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NHL FREE AGENCY

Sens sign Nate Thompson to two-year, $3.3M deal

By Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun

Nate Thompson. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Nate Thompson. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators did a lot of window shopping on Canada Day.

They didn’t see any need for a shopping spree.

Not long after the NHL’s lucrative free agent market opened Saturday, general manager Pierre Dorion confirmed the signing of former Anaheim Ducks’ centre Nate Thompson to a two-year, $3.3 million deal but with the exception of signing five players to minor-league deals that’s where the additions stopped.

While the Senators are still trying to bring back winger Viktor Stalberg, Dorion sent a message to his team that he was pleased with what they accomplished by getting to the Eastern Conference final in the spring and he’s confident by keeping most of this team together that they’ll have success again next season.

“We’re going to keep on exploring all our options to try to make our team better,” Dorion said Saturday afternoon at the Canadian Tire Centre. “I like our team. I feel we’re ahead of where we were when we started last year. For us, moving forward, if we can get better we will. If not, we’ll stick with what we’ve got.”

After losing blueliner Marc Methot to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, the Senators did kick tires on defencemen - including Calgary’s Michael Stone and Buffalo’s Dmitry Kulikov - when the talking period for UFA’s opened last Sunday, but the reality was none of those deals made sense.

Yes, losing Methot, who was dealt to Dallas by Vegas, hurt, but defence is a position where the Senators have no shortage of depth. The Senators have been holding their development camp for prospects this week - including defencemen Thomas Chabot and Christian Jaros, who will both push for spots in camp.

Chabot, the club’s top pick in the 2015 NHL draft, is back after a year with the QMJHL’s St. John Sea Dogs and he’ll be given every opportunity to push for a spot in training camp in September. Even coach Guy Boucher has seen a vast improvement in Chabot.

“We have Thomas Chabot. I don’t know if you were at the scrimmage (Thursday) but I was high-fiving the coach,” said Dorion. “We’re pretty happy. We’ve seen a lot of growth in Thomas Chabot from the time he left here to (going) to the world juniors to (being the) MVP the playoffs, even Guy turned to me and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m just watching how he practiced’ compared to when he stepped camp last year.

“I’m not comparing them but if Zach Werenski stepped into a pretty good team in Columbus I think Thomas Chabot can step into our team.”

Dorion didn’t stop there, though.

“If Ben Harpur can step into the playoffs last year the way he did, I think he can step into our lineup. We’ve got Jaros, he’s like a right-handed (Mark Borowiecki) and he can hit as hard as you see. If you look at our Opening Night roster, and you look at what we have now, yes we did lose Marc Methot but there’s a good chance Thomas Chabot will be able to step into that role and we’re as good as we were last year up front.”

The Senators won’t be moving defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Sure, they listened to offers when teams called but the reality is they’re to keep their team together and they don’t want to make wholesale changes. Phaneuf will play a key role next year.

“The fact that (he) wanted to stay here is totally respected,” said Dorion. “Teams phoned. We didn’t really shop him so you have to listen. If the offer makes sense, and if as an organization we can get better, then we have to look at it.

“Dion has only 12 teams he’ll go to so we didn’t really explore outside of those teams. The other teams that called outside of those, I said, 'We’re not going to do that to Dion’. He’s a pro. He helped this team to have success. He’s here. I don’t see him moving right now. You never know what can happen. Except for one player (Erik Karlsson), everyone else could be traded.”

Dorion still has some business to do before he can take a break for the summer.

He has to sign restricted free agents Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, Chris Driedger and Patrick Sieloff. Pageau has rights to arbitration but the Senators would like to avoid that process if possible.

The Senators have told centre Chris Kelly that if he isn’t able to get a contract he is welcome to attend camp on a pro tryout. The Senators are hopeful centre Derick Brassard will be ready to start the season after shoulder surgery but there are no guarantees that’s going to be the case.

“The door is always open for Chris if he doesn’t get a contract. He can come to our camp and see where we’re at,” said Dorion.

New Senator Thompson earned Boucher's trust in Tampa

Guy Boucher is big on trust.

There’s no question centre Nate Thompson earned the trust of the Ottawa Senators’ coach during the two seasons they spent together with the Tampa Bay Lightning and that’s a big reason why he was signed to a two-year, $3.3-million US deal during the free agent frenzy Saturday.

The Senators were looking for depth at centre which is why they decided to sign the 32-year-old Thompson who suited up for only 30 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season after he suffered an Achilles injury.

“We’re really happy to have him on board. Guy knowing him definitely helped,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion, who noted his scouting staff kept an eye on Thompson all year. “When you have a coach that really likes his role players that helps.

“We have a bit more of a condensed schedule compared to other teams this year so the key is going to be having our four lines playing as balanced hockey as possible ... (and) with the Sweden trip in November we’re going to have lots of days away.”

Thompson is being brought here because he’s reliable, not for offence.

“He brings character, he helps our culture, he blocks shots, he (can play) the PK, he can play a role. He brings a lot of things we were looking for,” said Dorion. “If you look at our centre with (Kyle) Turris, (Derick) Brassard, (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau (and) Thompson, I feel we’re ahead of where we were last year.”

The Senators are trying to sign centre Viktor Stalberg. He wants to return to Ottawa but Dorion said the deal has to make sense. The club has held several talks with Stalberg’s Toronto-based agent Wade Arnott and is trying to find a solution.

“We have 12 guys on one-way contracts,” Dorion said. “It has to be the right fit. It has to make sense. We’d like to bring Viktor back. We know you don’t go through the year with 12 forwards. That’s never happened in the history of the league and it won’t happen. He definitely contributed to our success in getting to the conference finals.”

The rest of the Senators’ signings were mainly for the club’s new AHL affiliate in Belleville. The club added centre Ben Sexton, centre Max Reinhart, winger Tyler Randell, defenceman Erik Burgdoerfer and goalie Danny Taylor on two-way deals.

Hammond remains a Senator for now

The Hamburglar will have to play the waiting game.

The Ottawa Senators are trying to move goalie Andrew Hammond, who is recovering from hip surgery, and while they had mild interest from teams heading into July 1 they haven’t been able to find any takers so he remains part of the organization for now.

With the duo of starter Craig Anderson and Mike Condon as the backup set for next season, the Senators aren’t going to keep three goalies and the club is trying to move the $1.5 million left on Hammond’s contract.

“He’s the third guy we have,” said GM Pierre Dorion. “I’ve talked to some teams. When a few teams were looking for backups they inquired and the price wasn’t very high to acquire him. They went in another direction and he’s part of our organization.”

The Senators could still buy out the final year of the Hammond contract for $1 million but that can’t happen unless centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau applies for arbitration. The buyout window is closed for all teams unless they have players file for arbitration then that window opens for one player again.

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch