Before he even took a shift on home ice this season, Filip Kuba was serenaded by a chorus of boos from the fans at Scotiabank Place.
During the player introductions at the home opener, the fans made it clear that Kuba and Sergei Gonchar were not a welcome part of the organization’s rebuilding effort.
It was hard to blame the fans at that point, considering the experienced and expensive defensemen were major underachievers last season. Kuba was a minus-26 and produced just 16 points for the Senators on the back end. If the Sens could have traded one defenceman this season, everyone had their money on Kuba since he had only one year left on his contract.
But Kuba has bounced back with his best season in Ottawa since 2008-09. While scoring the game-winner against Philadelphia on Sunday, Kuba was also a plus-four – and now leads the team with a plus-13 for the season. When the Senators win this season, Kuba is often logging more than 23 minutes a night and is quietly their best defenseman.
So now that Kuba is having a renaissance season, you would think that Bryan Murray would have an easy time trying to trade him. This is the scenario all those booing fans wanted at the start of the season: Kuba has a great first-half and then is traded by the deadline.
But not so fast.
Suddenly, the Sens are in the thick of a playoff race in the Eastern Conference and Kuba is a big reason for their success. What kind of message does that send to your fans – and more importantly the players inside the room – when you trade a veteran defenseman in a playoff race?
The Sens had a brief glimpse of life without Kuba, when he suffered a shoulder injury at the end of November. He missed six games, with the Senators only winning once in his absence. They blew leads against Dallas, Washington and New Jersey and looked like a sloppy bunch in those contests.
More importantly, his impact on Erik Karlsson was dramatic. In those six games that he missed, Karlsson had his worst stretch of hockey this season. He collected just three points with a minus-4 rating without his usual defence partner. He consistently turned the puck over and looked like he missed the calming influence of Kuba by his side.
Trading Kuba, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, could have a very negative impact on Karlsson down the stretch.
I’m not suggesting that Murray re-sign Kuba for next season – although that probably isn’t out of the realm of possibility – but I do think that trading Kuba at the deadline would be a mistake.
Perhaps the best course of action for Murray to do is nothing; wait and see how Kuba and the Sens do down the stretch and then make a decision on his future with the Senators in the summer.
You may lose out on a second-round draft pick at the deadline, but that seems like a small price to pay for a potential playoff spot this season.