The era of Logan Brown has ended.
On Saturday, Sept 25, the Ottawa Senators announced that they had traded Brown to the St. Louis Blues along with a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 in exchange for winger Zach Sanford. A former first-round selection in 2016, Brown struggled with injuries and inconsistency for most of his career, but many in the organization still praised his potential. He signed a one-year, two-way extension a few weeks ago, but even then, it was always assumed his days were numbered in Ottawa unless he took a big step forward in his development. Rumours have circulated for over a year regarding a potential move, including a report he wouldn’t play in Ottawa this season, and for many, it’s a relief to finally be rid of that situation.
In return, they acquired Sanford, a 26-year-old who was a valuable depth player for the Blues when they won the Stanley Cup in 2019 and followed it up with a career-high in goals and points. But in 2020-21, he looked like a different player, frequently creating bad turnovers and looking overwhelmed in a bigger role, which cost his team crucial games on several occasions. Add the fact that he has had a history of ups and downs with the team, including fighting his teammate during practice, and fans felt he’d be better off somewhere else.
This seems like a pretty straightforward hockey deal. Two teams had problems they needed to address, and they did so, giving each player a change of scenery that should benefit them nicely. Brown played his junior hockey in St. Louis, while Sanford was teammates with Colin White at Boston College. Yet this deal ends up complicating things more than necessary for both franchises, specifically with young players hoping to break into the lineup. While there is the potential for things to work out, this trade has all the makings of a wash for everyone involved.
Brown Has Little Chance to Stick with the Blues
Brown has had a tough time with the Senators. He joined the American Hockey League’s Belleville Senators (AHL) in 2018-19 after making his NHL debut the season before and it couldn’t have gone better. In 56 games, the big centreman put up 14 goals and 42 points, placing him comfortably in third place in team scoring. Many pegged him as a top-six forward and the team’s future number two center. He continued to show promise with a hot start to the 2019-20 season, including an early NHL call-up, but then he slowed down, scoring just a goal and eight points in 23 NHL games. He clearly wasn’t ready for the big leagues quite yet, and after getting demoted, he suffered an injury that kept him off the ice for nearly two months.
Since then, it was almost as though his confidence was shot. In the AHL, he continued to look competent, even dominant at times, which made many fans hesitant to trade Brown. In 23 games in Belleville in 2019-20, he had 28 points, and last season, he had another nine points in 13 games. Despite his minor league success, the Senators rarely called him up, and when they did, it would be barely for a cup of coffee. For fans who still saw his potential, they were confused when he wasn’t played, with the Senators instead turning to Clark Bishop, Parker Kelly, or Matthew Peca to fill injuries or scratches. Brown has lost the trust of the franchise, and with Shane Pinto ready to challenge for a spot, a change of scenery was necessary for him to continue his NHL career.
Yet St. Louis doesn’t seem to be an ideal fit for him, despite his local connections. According to Daily Faceoff, Brown slots into the fourth-line left wing, which is not a position he has played much of since turning pro. That’s because the Blues are stacked at center, with Ryan O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, Brayden Schenn, and Tyler Bozak already locked into their spots. Thomas does have the ability to switch to the right side, but he so far has found chemistry with winger Brandon Saad, which is something the team likely wants to keep together for the start of the season.
The other option for Brown is to return to the minors, as he is on a two-way contract. However, he is no longer waivers exempt, and while the Senators struggled to find a trade partner, any team would take a chance on him for free. The Arizona Coyotes could allegedly be one of those suitors, according to Shawn Simpson of TSN1200, as he’s been training with Jacob Chychrun and Clayton Keller this offseason. The move was clearly a cap dump for the Blues, and they clearly don’t have high hopes for Brown, especially after also acquiring a conditional fourth-round pick which only comes into effect if he plays 30 games or less this season. He’s also cheaper than fellow prospect Klim Kostin, which helps them become more salary cap compliant, although they aren’t quite there yet.
Granted, there is a chance Brown could fit in well to coach Craig Berube’s grinding system, and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to gain more ice time. Yet that was also true of the Senators over the past four seasons and he still was not given the chance, despite high praise from both coaches and their general manager. It’s almost impossible to know what kept them from playing a prospect they saw as one of the best in their organization, but in the end, he just wasn’t able to perform consistently enough to earn a coveted roster spot. And in St. Louis, it doesn’t seem like that will change.
Sanford is Another Unnecessary Veteran for the Senators
Sanford was a second-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 2013 and played 26 games with the team before he was traded to the Blues in 2016-17 in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal. After 13 games, during which he scored two goals and five points, he was sent down to the minors and didn’t return to the NHL until 2018-19. During that season, he recorded an impressive eight goals and 20 points in 60 games, plus four points in eight playoff games as the Blues claimed their first Cup in franchise history. He was even better the following season, scoring 16 goals and 30 points while playing in two fewer games. At 25 years old, it seemed St. Louis had a hidden gem on their hands.
Then came 2020-21. Sanford dropped to just 16 points in 52 games, and although he still scored 10 goals, he recorded a team-low minus-13. It was his worst professional season in his career, which was impressive considering he spent much of the season on the top line with O’Reilly and David Perron, who led the team in scoring with 54 and 58 points, respectively. With the Blues looking to cut salary to get salary cap compliant, Sanford’s performance likely sealed his fate despite his success in previous seasons.
The Senators are no strangers to taking on reclamation projects – just look at how Anthony Duclair fared after he was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mike Reilly after he was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, or when they signed Tyler Ennis, who went on to put up some of the best numbers of his career. But they’ve also seen their fair share of failure, especially last season with the likes of Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Gudbranson, Brayden Coburn, Derek Stepan, Cedric Paquette, and even Matt Murray, although the latter has the potential to turn it around this season.
There is a common thread that connects those that found success and those that didn’t, and it goes back to the teams that they were joining. The Senators in 2018 and 2019 had little to lose, so anyone who proved they were able to handle top minutes was given the opportunity. In 2020, however, the Senators were a bit more focused on turning their rebuild into something competitive, so they brought in a bunch of veterans who were supposed to add leadership and grit. Those additions inevitably stole places from players who were more deserving of them in the first place, and when they started to struggle, they couldn’t get rid of them because of their contracts.
Which group will Sanford fit in? He’s by no means a bad player; when deployed in a defensive role, he’s done quite well for himself. He also has the size that the Senators love at 6-foot-4 and can play either center or right-wing. But the Senators don’t need another winger or center with a one-way deal, especially in the bottom-six. Sanford’s arrival means that Ottawa will be forced to send someone down to the AHL, no matter how well they perform at camp. The only relief is that fans have been told it won’t be Alex Formenton, who Bruce Garrioch reported, “…is an NHL player and won’t be sent back to the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville” (from ‘Ottawa Senators have traded forward Logan Brown to the St. Louis Blues for forward Zach Sanford’, Ottawa Sun – 25/09/21).
So who will get the short straw this season? Sanford is unlikely to displace Austin Watson, who was great when he was healthy for the Senators, nor will he push out Shane Pinto, who’s proven to be the team’s most NHL-ready prospect. But it may have sealed Ennis’ fate, who joined the team on a professional tryout and is still looking for an NHL contract. There’s also 2020 first-round pick Ridly Greig, who some saw as a darkhorse to make the team this year but will now almost certainly have to settle for going back to the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
For the Senators, this may simply be a temporary fix while they try to get Brady Tkachuk under contract, as Sanford has experience on the top line. But that also isn’t a good option for Ottawa, as TSN1200’s Simpson described him as, “[g]reat skills, great size, no grit, prone to turnovers, the highs are high with this guy and the lows are low.” While he may be a good skater, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where he can repeat his 2019-20 numbers on his new team, and his presence will force more talented prospects, like Parker Kelly, Egor Sokolov, or Angus Crookshank to wait in the minors for another season, no matter how good they are.
An Exchange of Issues
It’s hard to see this deal as anything more than a flip of problems. For the Blues, they had a $2 million player who was on an expiring deal, had a very disappointing season, and needed to get under the salary cap. The Senators had a once highly-touted prospect who had failed repeatedly to make the team, was given a one-year ‘show me’ deal, but decided that he wasn’t ever going to fit in with their team.
But the trade just creates new problems for everyone involved. Sanford can provide good depth scoring and defensive presence, but it will come at the cost of another player who has higher potential and fits in better with the Senators’ long-term plans. His arrival also forces the team to juggle the lines to fit him in, which could create bigger chemistry problems in the near future. And what about when Tkachuk returns? It may turn out that this was all for naught as they’ll have no place for him and have to risk sending him through waivers.
Brown at least has a higher upside, but at 23 years old, he doesn’t have much time to show the Blues what he can do. They at least can say that if they have to demote him to the minors and risk losing him via waivers, they will get a fourth-round pick from Ottawa if he’s played under 30 games. Yet that makes it worse for Ottawa, who could end up with less than nothing from one of their highest picks in recent years. While this trade could end up being just what each player needs to restart their careers, it seems more likely that this ends up being far more trouble than it’s worth.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.