Now, here is a hazardous profession – making predictions where the Ottawa Senators are concerned.
In 2018, just when it appeared they were gearing up for a competitive run, they finally saw their own deficiencies and declared a major rebuild. It wasn’t long ago when the thought of trading such key players as Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris was akin to heresy.
Yet, in the past two seasons, those three players and more were traded away in the name of cost-cutting and rebuilding.
So, here we are at the cusp of a New Year and a New Decade. What will 2020 bring for the Senators?
Here, then, are three bold predictions for Ottawa’s NHL team in the year ahead.
1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau gets traded
Speaking of heresy, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I have already written a piece this season outlining a scenario in which the Senators keep Pageau and sign him to a mid-to-long range contract, at a reasonable dollar figure. That could still happen. But it seems more likely that Pageau, 27, a pending unrestricted free agent, gets dealt for a prospect and a draft pick from a contending team in need of a reliable two-way performer in the playoffs.
In Ottawa’s surprising playoff run in 2017, Pageau had eight goals in 19 games.
Pageau can do it all, play up and down a lineup, win big faceoffs and kill penalties. He’s a threat to score at even strength and shorthanded, with 13 career shorthanded goals.
The question for Senators management is what role Pageau will have down the road when centre prospects like Logan Brown, Josh Norris and Colin White, etc., mature, not to mention the likelihood of a future No. 1 centre emerging from the 2020 draft.
Assuming Pageau slots into a bottom six role as the prospects mature, Ottawa can’t afford to pay him the kind of dollars Pageau could command on the open market on July 1. This is his best and only shot at a long-term home run. His body language when he is asked about re-upping with the Senators would indicate this hometown hero from Gatineau isn’t about to take a hometown discount just because he’s a good guy. Pageau has certainly earned the right to look after his best interests after seven years of outstanding loyalty and service to the organization. Pageau has delivered – above and beyond the call of duty.
2. Anthony Duclair gets extended
This isn’t as much of a slam dunk as you might think. Yes, Duclair has caught fire as a scoring machine, providing Ottawa and the rest of the NHL with one of the most compelling storylines of the first half-season. On his fifth NHL team by the age of 23 (he’s now 24), and publicly ripped by his former coach at Columbus for being, well, un-coachable, Duclair has turned his career around by emerging as a top-ten NHL goal scorer.
Duclair is on pace for 40+ goals.
This is where it gets tricky. Duclair is a pending restricted free agent, meaning his team holds most of the cards (unless he were to get an offer sheet).
At $1.65 million on his current one-year deal, Duclair is one of the NHL’s true bargains. But hockey people are not going to dismiss his entire, up-and-down body of work based on one stellar season. The New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets all gave this former third-round pick of the Rangers (2013) a shot and ultimately took a pass on him.
If you are Pierre Dorion, the Senators GM, do you extend Duclair for a few years or play it cautious with another one-year contract for this arbitration-eligible player?
The track record in Ottawa has been for management to try to reward players who have a breakout season. So, if the Senators can get Duclair under contract for three to four years at $4-million-plus per year, buying a year or so of free agency, I think they would do it.
Duclair might just jump at that because it means staying with the first organization and head coach (D.J. Smith) with which he has found success and confidence. Why not stick around? If Duclair and his agent play hard ball, the Senators could turn to a one-year deal, forcing Duclair to prove this season was not a one-off.
3. The Senators draft a game-changing forward
With five draft picks in the first two rounds, the Senators are sitting in a strong position to acquire quality talent in 2020. Lacking depth on defence, and with a few key veterans likely to be dealt at the deadline, Ottawa is almost a cinch to be in for a lottery pick based on their own finish in the Eastern Conference.
But wait, there is more. From the trade of Erik Karlsson in 2018, the Senators also have the San Jose Sharks’ first round pick, and given their horrific first half to the season, that could double Ottawa’s opportunity for a lottery pick.
In the east, the Senators are not likely to “catch” New Jersey or Detroit for last place, but in the more competitive west, there is a possibility San Jose could drift to the very bottom, or close to it.
The last-place team has the greatest odds of drafting first, but still only has an 18.5 per cent chance of doing so. Last year, the Devils won the first pick after entering the lottery with the third-best odds.
This is not to say that Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield should start modelling Senators jerseys, but with the very likely possibility of having two picks in the top 10, if not two in the top five, look for Ottawa to select a player who will be the kind of elite forward the club so desperately needs in the near future.
Even if they miss out on Byfield and Lafreniere, the Senators might not have to look further than their own backyard to draft a top centre. Austrian Marco Rossi of the OHL Ottawa 67’s is a solid top 10 pick who checks all the boxes for talent, vision and drive in a centre. He is producing more than two points per game with the 67’s this season. Though Rossi is small at 5-foot-9, the game has opened up to crafty players with speed, and Ottawa already has a 6-foot-6 centre in Logan Brown, drafted 11th overall in 2016.