If Cody Ceci was hoping to land a long-term contract extension the likes of which blueliners such as Danny DeKeyser, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly or Connor Murphy signed this past off-season, the Ottawa Senators rearguard is going to have to prove his worth over the next two campaigns.
Ceci, 22, finally came to terms on a new contract with the Senators on Tuesday, and the Ottawa native inked a two-year bridge deal that will pay him $2.8 million per season — $2.25 million in the first season and a raise to $3.35 million in 2017-18.
Roughly a week and a half before the deal was signed, the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported that the Senators and Ceci were considering both two-year and six-year pacts to keep the restricted free agent in town. The signing of the short-term deal over the long-term contract shows there’s still work to be done for Ceci to convince the Senators that he’s worth the long-term commitment.
Ceci has been good, not great, over the past two seasons in Ottawa. He’s averaged second-pairing minutes, scored a combined 15 goals and 47 points in 156 games and has seen improvement in his production each successive season. The concern, though, is that he hasn’t gone from middle-pairing blueliner to playing alongside Erik Karlsson on the top unit, a place Ottawa was likely hoping Ceci would grab when they selected him 15th overall in the 2012 draft.
Some of that, no doubt, has to do with playing style and the fit Karlsson has found with Marc Methot, but there’s also the matter of Ceci not really pushing to take over that top-pairing job. He hasn’t shown enough to take over from Methot and there’s a good chance this coming season will see Ceci again taking second-pairing minutes with Dion Phaneuf. While that does give the Senators two solid pairings — and Ceci’s possession game was markedly better when he played with Phaneuf this past season — it didn’t force the Senators’ hand when it comes to locking up Ceci.
Being left with a bridge deal isn’t all on Ceci, though, because it was also the right direction for GM Pierre Dorion to go as the Senators enter some uncertain territory. As it stands, Ottawa has $18.4 million wrapped up in three blueliners — Karlsson, Phaneuf and Methot — until the end of the 2018-19 season. That’s not to mention both Mark Stone and Kyle Turris have their contracts end following the 2017-18 campaign or that more than half of their current forward group will be hitting UFA or RFA status following the coming season.
A few breakout seasons along with the surely high-priced deals Stone and Turris will be after means the Senators’ cap situation could get tricky by the time Ceci’s two-year deal is up. If Ottawa had signed him long-term, there’s a possibility it would have created some serious headaches for Dorion. Signing Ceci short-term allows some flexibility.
Come July 2018, though, Ceci will be in line for a new deal, and there’s nothing stopping him from being the one who has the breakout season and makes Ottawa pay up on a long-term deal. He may not have got it this time around, but there’s two full seasons ahead of him to prove he’s worth every penny on a deal that keeps him a Senator for the foreseeable future.
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