Senators forced to settle, after going all in on DeBrincat deal

Detroit Red Wings newest addition Alex DeBrincat discusses how thrilled he is at the prospect of playing for his hometown team and also touches on what his expectations are for himself and the team this season.

OTTAWA — It isn’t easy to win a hockey trade twice. Once is hard enough. 

On July 7, 2022, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion landed scoring winger Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks for three draft picks (including a seventh-overall selection). 

The deal was considered such a tape-measure home run that, paired with the signing of free-agent forward Claude Giroux, Dorion received rock star treatment in his hometown. He couldn’t play a round of golf or pick up groceries without someone stopping to give him a high-five. Forget the summer of 2022, it was known in the Nation’s Capital as the Summer of Pierre.

Roll the calendar ahead 12 months and two days. On Sunday evening, July 9, Dorion was compelled to trade DeBrincat to his favoured team, the Detroit Red Wings, in exchange for winger Dominik Kubalik, 27, defenceman prospect Donovan Sebrango, 21, from Ottawa, plus a conditional 2024 first-round pick and a 2024 fourth rounder. 

The conditions of the first-round pick are this: Detroit has two first-round picks in that draft, and has the option of sending theirs or the pick acquired from Boston. In other words, the Wings keep the better of the two picks. In addition, because the Bruins get to keep their pick if it’s a top 10 selection, sending a 2025 first-round pick to Detroit instead, the Red Wings have the option of sending that 2025 pick or their own 2024 pick to Ottawa. 

Sebrango was Detroit’s third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He split last season between the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins and ECHL Toledo Walleye, producing a total of 19 points. Sebrango played junior for the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) Ottawa Jr. Senators and OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. 

On the face of it, the return is underwhelming, which wasn’t unexpected given the cards in Dorion’s hand. While Kubalik was a 20-goal scorer last season (DeBrincat had 27), no one is going to expect him to match the future production of an elite scorer like DeBrincat, who happens to be two years younger. Twice, DeBrincat struck for 41 goals while a member of the Blackhawks. As Dorion likes to say, the young sniper hit a lot of goalposts in his single season with Ottawa. 

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Interestingly, both DeBrincat and Kubalik benefited from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews passes in Chicago. Kubalik was a 30-goal man when he was with the Blackhawks in 2019-20. 

The draft picks have value, although they pale against the three picks Ottawa gave up to acquire DeBrincat a year ago. When Dorion made that trade and became a temporary celebrity, it was contingent on extending DeBrincat with a contract. 

That’s what made the trade exciting — the possibility of having DeBrincat long term alongside the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle and Josh Norris for another six or seven years. This was going to be a dynamic offence. 

And if the Senators gave up a likely future core piece — a seventh-overall pick — to get DeBrincat, we all loved the trade. Because DeBrincat, still 24 at the time, was already a proven player and young enough to be part of the elite core in Ottawa. Meow. Meow. The Cat was in the pack. 

When Dorion heard DeBrincat lament that Canada’s capital didn’t have any Chipotle restaurants in the west end, the GM joked about launching another Chipotle. There was no end of red carpet the Senators wouldn’t have rolled out for the guy. 

Unfortunately, Project Cat unravelled when the native of Farmington Hill, Mich., let it be known he wasn’t interested in signing long term in Ottawa. Dorion then took steps to reduce DeBrincat’s $9 million qualifying offer for next season, at which point we all knew DeBrincat’s time here was winding down. Having been backed into a corner, Dorion set about finding a trading partner. 

It wasn’t enough to find a team willing to take on DeBrincat. Who wouldn’t be interested in a player with unique scoring talent, although pint-sized at five-foot-seven. Dorion had to find a team that had enough cap room to accommodate DeBrincat. The return was never going to match what Ottawa gave up to get him. 

Detroit was always the expected destination, but Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, the Nepean product, drove a hard bargain. That includes dealing with DeBrincat, who agreed to a four-year term for $31.5 million. 

That’s a cap hit of $7.875M and amounts to a lengthy bridge deal, enabling DeBrincat to hit free agency by age 29. DeBrincat clearly took less than he thinks he is worth to stay and play in his native state of Michigan. 

In comparison. Kubalik is a cheaper addition at $2.5 million this coming season, but he is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If the Senators want him to be a part of their future, they will have to get him signed during the season. 

Short term, getting rid of DeBrincat for a discounted replacement has potential. Ottawa still has $5 million in cap room, money it can use to pursue another scorer in free agency. Vladimir Tarasenko remains unsigned and the Senators have interest in scooping the Russian winger, who has surpassed the 30-goal mark six times in his career. 

If the Toronto Maple Leafs buy out goaltender Matt Murray, that would take another $1.5 million off Ottawa’s books, its retained share of Murray’s contract this coming season. 

The Senators do have another in-house signing to look after, third-line centre Shane Pinto. 

Using the money freed up by the DeBrincat trade to acquire more scoring would certainly put some polish on the transaction that just went down. 

In the meantime, the ‘Summer of Pierre’ has given way to the ‘Summer Pierre Made Do’ with what he could under the circumstances. 

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