Asset-stacked Senators need willing partners if there’s to be trade frenzy

Ottawa Senators' Jean-Gabriel Pageau celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during first period NHL action. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Branding teams as “buyers” or “sellers” at the deadline can create a misconception about the trade-day frenzy.

It’s a lot more nuanced than sellers dumping most of their veterans in a single day and contenders loading up with pieces they can use in the playoffs. Contending teams have real-world limitations including salary-cap issues, roster complications and the factor of payroll beyond this season to take into account when considering acquiring a player. Some general managers will seek players with term, others can use a temporary rental on an expiring contract.

Then there’s the case of a declared seller like the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators might have a ton of assets available — namely 10 unrestricted free agents and several more that are RFAs — but have to be realistic about two things:

How many more draft picks and prospects do they truly need at this point? Their Belleville AHL team is loaded with young talent and they have five draft picks in the first two rounds this June, including two lottery picks.

How many of their veterans will actually be in demand as Feb. 24 approaches?

Don’t expect a lineup at the door for Mikkel Boedker, Scott Sabourin and Ron Hainsey.

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On the flip side, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, one of the top forwards available in a lean year, would be a nice addition to any team looking for depth at centre. Injuries to key forwards like Connor McDavid of Edmonton and Colorado’s Nazem Kadri only add spice to Pageau as an option for filling a need. While Pageau is hardly on McDavid’s level, he would be a terrific role player and a proven two-way centre for the Oilers when McDavid does return from his quad injury, and could eat minutes until No. 97 is back in the lineup.

Pageau, 27, would be a big loss for Ottawa, but has earned a decent payday this summer from a career year and likely slots in as a bottom-six player by the time the Senators become a contender. So, it’s easy to see why Senators GM Pierre Dorion is listening to offers.

Defenceman Dylan DeMelo is intriguing — a player who could be just as useful to the Senators down the road as he might be to a contender this spring. At 26, DeMelo could be a steadying presence on the blue line as prospects like Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom and Christian Wolanin mature and reach their peak.

Will Dorion receive an offer for DeMelo he can’t refuse?

Interestingly, a few weeks ago DeMelo was shouting from the rooftops about how he would love to stay to be part of something “special” by remaining in Ottawa if something can be worked out. He is making just $900,000 on his current contract.

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Not that he has since changed his mind, but this talkative D-man sure went quiet when asked recently about any potential talks going on involving a new Senators contract.

“I probably won’t say anything to you guys about that,” DeMelo said. “I’m going to keep that closed and I think that’s the way it should be approached. I guess we’ll all find out before or after the trade what will happen.”

Considering Dorion wants to avoid another so-called “circus” this February and has demanded a cone of silence from everyone he deals with, whether players or agents or rival GMs, DeMelo’s non-comment could be a positive sign of negotiation.

No one should be surprised either way — whether he stays or gets moved.

Up front, perhaps there will be interest in veteran forwards Chris Tierney, Tyler Ennis or Vladislav Namestnikov for playoff depth, even if Ottawa’s sticks have gone cold in recent games.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and many of Ottawa’s available players could fill a niche need somewhere, as a lower-line forward or insurance on defence or in goal.

Dorion has done a good job of lowering expectations for a fan base that might have expected a healthy fire sale on Feb. 24. Dorion has news for you — the sale has been burning for months and a lot of prized items have already gone out the door with younger assets coming back.

This is nothing like last season when Ottawa had a few players high on the “bait” board, including Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

In a recent in-game interview, Dorion admitted he wants to keep at least some of his veterans on expiring contracts while looking for the “right mix” of veterans and prospects.

“We do have a lot of picks already, we’ve got a lot of prospects coming, Belleville is in first place with one of the youngest teams in the minors, so getting picks and prospects just to make a trade this year isn’t something we’re probably going to look at,” Dorion said. “We’re going to make sure we’re going to get the right return if we’re going to move players.”

No man is an island. Dorion might know which players he’d like to keep and which to trade, but he needs willing partners to make it all work.

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