Six weeks into the season, the Ottawa Senators were sacrificing futures to land centre Matt Duchene. Now, just ahead of the trade deadline, there’s barely a player on the team who could truly be considered untouchable — including the face of the franchise.
At this point, we’re all familiar with the obligatory “big deals are easier to execute after the season” caveat and it most definitely applies to Ottawa. Still, if there’s one team that feels as though it could take drastic steps toward re-shaping its long-term future in the next couple days, it’s the Senators.
Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion has already been active this month, sending defenceman Dion Phaneuf to the L.A. Kings in a swap that will save the franchise some money. Cost-cutting is an obvious priority for a team whose owner, Eugene Melnyk, has gone public — and forcefully so — over his concerns about the bottom line. The Senators don’t have any significant contracts coming off the books this summer and, if they do move captain Erik Karlsson, Dorion may stipulate that any team acquiring the all-world defenceman also eat the disastrous contract of left winger Bobby Ryan.
Ottawa was one of the final four teams standing in the NHL playoffs last spring. Less than a year later, the Sens are hoping clubs dreaming of a long 2018 post-season run might overpay for one of the players Ottawa has on the block.
How about recovering some lost draft picks? The Duchene trade ensures Ottawa will be without its first selection in either 2018 or ’19 (if it’s a top-10 pick this year, the Sens keep it and send next year’s pick unconditionally to the Colorado Avalanche). Ottawa also lost its 2018 second-rounder in the trade that sent Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers and returned Derick Brassard.
The Sens would certainly welcome quality prospects of any kind into the organization. One of the few Ottawa regulars who has no chance of being moved any time soon is defenceman Thomas Chabot. He, along with a couple youngsters in the system like Logan Brown and Canadian World Junior Championship hero Drake Batherson, represent some hope for the future, but Ottawa’s pipeline is by no means bursting with intriguing players.
Pending free agents, age, cap hits:
Johnny Oduya, 36, $1 million
Chris Wideman, 28, $800,000
Magnus Paajarvi, 28, $800,000
Mark Stone, 25, $3.5 million
Codi Ceci, 24, $2.8 million
Nick Shore, 25, $925,000
Fredrik Claesson, 25, $650,000
Potential assets to move:
Erik Karlsson: A two-time Norris Trophy winner who produces from the back end like few others in the history of the game. Karlsson has famously — or, depending on your perspective, infamously — stated that he plans to get paid on his next contract (he’s UFA-eligible for 2019), which may preclude him from being part of the Senators’ long-term future. If he changes sweaters in the next few days, it will be because a team desiring two cracks at the playoffs with Karlsson in its lineup paid an astronomical fee — think a handful of high-quality pieces — to get the 27-year-old Swede.
Mike Hoffman: A shooter and scorer who’s on a palatable $5.2-million deal for two seasons after this one. The St. Louis Blues have been sniffing for a while. The 28-year-old Hoffman is the kind of player who, if he gets hot, could lead the playoffs in goals.
Derick Brassard: Centres are always at a premium and after a rough first year in Ottawa, Brassard has been far more productive this season. He’s on the books for a $5-million cap hit next season in advance of becoming a UFA and among his rumoured suitors is the squad that drafted him, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
J.G. Pageau: Another middleman who can help a team’s third line. Pageau was terrific for the Senators in the 2017 playoffs and is the kind of sturdy player teams crave come springtime. He’s under contract at a $3.1-million cap hit through 2019-20.
Zack Smith: He’ll be 30 when the playoffs start and 33 when his contract carrying an annual hit of $3.25 million expires in 2021. The centre might be a good fit for a team that figures to be taking a few cracks at the Cup in coming years.
Cody Ceci: A 6-foot-2, right-shot defenceman who can play on your second pair. Ceci will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. The 24-year-old could absolutely be a part of the solution in Ottawa, but if some team wants to step up with an enticing offer, Dorion will certainly listen.
Johnny Oduya: An experienced defenceman and pending UFA, he could provide a little security on the blue line for a team that knows it will likely use seven or eight defenceman during the course of a Cup run.
Name a Player: Honestly. If Ottawa would eat a little Marian Gaborik salary, would a team take a chance on him? Duchene, a 2019 UFA, does not have any trade protection. Just sayin’.
2018: 1st*, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th (NYR)
2019: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
(*If Ottawa’s 2018 first-round pick is between 11 and 31, it goes to Colorado as part of the Matt Duchene trade. If it’s in the top 10, the Senators retain the pick and send the Avs their 2019 first-rounder.)
One bold move the Senators could make:
There are probably two or three scenarios that fit this bill and dealing pending-RFA Mark Stone would be one. Stone is a wonderful two-way player who could be a lead horse on Ottawa for a decade. If you’re rebuilding, though, 25-year-olds are tweeners who could stay or go. It would take a haul to get him, but the team acquiring his services wouldn’t have to worry about him walking for nothing any time soon.
I think the Senators should not…:
Trade any high-end players until they’re absolutely sure keeping Karlsson just won’t work under their financial reality. It’s just so hard to watch a talent like that move out the door. Think about it: If Ottawa could re-sign Karlsson (to an extension) and Stone this summer, it comes back next fall with a team that has Duchene, Brassard and Logan Brown as its top three centres, Hoffman and Stone firing on the flanks, Karlsson and emerging Chabot leading the ‘D,’ and two goalies in Craig Anderson and Mike Condon who are due for bounce-backs. Oh yeah, and they could put anybody from Rasmus Dahlin — aka, Karlsson 2.0 — to Brady Tkachuk to Andrei Svechnikov to Filip Zadina in the lineup after the 2018 draft. Cup contender? Probably not, but before you turn your back on that potential playoff team, make sure you know what you’re doing.