Listen hard and you can detect some grumbling that the Ottawa Senators find themselves in the position of trade deadline sellers yet again.
Wasn’t this the year the Senators would perhaps be adding players at the deadline in a push to firm up their playoff drive?
For reasons we have discussed here before (and will again), the Sens are not in the playoff race and won’t be buyers for this particular season.
And yet, there is a big difference between this deadline and the past four that have seen Ottawa play the role of pure seller. Instead of just stockpiling picks as they did in the earlier years of this deep rebuild, this time the Sens will add picks judiciously while also looking to make “hockey trades” (don’t you love that term?) if at all possible.
In other words, with so many key pieces already in place – think Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson et al. – Ottawa is in the hunt for established players who could be part of their competitive group next year and the year after. The Senators no longer want to merely add draft choices that could take three or four years to mature.
General manager Pierre Dorion has said he will be looking for opportunities to add depth to his roster, either at the deadline or to set the stage for a later deal.
Meanwhile, who might move from Ottawa between now and the March 21 deadline? The Senators have seven unrestricted free agents and a few other players they wouldn’t mind moving for salary reasons.
Although the Senators don't have any headline grabbers – players who are cracking the top 10, or even top 20 names on the various trade board lists – they have players who could draw interest, particularly this trio:
TOP 3 ON OTTAWA'S TRADE BOARD
Age: 26 (turns 27 March 20)
Size: 6-foot-3, 224 lbs.
GP 52 | G 9 | A 7 | Pts 16 | PIMs 20
The skinny: Paul’s nickname is "Does it all," which also serves as a handy description of Ottawa’s dilemma with this popular, heart-on-his-sleeve forward. Paul is just about everything you want in a hockey player, except for being a true scoring threat. As a role player, capable of filling in anywhere in the lineup, at centre or wing, Paul is ideal. He’s big, physical when he needs to be, a top-flight penalty killer and ultimate team guy. His coaches and teammates love him and no one would begrudge this big forward a nice raise from the paltry $1.35 million he is earning. Paul, a late-round pick of the Dallas Stars, acquired by Ottawa in the trade for Jason Spezza, worked hard to make himself a solid NHLer. An active mental-health advocate in Ottawa, Paul has made it clear he wants to stay with the Senators. The Sens would like to keep him, but at a price that is appropriate for the role he is going to have as this team gets more competitive in the years ahead. A multiyear deal in the $3-million range might keep both sides happy, but the closer we get to March 21, the more it seems likely Paul will be dealt before the deadline.
Why he could be moved: He is the perfect two-way role player for a playoff team, capable of playing any style of game.
Why he could stay: Paul and the Senators organization have invested a lot of time and energy in reaching this point. It’s a better story if he stays.
Size: 6-foot-3, 192 lbs.
W 11 | L 9 | T 2
GAA 2.80 | SV% .918
The skinny: Did that 45-save performance in Florida Thursday showcase Forsberg’s value as a trade chip or remind Sens management that Forsberg should be signed and kept? Personally, I would keep Forsberg as Murray Insurance, although it is complicated by the fact that prospect Filip Gustavsson will be on a one-way contract next season.
Forsberg might not have the pedigree of a Marc-Andre Fleury, but the big Swede has been rock solid this season as a backup for Matt Murray, often called upon on short notice due to a Murray injury or illness. Not only does Forsberg have great numbers on the season, he has been even more impressive over the past month. His February numbers: 4-1-0, 2.42 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Against the Panthers Thursday, Forsberg kept Ottawa in a game it had no business being in, stopping 45 of 48 shots.
With 24 games, this is Forsberg’s busiest season since 2017-18, when he appeared in 35 games for the Chicago Blackhawks. Several playoff contenders are in the market for depth in goal, and Forsberg could be an excellent addition as insurance. The one downside about Forsberg as a deadline pickup: he doesn’t have NHL playoff experience.
Why he could be moved: Gustavsson has a one-way contract for next season. Murray is the starter. Forsberg makes three.
Why he could stay: With Murray having been in and out of the lineup for the better part of two seasons in Ottawa, Forsberg represents a stable, experienced backup.
Size: 6-foot-4, 206 lbs.
GP 53 | G 9 | A 7 | Pts. 16 | PIM 32
The skinny: Oddly, Sanford has an almost identical stat line to Nick Paul's. Though not as versatile as Paul, who has more speed and can play centre, Sanford can be an effective, grinding winger, just the type of pickup a team might want for the physical arena of the post-season. In fact, Sanford’s biggest draw is his playoff resume – in four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, Sanford was a solid contributor, including on their Stanley Cup spring of 2019. A year later, Sanford had an even bigger role in the playoffs, playing 15:15 on average, well above his regular season TOI. In nine playoff games in 2020, Sanford chipped in a goal and three assists. Senators head coach D.J. Smith has encouraged Sanford to be physically aggressive down low, and when he brings that aspect of his game, he is effective.
Why he could be moved: He’s a fit for a team needing a physical winger for the playoffs.
Why he could stay: The only way Sanford stays is if there are no deadline offers for him. He’s probably not a longer-term fit with so many prospects in the Ottawa system.
Also in the mix: UFA forwards Tyler Ennis (always a popular deadline attraction), Chris Tierney (injured) and defencemen Josh Brown and Dillon Heatherington. The Senators have some cumbersome contracts they would like to move, including defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (two years left at $4.5 million) and centre Colin White (three years left at $4.75 million), but it’s unlikely anything will happen on these files at the deadline.