need to be patient with Sanderson, but I truly believe this young man is a world-class talent. He had an injury-riddled season last year, but it felt like it was a series of unfortunate events rather than a red flag for future injuries. I believe he’s a world-class skater. When I watched him in person at North Dakota last fall, I was truly amazed at his smooth and effortless stride. I think he’s got a chance to end up as the best skating defenceman in the history of this franchise and that’s saying something considering some of the others that have patrolled the blueline for the Senators.

I think a reasonable expectation is for him to play in 70+ games next season. I’ll leave some room open for him to miss a handful of games here or there. I think he can have a similar impact on Ottawa’s blue line as we saw Moritz Seider have in Detroit. And I believe if Sanderson plays in 70 games next season, he’ll be a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

If he’s having injury issues two years from now, then you should start to worry. But for now, I think Ottawa fans need to learn to fall in love with their players again.

What’s the best Daniel Alfredsson story you can share? — Mark P.

This is a fun question to end this week’s mailbag. And quite frankly, I could have probably written an entire column with Alfredsson anecdotes and stories. Let me pass along two that I feel do a good job of encapsulating Alfredsson’s time in Ottawa.

The first happened in the fall of 2006. If you recall, there were some trade rumours swirling around Alfredsson at that time. The Senators were off to a rather pedestrian start to the 2006-07 season. The previous season ended with Alfredsson getting walked by Jason Pominville in overtime to end the season and there was a vocal group of fans who felt like they couldn’t win with Alfredsson. On this particular day in 2006, a rumour was getting traction that Alfredsson was on the verge of being traded to Los Angeles. The radio station was talking about it and things were reaching a feverish pitch.

I happened to run into Alfredsson at a charitable gala on the evening when these rumours were running rampant. I’ll never forget chatting with him about the rumours and then asking him if he would be open to an interview on camera the following day.

“I’ll be at my locker same place as always. You know where to find me,” he said.

And sure enough, he was there the next day. He answered every question about the rumours and the team’s slow start. One thing I hope fans understand is that Alfredsson was honest and accountable to the fans here, in good times and in bad and there were a lot of rough patches during his captaincy.

The other moment that springs to mind happened during the 2011-12 season. The Senators needed to win a game in Long Island to clinch a playoff spot. As I stood on the bench to do a pregame interview with a Sens player, Ottawa PR guy Brian Morris came over to me and said, “Spezza isn’t going to play today – he went home to have his baby with his wife. And Alfie is out with the flu.”

It was April 1st and I actually thought Morris was pulling my leg with an April Fools’ Day joke. But he was 100 percent serious.

Despite missing two superstars, the Sens cruised to a win that day and clinched a playoff spot. After the game, I was standing outside the visitors room on Long Island. Alfredsson was there, high-fiving his teammates as they came off the ice. He then walked over to me and said, “We won that game because we finally got rid of the dead weight.”

Pure gold as always from the captain.

(Photo by Curtis Comeau  / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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