Senators trade deadline preview: Ottawa open for business once again

Head coach D.J. Smith explains why he is proud of how hard the Ottawa Senators work and says the team will fight for wins until the end of the season.

The Ottawa Senators are the Dollar Store team at the NHL trade deadline.

They have plenty of items on the table, but not a lot that would be considered high quality. There could, however, be a bargain piece to round out someone’s depth chart.

Unlike some clubs still sorting out their status at the deadline, the Senators, North Division cellar-dwellers, have known for some time they would be sellers.

Will they find many trade partners?

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion is on the record predicting a quiet deadline period, not just for the Senators but for the entire NHL. Dorion was speaking prior to the news that American-based players coming into Canada only have to quarantine for seven days instead of 14. That should help.

Not that the Senators are likely to trade for a player to step into their lineup now, but the quarantine relief was a factor in recently signing two of their college prospects late in the season -- defenceman Jason Bernard-Docker and centre Shane Pinto, both from the University of North Dakota. The pair have been in quarantine in Kanata since April 2 and can now join the Senators practice sessions ahead of being activated by the club in the coming week.

As for the selling part, with nine unrestricted free agents and some potentially useful playoff chips at forward and defence, Ottawa’s roster could easily fill a need here or there.

Might we see a rare Toronto-Ottawa deal, which would have the added benefit of a move within Ontario and no quarantine period for the traded player? Keep in mind that when the Senators acquired goaltender Anders Forsberg on waivers from Winnipeg, they were able to add him to their roster immediately by flying him to Ottawa on a charter flight from Manitoba. General managers know their provincial health rules as well as the NHL rule book these days.

RFAs (Cap hit)

F Brady Tkachuk, 21 ($925,000)
F Drake Batherson, 22 ($736,666)
F Mike Amadio, 24 ($700,000)
D Artem Zub, 25 ($925,000)
G Filip Gustavsson, 22 ($761,666)
G Marcus Hogberg, 26 ($700,000)

UFAs (Cap hit)

F Ryan Dzingel, 29 ($3,375,000)
F Clark Bishop, 24 ($700,000)
F Micheal Haley, 34 ($700,000)
F Derek Stepan (on IR), 30 ($6,500,000)
F Artem Anisimov (on IR), 32 ($4,550,000)
D Erik Gudbranson, 29 ($4,000,000)
D Mike Reilly, 29 ($1,500,000)
D Braydon Coburn, 36 ($1,700,000)
G Anton Forsberg, 28 ($700,000)

Draft picks

2021: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (San Jose Sharks), 3rd, 6th, 7th.
2022: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (Tampa Bay Lightning). 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th (San Jose).


Unlike teams that are planning for this year’s post-season, Ottawa is not looking to add to their roster unless it is something that makes sense beyond this season. If they could pick up a prospect or a draft pick for one of their unrestricted players they would do so.

While they are headed toward another lottery pick, the Senators are not likely going to be able to stockpile picks as they did in 2020, when they had six selections in the first two rounds, including two top-five overall picks.

The Senators do have an extra 2021 pick in round two (from San Jose, left over from the 2018 Erik Karlsson trade), but are lacking picks in the mid to later rounds --- nothing in rounds four or five.

It shouldn’t be difficult to scoop a pick or two in this area from one of the many rentals they could offer up -- with forward Ryan Dzingel and defencemen Mike Reilly and Braydon Coburn being at or near the top of the list.

There has been interest shown in players still under contract, useful role forwards like Nick Paul or Connor Brown, but Dorion is not expected to part with either of them, as well as they have performed for Ottawa this season.

It was interesting to see the Senators activate Coburn and Josh Brown recently. Coburn didn’t play from March 4 until March 25, when he was activated for a game against Toronto. He then played in five straight games heading into this weekend. That looked like a move to get Coburn seen ahead of the deadline, as there is some interest in the big, veteran defenceman who was with the Stanley Cup-winning Lighting last season, although he only suited up for three playoff games.

Potential assets to move

As they emerge from their rebuild, the Senators are growing ever more protective of their young, developing assets, beginning with Brady Tkachuk, Drake Formenton and Tim Stützle on down.

Their older players are almost all up for grabs, but realistically only a few have real trade value. With Derek Stepan out for the season, there goes one potential vetern forward asset. Artem Anisimov is available, with a remaining cap hit of over $1 million, which is pricey. Defenceman Erik Gudbranson could provide veteran leadership and toughness to a contending team, but he also has about $1 million left on his remaining cap hit.

Asset 1: F Ryan Dzingel
If this feels like a movie you’ve already seen, that is understandable. Dzingel has already been on the Sens trade bait board, having been traded by Ottawa to Columbus at the 2019 deadline. Dzingel’s comfort level with the Senators organization that drafted him out of Ohio State in 2011 is apparent. He has scored six goals in 15 games since rejoining the Senators from Carolina via trade in February.

With about $800,000 on his remaining cap hit, Dzingel could be a fit for teams looking for speed on the wing, with an occasional scoring touch. Don’t expect the Senators to receive the same haul they did for Dzingel in 2019 -- Anthony Duclair plus a second-round pick from the Blue Jackets. If Dzingel doesn’t get moved, or even if he does, the Senators could have interest in signing him to a short-term deal over the summer if the price is right. Dzingel did miss Thursday’s game against the Oilers with an undisclosed injury.

Asset 2: D Mike Reilly
Had you mentioned before the season that Reilly could be a prime trading chip, the reaction around town would have been, 'Yeah, right. Good luck finding interest there.' And yet, here we are. Reilly has been a consistent presence on the Senators' top two pairings and with 19 points, all assists, Reilly is second only to Thomas Chabot among Ottawa D-men. Reilly skates well, makes a nice breakout pass and while he is not stellar defensively (cue the Leon Draisaitl vid), could be a depth addition as a puck-mover for a playoff team. With only about $380,000 left on his daily cap hit, Reilly comes cheap.

Asset 3: C Braydon Coburn
There is no such thing as too many defencemen on a contending team. Nor is there anything wrong with adding a six-foot-five, 225-pound defenceman who can clear the front of the net in a robust fashion. At 36, Coburn might not move as well as he once did, but he knows the drill when it comes to playoff hockey and would be a good addition for a team needing insurance for the back end. With a remaining cap hit of $161,000 heading into Saturday’s game against the Leafs, Coburn is an easy cap fit and won’t likely cost the acquiring team anything more than a late round pick.

Seattle expansion considerations

There are benefits to being a rebuilding team. The Senators don’t have a lot of veteran players they need to protect and some of their youngest core players -- Stützle and Norris, for example, are exempt from the draft.

It won’t be hard to protect their most important pieces, from Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson up front to Thomas Chabot on defence. Considering most of their future blueliners are still in the minors or college, or on ELC (Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, Lassi Thomson, Erik Brannstrom, etc.) they shouldn’t lose any key defencemen.

A couple of interesting points where Ottawa is concerned:

One: They may choose to expose veteran players with mid-to-large contracts to see if Seattle cares to bite.

For example, while Evgenii Dadonov was signed in the off-season to replace the production lost with Anthony Duclair, Dadonov’s $5-million ticket through 2022-23 is a bit rich for a guy who has nine goals through 36 games and none in his last seven.

Similarly, Ottawa could expose defenceman Nikita Zaitsev and his $4.5-million contract, which doesn’t expire until 2024. Zaitsev does have a limited no move clause which would have to be considered. Zaitsev has played somewhat of an outsized role with the Senators because they are thin on defence, but that is about to change in the next year or two. Josh Brown just earns $1.2 million (through 2021-22) but was a healthy scratch for much of the season. If he doesn’t get picked up a deadline deal, he could be unprotected.

Two: Their goaltending situation is fascinating. If you had asked anyone three months ago who the Senators would protect in the draft it was simple -- they protect Matt Murray, brought over in a trade from Pittsburgh to be Ottawa’s No. 1 goalie. Dorion promptly signed Murray to a four-year, $25-million deal.

However, Murray has had a terrible season, with some of the worst goalie stats in the league. Murray’s backup, Marcus Hogberg, has even worse numbers. And they are just now getting back from injuries suffered in recent weeks. Hogberg had a strong return against Edmonton Wednesday.

There is a legitimate case to be made that the Senators should protect either Joey Daccord or Filip Gustavsson, both of whom have performed brilliantly when called on for emergency duty, albeit in small sample sizes. Now, Daccord is out for the season with a suspected high ankle sprain, further complicating things. Prior to the season, Daccord was the higher-rated goalie internally -- he beat out Gustavsson in AHL Belleville last season and earned a three-year contract, the final year of which is one-way. Gustavsson is a pending RFA.

Let’s see how Gustavsson performs for the balance of the season, and if Murray gets back in and starts playing better. How would Murray feel to be left exposed, not get picked, and then expect to be motivated to be “the guy” here?

Chances are Seattle would want more experienced netminding than Daccord or Gustavsson could offer, taking a page out of the Las Vegas playbook with Marc-Andre Fleury. But Seattle could target a goalie prospect as well, here or elsewhere. The Kraken will have a lot of goalies around the league from which to choose. Still, goalies are arguably the most attractive position of depth for a team eyeing Ottawa’s roster.

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