Tumbling toward their third straight finish near the NHL basement, the Ottawa Senators haven’t made a lot of noise this season.
Namestnikov, acquired by Ottawa last fall for a fourth-round pick, went to the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-round pick in 2021. Ottawa did not have its own pick in the fourth or fifth rounds of 2021 but filled those spots with the Namestnikov deal and by sending Ennis to his hometown of Edmonton for a fifth-rounder in 2021.
Pageau was the big one. Until deadline day, it looked as though the Senators could still sign their leading goal scorer — he was in the lineup Saturday night versus Montreal while Namestnikov and Ennis sat out for “asset management.”
When the contract demands got a bit rich for general manager Pierre Dorion’s blood — in the $5 million AAV for five years range — Dorion jumped on the Islanders’ offer of a 2020 first- and second-round draft pick for Pageau. (There is a conditional third-round pick for 2022 — the condition being if the Islanders win the Stanley Cup this spring). Pageau then quickly agreed to a six-year deal with the Islanders at $5 million per season.
That first-round pick for 2020 is top-three protected, such that if the Isles were to fall into that slot, the pick would revert to a first-round pick for Ottawa in 2021. There are no conditions on the second-round pick. The Islanders currently hold down a wild-card spot.
“We were in contract negotiations for the last little while,” Dorion said of the Pageau situation. “We felt we had made good progress on a contract, and at a certain point in time we saw the contract couldn’t be done. And we started looking at options of moving him.”
The Islanders stepped up among several other contenders for Pageau.
“When Lou (Lamoriello) put the first-rounder on the table… we knew we could get a deal done,” Dorion said.
As cool as he sounded discussing the return for his top centre, Dorion added later that informing Pageau he had been traded was “probably the toughest call I’ve ever made as a general manager.”
Dorion and the late Senators GM Bryan Murray had watched Pageau play in the 2011 QMJHL playoffs and loved his tenacity and heart. Now he joins a long list of departing veterans, including Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and others.
“I don’t get emotional with a lot of players,” Dorion said. “But today was a difficult call to make.”
Emotions aside, Dorion called it a “good day” for the future of the organization.
The Senators now have seven picks in the first two rounds of 2020, nine in the first three rounds, and 13 overall.
“I’m not telling you’re we’re going to pick nine players in the first three rounds but these are picks that could be used to get NHL players,” Dorion said, “or maybe bundle some to move up in the draft.”
While the organization loved Pageau, 27, nearly as much as Ottawa fans did, the versatile centre likely slotted into a bottom-six role once the Senators centre prospects mature in two or three years. That kept Dorion from giving Pageau a contract befitting a first- or second-line centre.
Pageau’s departure means there are just two players remaining from the Senators’ 2017 playoff run — goaltender Craig Anderson and defenceman Mark Borowiecki.
No. 44 will be remembered best for two surreal playoff performances:
Firstly, a game for the ages by the Gatineau, Que., native against the Montreal Canadiens on May 5, 2013. In Game 3 of the best-of-seven quarterfinal series, Pageau scored a hat trick, including the game-winner in a 6-1 Senators rout, punctuated by a chipped tooth lost by Pageau on a high stick from P. K. Subban.
Chants of “Pa–geau! Pageau-Pageau–Pa–geau!,” to the tune of the “Ole” chants of the Bell Centre, rang out in Scotiabank Place.
After the game then-Senators head coach Paul MacLean quipped that the three bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau would henceforth be renamed “Jean,” “Gabriel” and “Pageau.”
The Senators went on to win the series in five games.
Secondly, a four-goal effort by Pageau, including the winner in double overtime, as the Senators beat the New York Rangers in Game 2 of a second-round series in 2017. Afterward, Pageau famously said he hadn’t expected to play well because he was a little full from too much chicken parmesan on the afternoon of the game.
Playoff games are a distant memory for the Senators, who haven’t been to the post-season since 2017 when they reached the Eastern Conference final.
Of course, Pageau did more than rise to the occasion. He was a rock for the organization, a fixture since making the grade as a Senators regular out of a fourth-round position (96th overall) in 2011. A two-way player, penalty killer and defensive matchup centre, Pageau was having a career year, leading the Senators with 24 goals and 40 points.
Pageau will be missed dearly, by the community and the team.
“It’s always tough when you’ve got guys spending every day together and they enjoy being around each other, especially Pager,” said head coach D. J. Smith from Columbus, where the Senators faced the Blue Jackets Monday night.
“He’s been here, he’s played great for the organization, given his heart and soul, but it’s also a business. It came down to the last little bit here, but that’s a heck of a return. We wish him the best of luck going forward.”
“With Pager leaving today, obviously it’s hard,” said teammate and friend Thomas Chabot. “He’s been a big part of the organization… the Islanders are getting a great guy off the ice and even a better player.”
If Monday was tough for the team, Pageau himself said on a conference call that he was sick to his stomach on Sunday night, from the stress of an 11th-hour contract negotiation while the clock was ticking toward the trade deadline.
Sinking toward the bottom of the standings should be a cinch now with Pageau gone and a blueline corps that has been decimated by injury and transactions.
Over the past week the Senators have traded pending UFA Dylan DeMelo to the Winnipeg Jets for a third-round pick in 2020, lost depth defenceman Cody Goloubef in a waiver pickup by Detroit and lost Borowiecki to a high ankle sprain.
In a depth move at forward, the Senators acquired Matthew Peca from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for forward Aaron Luchuk and a seventh-round pick in 2020.
Peca and Rudolfs Balcers (of the AHL Belleville Senators) were to join the Senators in Columbus Monday, but likely not until the game is already underway, Dorion said. Ottawa was expected to start the game short two forwards.
As for moving other veterans, Dorion said he didn’t mind having Anderson stay for the rest of the season, especially with Anders Nilsson still recovering from a concussion. And Borowiecki was told in December, with his wife about to give birth, that he would not be traded at the deadline, Dorion said.
The Senators now have two massive events to anticipate — the draft lottery night of early April (TBD) and the June 26-27 draft in Montreal when Ottawa will be front and centre with three picks in the first round.