Why the Senators should keep Alex DeBrincat for the long haul

Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman joins the Jeff Marek Show to talk about the Ottawa Senators and whether they've been moving forward with talks about an Alex DeBrincat extension. They also talk about how the Senators' sale is progressing.

Bidding for the Senators franchise is already underway, and a new owner or ownership group could be in place by the spring. 

Like any new handler of an expensive toy like an NHL club, the new owner(s) will undoubtedly have their own vision for success, will hopefully want to operate a championship-calibre team and will have already taken stock of the assets currently in place. 

One of the more interesting of these assets is a soft-spoken young man who smiles easily off the ice and on it, is the author of a lightning-quick release. At 25, he is the married father of a baby son, Archie, who turns one in May. 

His name is Alex DeBrincat and at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, this slight winger barely casts a shadow from the highest point of his native Farmington Hills, Mich. And yet, his situation looms large in Ottawa. 

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was widely praised for scooping DeBrincat from the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks at last summer’s draft, in exchange for three draft picks: first and second-rounders in 2022 (Nos. 7 and 39th overall) and a third-round selection in 2024. 

(Coincidentally, DeBrincat was the 39th overall pick of the Blackhawks in 2016). 

DeBrincat, who finished a boatload of Patrick Kane passes in Chicago en route to a pair of 41-goal seasons, came here with a contract paying him US$9 million actual dollars, but with a cap hit of US$6.4 million. That contract expires this summer, but DeBrincat is a pending restricted free agent, not a UFA. Meaning, the team has control over him for another season, but would have to pay $9 million to qualify him. 

What would DeBrincat and his agent, Jeff Jackson, be looking for in a new deal? One would have to think they aren’t looking to go backwards, earning less than $9 million, unless DeBrincat is happy here and would settle for slightly less. 

The challenge for the owners and managers of this group over the next few years is – typical in a restrictive salary cap league – fitting all the pieces in. 

The Senators have already committed long-term deals to their core of forwards – Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson. Their salaries range from a low of $4.975M for Batherson to a high of $8.35M for Stützle. Tkachuk checks in at $8.2M and Norris, who is out with another shoulder problem requiring surgery, is at $7.9M. 

And then there is DeBrincat: Should the Senators try to sign him? It’s believed Dorion had some contract discussions with DeBrincat’s agent last fall, but since then it has gone quiet, while DeBrincat focuses on the season. 

Neither the team nor the player is enjoying the level of success that was talked about last summer, when Dorion added veteran winger Claude Giroux on a three-year deal and the Senators had a top-six that looked legit. 

With 16 goals and 40 points, DeBrincat is on pace for a 26-goal, 68-point season. 

Those of us who have watched him live for most of Ottawa’s home games have seen a player who has been absolutely snake-bit around the net at times, most recently on Friday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs when DeBrincat took a pass from Brady Tkachuk and missed an open net. It was the second setup of that kind from the captain last week, and afterward, DeBrincat could be seen on the bench, smashing his stick into the ground. It was a rare demonstration of frustration for No. 12, who did open the scoring against Montreal the next night, to ease his pain. 

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The point is, DeBrincat is just 25, won’t turn 26 until December, and brings a well-rounded and skilled game to the rink, night after night. 

My take on the online discussion about the Senators dealing DeBrincat before the trade deadline, to acquire a defenceman, is this: I wouldn’t do it. Not if DeBrincat wants to be here and is willing to accept a fair offer, one that wouldn’t quite match what he could get as a free agent next year. 

IF the player likes it here, I would keep him. 

Giroux is 35. He may not be here for more than another year or two. 

Fans say it often in Ottawa – if you don’t have a scorer of DeBrincat’s calibre, you will need to find one. Why look around when there is a serial 40-goal scorer already under contract, and he is still an RFA? 

If DeBrincat had been drafted by Ottawa and was a homegrown sniper, is there any doubt the Sens would try to extend him this summer?

I think we know the answer to that. The fact he was acquired by trade shouldn’t matter. It was a good trade and he is an excellent player who will return to form. 

It’s understandable if current management wants the pending new ownership to have a say on this one. If I’m the new owner, I would want to have that say as well. 

What I wouldn’t want is for current management to trade DeBrincat away before the new owner(s) arrive. 

Sens enjoy weekend romp

How ridiculous is a schedule that would have Ottawa wait three and a half months to play their provincial rival? 

Senators fans will say it was worth the wait – after the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 6-2 Friday night and then blanked the Montreal Canadiens 5-0 on Saturday. 

Ottawa hadn’t met Toronto since the Oct. 15 opening weekend. 

Brady Tkachuk scored twice to get the train rolling in Toronto while Claude Giroux had two against the Habs. 

The Senators finish their pre-All-Star Game break with a rematch against Montreal, at the Bell Centre Tuesday. If they win they will match their longest winning streak of the season – four games – which the Sens have managed twice. 

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