The Ottawa Senators are primed to be relevant again. According to Mike Johnson of the NHL Network, they could finally be back in the playoff mix. Johnson doesn’t just expect a playoff appearance where they’re just happy to be there or unable to win a round, he expects them to be highly competitive and capable of winning a round.
"If they get health, a good start, and decent goaltending, they could be the guys that make a push for the playoffs." @mike_p_johnson is ready to see the @Senators take a big step forward next season. @JamisonCoyle | @BriBrows22 | #GoSensGo | #NHLTonight pic.twitter.com/bnIRAu70yc
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) September 1, 2023
But for the Senators to finally stop being a doormat, they will need to remain healthy, and more importantly, bring back their key players, and Shane Pinto is one of them. Yes, Shane Pinto is a key Senator.
From @SunGarrioch latest:
On Shane Pinto, the “indications are the two sides aren’t close, but the hope is a deal will be done soon.”
As well mentioned that the #Sens are pushing hard to extend Jake Sanderson, both sides have held recent talks.
Speaking of Sanderson, he’s… pic.twitter.com/W2quJX5vg2
— SENS TALK (@senstalk_) September 1, 2023
Ever since being selected 32nd overall by Ottawa in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Pinto’s development curve has been incredible. His skating, defensive awareness, and his trademark work ethic make him a key piece of that roster. On a contending team, Pinto would be an ideal third-line center, he can even be a good temporary fill-in on a second line for a contending team with some injuries. Yet despite the fact the Sens missed the playoffs, they had five 20-goal scorers on their roster, three of whom scored over 30 goals. Their biggest need at forward was defensive structure, which makes the one-year deal given to Vladimir Tarasenko confusing. He does bring in offense, but $5 million for a 50-point winger when they hadn’t yet gotten their center depth secured, especially a defensively responsible one signed is puzzling.
The 6’2’’ 198lbs Pinto had an excellent rookie season after missing almost all of the 2021-2022 season with a shoulder injury. He finished 2022-23 with 20 goals and 15 assists in 82 games. Despite being a rookie, he excelled in the faceoff circle at 52.1 percent. He has proven to be highly capable of playing a physical style when needed, can match up well against top lines with his mobility and can provide some offence as well. Best of all, the 22-year-old center is highly versatile as he can eat up minutes at 5-on-5, kill penalties and be a net-front presence on the power play.
Shane Pinto was off to the races. 🏇 pic.twitter.com/L4C5Ah5O2Q
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 17, 2023
This makes the fact he hasn’t signed a contract with the Senators yet very confusing. So what are they waiting for? The answer is all about the salary cap. With only 18 signed players on their NHL roster, they are less than $1 million under the cap. This is where most fans would say “Offer sheet him!”. So, why hasn’t Shane Pinto signed an offer sheet? He can’t. As a restricted free agent with the 10.2(c) designation, he is ineligible. What is a 10.2(c) player? According to Cap Friendly, it is:
A player who does not meet the UFA requirements or the Group 2 RFA requirements displayed in the table above, and has been issued a qualifying offer, is designated a 10.2(c) player. The player is only eligible to negotiate and sign a contract with the club that holds their signing rights. They are ineligible to negotiate a contract (offer sheet) with any other club. They are also ineligible for arbitration.
Shane Pinto Opens the scoring with his 17th! 🚨
— Martian (@LalimesMartian) March 10, 2023
So in his case, Ottawa has to make a tough decision, do they trade him off? Because they could get an incredible return on investment, especially if they are willing to take back picks or prospects. The other option is to trade another NHL asset to make cap space for Pinto. Despite his clear skills, he is still just coming off of a rookie season and has had injury concerns, so his contract would likely be a two-year bridge deal paying him less than $3 million per year.
With GM Pierre Doirion auditioning to keep his own job with the new ownership group, this file, which may seem trivial, is perhaps the most important for his team. He assembled all of the great young talent on the roster, now he must prove he can handle the hardest part of managing an NHL club, keeping all that talent signed and salary cap compliant.