The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline date on March 3rd is creeping closer, and the Chicago Blackhawks are one team where the rumors won’t stop swirling. It is believed they will be sellers as their second-worst record in the NHL justifies that, but who will they target? Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has been sniffing around the Blackhawks as of late. He attended back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 22 and 24, making it clear some players were on his radar.
When speaking with our Senators’ contributor, Jacob Billington, he mentioned the team is “not particularly shopping picks or prospects. They’re more so in the buying market than anything else.” Billington also noted Ottawa is on the hunt for a “right-handed defensive defenseman and depth forwards.” While keeping those things in mind, here is what the Blackhawks could be looking to get from the Senators in a trade.
1. Mathieu Joseph
Billington mentioned Mathieu Joseph as someone who could be on the move. He could be an intriguing target for the Blackhawks. The 25-year-old is in his second season with the Senators after joining the team from the Tampa Bay Lighting in March 2022. He didn’t get the fresh start he hoped for as he suffered a sternum injury, which ended his season after 11 games. However, he was productive, with eight points during that time. This season, Joseph’s fortune hasn’t changed. In December, he suffered a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for weeks. To add insult to injury, he was a healthy scratch on Jan. 18 due to an “internal incident,” for which he took responsibility. This year, he has nine points in 28 games (two goals, seven assists), which is good for the 10th-best on the Sens. However, internal and external factors may make the team want to part ways.
For Ottawa, Joseph has mostly been used as a third-line forward. According to Natural Stat Trick, his most consistent linemates have been Tyler Motte and Shane Pinto, who have skated 11 games together. However, on Jan. 25, the Sens placed Joseph on the first line with Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle. He has been known for his versatility throughout the lineup, even when he was on the Lightning. When Senators’ head coach D.J. Smith talked about Joseph returning to the lineup after the healthy scratch, he stated, “I know that [Joseph] can help us play. I know that he can play up and down the lineup, and he can play in all situations. We need these guys back.” He plays a fast, skilled game but has much more to prove. His career-best year came in 2018-19, with 26 points in 70 games in Tampa Bay.
Related: Senators Minimize Risk with Mathieu Joseph Contract
The Blackhawks may take an interest in a young forward like Joseph, who many think has untapped potential. Because players like Max Domi, Patrick Kane, and Andreas Athanasiou are potential trade chips, they may need someone to fill in on the top six. He would be a good option since he can play anywhere. It also doesn’t hurt that he won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Lightning. In addition, he is young enough to fit the Blackhawks’ rebuild and could be a low-risk, high-reward acquisition. He is in the first year of a four-year, $11.8 million contract ($2.95 million AAV), which is more than doable to take on.
2. Nikita Zaitsev
Nikita Zaitsev‘s name has been out there since the summer, and the Ottawa Senators have become more desperate to move the 31-year-old defenseman. He has one more year remaining on his seven-year $31.5 million contract ($4.5 million AAV). The Senators only have a little over $3 million in salary cap space, so they want to shed the extra salary. He has only played in 20 games, netting three points, and is a minus-6. Before the start of the season, Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said he was willing to take advantage of salary cap space to retain assets. He stayed true to that by taking on Jason Dickinson’s contract from the Vancouver Canucks for a second-round pick, and that stance on taking doesn’t look like it will change at the trade deadline.
Related: The Columbus Blue Jackets Should Inquire About Nikita Zaitsev
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The Hawks have the fifth-most cap space in the NHL, with over $5 million. If they move on from Kane or Jonathan Toews, that will free up $10.5 million. Even moving on from defenseman Jake McCabe, one of the top targets on the trade board, would free up $4 million, so they would have no issue taking on Zaitsev. Even better, they could use it to their advantage.
NHL Insider Kevin Weekes reported on Jan. 1 that the Senators are willing to move a high draft pick or a prospect in a Zaitsev trade, which is music to the Blackhawks’ ears. They have two first-round picks and two second-round picks for the 2023 NHL Draft, and they want to keep adding. Ottawa may have to part with a second-round pick to move him. The other way Zaitsev helps the Blackhawks is by hitting the cap floor. There are concerns that Chicago may end up under the $62 million cap floor if they move big salaries out, and every team has to reach the cap floor. (from ‘Why the Blackhawks’ on-ice financial picture becomes murky after this season,’ The AthleticNHL, 01/05/2023).
Chicago is over $77 million in salary right now, but taking on Zaitsev’s contract would ensure a substantial cap hit for next season to maintain the cap floor. The Blackhawks don’t necessarily need a defenseman with their prospect pipeline. Still, Jack Johnson is not expected to stay after this season, and with McCabe and Connor Murphy’s questionable futures, he can slot in until his contract runs out after next season. Assets are a crucial part of the trade, not specifically the player. If he ends up doing well, that’s a bonus.
3. Tyler Boucher
If the Senators are looking at a defenseman like Murphy or a depth forward like Domi, the Blackhawks will ask for quite a bit in return, as they have been more than valuable to the team. In that sense, the Hawks may look at forward prospect Tyler Boucher. He was the 10th overall pick by the Senators in 2021 and was listed as someone the team could move on from this season. After he got drafted, he struggled with multiple bouts of COVID-19. He had knee and shoulder injuries on top of it, which had him forgo his Boston University scholarship and limited him to 41 total games between Boston University and the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL last season with 17 points. (from ‘Senators prospect Tyer Boucher adjusts mindset after injuries, illness: ‘Now I start out the day positive,’ The AthleticNHL, 03/04/2022).
The issue with Boucher is his health. He has dealt with injuries again this season, but his production has improved. He has 15 points in 17 games with the 67’s and four points in six games for Team USA at the World Juniors this past month. He sustained an upper-body injury at the World Juniors and is listed as week-to-week, but 67’s head coach Dave Cameron said it’s not as bad as initially thought.
Boucher’s injuries might make Blackhawks’ management pause, but the upside might win out. Corey Pronman of The Athletic gave an update on his play on Jan. 19, stating, “after how tough Boucher’s 2021-22 season went, it wasn’t clear that was going to be his projection. He looks a lot better between his play in the OHL and World Juniors this season. The most important thing I’ve seen on top of some more offensive touch is that his game has more pace to it to go with his usual physicality. That combination of traits should translate into a good pro, presuming he can stay healthy.”
Boucher is only 20 years old and could use a fresh start. Chicago’s forward pipeline could be better, so adding a first-round talent alongside other prospects like Lukas Reichel, Colton Dach, Frank Nazar, and Cole Guttman wouldn’t hurt. He is listed as a “middle-six forward” who plays right wing and left wing, and he is currently on a three-year, entry-level deal with the Senators.
NHL general managers are creatures of habit and usually tend to trade with specific teams they have a history with. Davidson and Dorion already partnered up last summer with the blockbuster Alex DeBrincat trade, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them become trade partners again. Both teams can equally benefit from each other as Ottawa wants NHL-ready players, and the Blackhawks want draft capital and assets. Keep an eye on these two teams at the trade deadline.