Basement teams find their fun where they can.
For the Ottawa Senators and their suffering fanbase, the mirth stems from having potentially a pair of lottery picks in the 2020 NHL Draft.
For a rebuilding franchise, this is no small thing. Consider that a year ago at this time the Senators were taking it on the chin in social media circles for NOT having their own first-round draft pick even as they were selling off assets. That pick, surrendered in the move to acquire Matt Duchene, went to the Colorado Avalanche, and they used it to select defenceman Bowen Byram fourth overall in 2019.
The Senators had the option to give up their 2018 pick, but wanted Brady Tkachuk so badly (4th overall, 2018) they forked over last year’s selection instead, not imagining at the time they would finish 31st overall and provide Colorado with the best odds of drafting Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.
Despite dodging that bullet, and despite hitting a home run with Tkachuk, Ottawa took a lot of abuse all season for not having its own pick while delving deep into a rebuild. The Senators did pick up the Columbus Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (19th overall, used for defenceman Lassi Thomson) as part of the deal that sent Duchene to Columbus.
So how sweet is this? A year later, the Senators are nestled among the cellar teams once again, and not only have their own first-round pick, plus three more in the second round, they also own the San Jose Sharks’ 2020 first-round pick.
Ah, the Erik Karlsson trade. For Ottawa, it is a gift that keeps on giving.
It is a trade worth reviewing yet again, 14 months later:
Not only did the Senators receive players who could help them immediately and for the foreseeable future – centre Chris Tierney and defenceman Dylan DeMelo – they also banked a former 2017 first-round pick in centre Josh Norris, currently developing nicely in AHL Belleville, plus forward prospect Rudolf Balcers, who had a strong training camp before suffering a knee injury. He will be back.
DeMelo is no Karlsson from the offensive side, but has become an important defensive defenceman for Ottawa. In his past three starts, he has averaged close to 21 minutes per game and the possession numbers with him on the ice are above his career average.
Tierney, one of D.J. Smith’s most reliable two-way centres, is also seeing plenty of ice time and has seven points in 13 games.
Most importantly, Ottawa acquired the Sharks’ first-rounder for a 2020 draft considered deep and rich, plus a second-rounder in 2019 (later traded) and another second-rounder in 2021 because Karlsson signed an extension with San Jose. San Jose also received forward prospect Francis Perron in the deal. Perron, 23, has two goals and six assists in eight games with the AHL’s Utica Comets this season.
At the time all of this went down, the Sharks were their usual contending selves in the Western Conference and on their way to a 101-point season.
The idea of San Jose yielding a lottery pick to Ottawa as a result of the Karlsson deal seemed far-fetched.
Not anymore. Over the weekend, as the aging, struggling Sharks lost their fifth straight game and found themselves tied for last in the Western Conference, screengrabs of the NHL standings started circulated on Senators Twitter.
The giddiest of fans started mentioning that no team has ever drafted first and second overall in the same draft, and imagined how good forwards Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield would look in Senators uniforms.
To say this is getting ahead of ourselves is a massive understatement. Regardless of how deep in the standings Ottawa and San Jose finish, the teams will be subject to the whims of a lottery format. Another reminder: last season’s 31st place finish by Ottawa only netted Colorado a fourth overall pick.
Combine that with the fact the Sharks and Senators could move up in the standings – nine of San Jose’s first 15 games have been on the road, including a tough five-game eastern swing – and it’s fair to assume this draft narrative will take a few twists and turns before settling into its natural conclusion.
The Senators didn’t look like a last-place team in their 6-2 win at MSG against the New York Rangers, a fellow rebuilding team, on Monday night. Ottawa’s first road victory is in the books!
A spirited win here and there aside, there is a better than decent chance that Ottawa nets a couple of top-10 picks in 2020, securing some of the high-end skill at forward it badly needs to punch up this rebuild.
It’s not the perfect scenario. Fans here would trade this long and painful rebuilding process for a contending team and a packed, energetic building.
But rebuilding franchises grab their victories where they can, on and off the ice.
There is no Colorado-has-the pick refrain this year, which means the fanbase is suffering a little less on the embarrassment front.
And owning the San Jose pick while that team flounders is a pretty sweet gem to behold for some of the sore eyes in the nation’s capital.