Senators sign Korpisalo, Hamonic as UFA
Guest Writer: Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)
There was no resolution to the Alex DeBrincat trade situation, but it was still a productive weekend for GM Pierre Dorion. When the dust settled on a busy weekend of UFA signings across the NHL, the Senators found themselves having made some necessary moves to bolster their D/G positions. There were also two key RFA signings which further defined the structure of the blue line for the coming season.
G Korpisalo, Joonas (FIN) - Signed $4.0Mx5yrs
This was Dorion’s big splash, which addresses the team’s most evident roster gap. The question now is whether goaltending has finally caught up with the roster quality of the rest of the team. And we won’t know the answer to that until the team actually starts playing games in the fall. There’s little question that Korpisalo has played well in stretches in his career, but there’s also evidence of inconsistency. It’s hard to evaluate the quality of his play on a team as volatile as CBJ, and Korpisalo did step in and play well for the Kings at the end of the 2022/23 season. Dorion has been burned before by making long-term contract decisions based on a limited sample size of games, but there were fewer UFA options on the table than expected - with Andersen, Varlamov, Raanta, and Jarry all electing to re-sign with their current teams.
It’s also worth noting that the expectation is for Korpisalo/Forsberg to play a 1A/1B system for the next 2 years, which will hopefully compensate for some of the inconsistency. That approach could also yield quite a bit of playing time for the team’s top young G like Sogaard/Merilainen, given the extent of Forsberg’s injury and the uncertain timeline for his return. As for the contract itself, the level of desperation for an upgraded G may have led to more term than many would have liked, but this also helps to offset the contract AAV. Given the distribution of salary across the years, the first 3yrs would have an AAV of $4.5M - and it’s quite possible that a $5.0M AAV might have been necessary for a shorter-term deal. That AAV differential may even have played a key role in the other UFA signing the team made.
RHD Hamonic, Travis (CAN) - Signed $1.1Mx2yrs
Hamonic was given a chance to test the free agency market, but clearly appreciated the opportunity he has in Ottawa to play a significant role on an emerging team. Dorion was widely criticized for the late-season Hamonic trade he made back in 2021, however last year showed the extent to which he found an important role as a veteran mentor for the team’s young D-men. It’s unlikely that Sanderson would have been named to the all-rookie team without the support that Hamonic provided, and the 2-year term of this deal will allow him to work with the likes of Brannstrom, Kleven, Bernard-Docker, and Thomson as they transition to the NHL game. He also was central to the team’s PK (3:16min/gp, 143 blocked shots) and physical play (109 hits, 71 PIM) last year, and this deal is precisely the kind of low-AAV/high-value contract that teams need in order to be successful.
RFA Signings - LHD Brannstrom & RHD Bernard-Docker
There were also new RFA deals signed for two of the team’s young D-men. Erik Brannstrom signed a $2.0Mx1yr extension, while Jacob Bernard-Docker signed a $0.8Mx2yrs deal that provides him with one-way status. The deal for Brannstrom solidifies his position as the #5D on the team but doesn’t provide much in terms of security. With the likes of Tyler Kleven now in the system, it could be the last year for Brannstrom to prove that he should be playing 3rd line minutes ahead of the team’s other promising young D-men. The new deal for Bernard-Docker is a high-value AAV contract, but with all of Chabot, Sanderson, Chychrun, Zub, Hamonic, and Brannstrom under contract for next season, he will almost certainly be starting the season from the #6/7D spot.
Where Dorion has failed to make improvements is among the supporting/depth forwards. Many were pleased to see the likes of Watson/Brown heading to UFA, and the likes of Gambrell/Gauthier not being offered RFA extensions, however these decisions also amplify the team’s need for quality forward depth. Beyond the core forward group of Tkachuk, Stutzle, Giroux, Norris, and Batherson, only Kastelic, Joseph, and Kelly have contracts in place. There’s no question that Pinto will be re-signed as a matter of high-priority, but that leaves 3 major forward roster spots available with limited cap space available. Trading DeBrincat may help address the issue, but unless they’re prepared to play several young forwards from the AHL, there needs to be a lot more action from Dorion on this front.
What did you think of the Senators’ signings over the weekend? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, and thanks for reading!