OTTAWA – Sometimes body language is enough to send out a signal.
Those of us who attended the “garbage-bag day” player-exit conference with Senators winger Alex DeBrincat picked up a vibe that he wasn’t sold on the idea of being in Ottawa for the long haul.
The facial expression told us this. So did the words from his mouth:
“I mean, definitely open to anything,” DeBrincat said, on April 14. “I’m going to sit down with my family and obviously my agent (Jeff Jackson) over the next couple of weeks and months, and kind of figure out what the best thing is for us as a family.”
That’s a decidedly different message from the usual, “I really want to be here long term and win a Stanley Cup with these guys. So, I hope we can make that happen.”
Even after spending an entire season in Ottawa, DeBrincat was still talking about the difficult adjustment to moving to Canada with his young family and dealing with our winter.
A Michigan native, DeBrincat, 25, and his wife, Lyndsey, are the parents of a young son.
DeBrincat is a pending restricted free agent and, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Monday, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion is exploring all of his options with DeBrincat, including the possibility of a trade if he can’t sign him to a lengthy deal.
Dorion had said he was willing to qualify the winger at $9 million for next season, if the sides don’t agree on a new contract. But, interestingly, on Ottawa sports radio last week, Dorion mentioned the possibility of going to arbitration and asking to shave 15 per cent off that QO.
Clearly, Dorion believes he has a good chance of winning that case, given DeBrincat’s drop in production this past season. The two-time 41-goal man while with the Chicago Blackhawks scored 27 goals and 66 points in his first Ottawa season, which was better known for nets missed than snipes made.
“If they indicate they don’t want to sign here, then we might have to look at a situation where we might have to trade him and see what’s out there on that market,” Dorion said on TSN1200. “We’d like to sign him first, but we have to look at every option.”
That Dorion is fully exploring those options three weeks before the draft, where he has a history of making deals, only makes sense.
Dorion wants to have a good read on a.) DeBrincat’s contract demands and b.) his interest in signing long term, before the June 28 draft. We can imagine he already has an inclination.
As for this idea that DeBrincat and his camp are waiting to see how the Senators ownership situation gets resolved, well, I suppose that could have an impact on a potential deal. Maybe the new owner will be a big DeBrincat fan and encourage Dorion to get it done.
In reality, the Senators have a salary cap to consider and already have a core of talent tied up in long-term deals in Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle and Thomas Chabot.
Sure, the Senators could keep DeBrincat around for another season, via an arbitration deal, but the smarter play may be to maximize his value now for assets to help the team in its push to make the playoffs.
Although they may not get the draft pick haul they gave up for DeBrincat (a first-round pick, which was a seventh overall, a second and a third-round pick), it’s possible they could get a good asset and a draft pick for the scoring winger.
While the Sens are in win-now mode, Dorion could certainly use another draft pick as he doesn’t have one through the first three rounds of the upcoming draft.
As far as an incoming player, there are lots of options, from Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to a good young forward who is in a similar situation to DeBrincat. For example, Jesper Bratt of the New Jersey Devils is a restricted free agent, like DeBrincat, and is in need of a contract.
Bratt is 24, a year younger than DeBrincat, and scored 32 goals for the Devils this past season.
Or, what if Dorion gets creative, as Columbus, Philadelphia and Los Angeles did with their big trade this week. The Sens could bring in a third team that might want DeBrincat in exchange for a pick/prospects to the Flyers, who could swing Travis Konecny over to Ottawa in a three-team swap.
Konecny played here as a junior with the Ottawa 67’s and plays a feisty style that fits the Sens character. Flyers goalie Carter Hart is another possibility. Once a mega-prospect, Hart was under siege backstopping a declining Flyers team in recent seasons. Would ex-Flyers captain Claude Giroux, looking to win now in Ottawa, recommend Hart to Dorion?
The most obvious trade candidate, of course, is Detroit, so close to DeBrincat’s hometown.
The Wings have a few young players who could be part of a deal for DeBrincat, as long as the two parties don’t mind trading within the division.
Dorion has no shortage of opportunities to trade a player with DeBrincat’s scoring resume.
And Dorion has already succeeded on one front – the fan base is getting used to the idea that “The Cat” may not come back.