The Ottawa Senators locked up a key part of their future on Friday by signing forward Drake Batherson to a six-year, $29.8 million contract.
It is a bold move for the team because it is showing an enormous amount of confidence in a young player that is still relatively unproven as a front-line NHL player. Batherson was outstanding during the 2020-21 season with 17 goals, 34 total points, and great possession numbers for a rebuilding team and could be a player the team builds around long-term if he can build on that performance. But it was also the first time in three year that he showed that level of play. It is one of those contracts that could be a steal within a year or two depending what path his career follows.
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They do not have to worry about a new contract for Stutzle for at least another year (or two, given that he has two years remaining on his entry-level contract) but Tkachuk remains unsigned this summer as a restricted free agent.
That situation now becomes the most pressing issue for the Senators’ front office, especially as training camp gets closer.
Things have been quiet so far on those contract talks, with general manager Pierre Dorion saying on Friday the two sides have had “productive talks” and that he chooses not to negotiate through the media.
If nothing else, the past couple of days have given us a low-point for what any new Tkachuk contract might look like. With Batherson and Joel Farabee signing six-year contracts in the $30 million range, it should be a given that any long-term deal for Tkachuk could easily exceed that salary cap number as Tkachuk is not only the best of the three players, he is already more proven.
In Tkachuk’s first three years in the league he has been remarkably consistent, scoring at a 25-goal, 50-point pace (per 82 games) in each season, while posting strong possession numbers and increasing his shot volume every year. His current level of production, combined with his underlying numbers give him the look of a true breakout player in the very near future. Given the fact he is already close to four shots on goal per game and has shot under 8.5 percent the past two seasons he is a little bit of puck luck away from a potentially monster year offensively.
Even with Batherson’s deal the Senators still remain a couple of million below the NHL’s salary floor for the 2021-22 season, so salary cap space is not anything close to a concern.
While the Senators still have a long way to go in their rebuild you can start to see some of the pieces coming together. Tkachuk and Chabot are cornerstone players and Stutzle looks like he is on his way to being that. Joshua Norris had a great rookie season, and Batherson took a big step forward. That should be a solid core, especially if a couple of other players (Connor Brown, Filip Gustavsson, Erik Brannstrom) can join them in their progression.