TV money will allow Senators to keep up what they do well

There have been worries about the state of the Ottawa Senators' finances this season, but an influx of cash from long-term television deals shouldn't swing their spending habits too far in the other direction, writes the CBC's Andrew Foote.

National, local deals bring in millions but team shouldn't go on spending spree

Bobby Ryan's situation could be a big indicator of how much new television money the Senators are willing to spend to keep proven pieces in Ottawa colours. His $5.1 million a year contract runs out after next season. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

I’m not a businessman. Not even close.

On a trip to the Mayan Riviera last year, it got to the point where my friends would ask me to keep away after I unintentionally bungled their attempts to barter with the merchants a few too many times.

But I do have a better understanding of the Ottawa Senators’ financial history and how, as a small-to-mid-market team, they’ve been able to produce a steady string of playoff appearances for almost 20 years.

And the recent, multi-million double payday brought on by national (with Rogers) and local (Bellmedia) television deals shouldn’t change that.

Rather, it should allow the team a little more leeway to keep up their strategy of building from within and through trades rather than high-money free agency risks, while taking away some of the doubts around the willingness of owner Eugene Melnyk to spend.

Patient approach has worked

Consider some of the Senators’ low-risk, high-reward moves in recent memory…

  • Clarke MacArthur, signed as a free agent at a $3.25 million cap hit for this year and next.
  • Kyle Turris, signed at a $3.5 million cap hit until 2018 after a trade with Phoenix for David Rundblad (four points in 26 NHL games since) and a 2nd round draft pick.
  • Craig Anderson, signed at a $3.19 million cap hit for this year and next after a trade with Colorado for Brian Elliott (who left for St. Louis after that season).
The one contract weighing down the Senators’ books, Milan Michalek’s, expires at the end of the season. ((Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images))

An investment of about $10 million has resulted in a number one goalie who's rounding into form after a rough start and two-thirds of Ottawa's top line, who are part of a three-way tie for second in team points after Thursday's win over Tampa Bay.

That’s on top of a scouting staff that’s stocked the cupboard with prospects.

The prospect pool has a two-fold effect. It allows the organization a few years of cheaper control when they can choose to sign a long-term extension such as Erik Karlsson did in 2012, a seven-year, $45.5 million deal that was considered a fair price at the time and more of a bargain as free agents inflate the market.

Also, a strong “next wave” of young players makes it easier to lose a prospect or draft pick here and there, the most recent and extreme example being the trade of Jakub Silfverberg (a 2009 pick) Stefan Noesen (2011) and a 2014 first-round pick for two seasons (or more) of Bobby Ryan.

Selective spending

The millions of television dollars (reports indicate the two combined could add anywhere from $20 to $40 million to team coffers) will help though, especially in the next couple of years before inflation and a weakening Canadian dollar start to take their toll and the money becomes more of a "normal" part of the team’s budget.

When a situation is working as it is with Ryan, MacArthur and Turris, a few more million dollars available will at least help the Senators be in the mix when those players near free agency.

While money isn’t the only consideration free agents make and we’ve yet to see how Melnyk will make use of the cash infusion, it should ease the minds of players and fans who are worried the Senators won’t be able to keep up with the majority of the league on spending — let alone the big-market teams.

That cash could also be fed back into better facilities or other perks for players, which helps build a team’s reputation.

This is especially key when Ottawa's relatively cold, boring stereotype is matched up against bigger, more glamorous markets.

Bobby Ryan will likely be the first big test here, as his contract is set to expire after next season.

Will Melnyk reinvest?

One wrinkle in this plan could be how Melnyk treats the new money, as there's always the chance he wouldn't reinvest it in the team.

Very few people know how Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk will use these additional tens of millions of dollars per year.

Ottawa's payroll of around $56.5 million this season is fifth-lowest in the NHL, according to Capgeek, compared to 12th-highest five years ago.

However, it looks like the money coming in could pay for almost half of the team's payroll at the low end of estimates, an accounting factor that could tangibly change the way the franchise runs itself if Melnyk doesn't cut the amount of other money he invests by the same amount.

All we can do is take Melnyk at his word, and he told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week they'll be competitive when it comes to spending extra money to make the playoffs.

While Melynk isn't likely to make an emotional decision, he could be thinking of general manager Bryan Murray, who has said he wants to win a Stanley Cup before moving into another front-office position.

But winning one for Murray doesn't mean the Senators may go for broke before 2016​.

Since he'll be staying inside the organization, he would still get a lot of credit for a championship if it comes after he's stepped aside, much like he got for Anaheim’s 2007 Cup, which came after he left for Ottawa.

But let's not let the money get to our head with too much talk of immediate championships.

They should still stay the same sensible Sens.

Poll question

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