Canucks Path to Trading for Senators’ Alex DeBrincat

On June 5, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Ottawa Senators are gauging interest, in the event of a trade, for forward Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat, 25, is a restricted free agent (RFA) this offseason and is a year removed from being eligible to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA). The Vancouver Canucks, who need to bolster every part of their roster, could attempt to trade for him, bolstering their top-six.

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The Canucks may not need a lacklustre defensive winger. However, DeBrincat is a star in the NHL, and putting together how the Canucks could acquire him is an excellent thought exercise for players of similar value going forward. The cost to qualify him this summer is $9 million. If the Canucks were to acquire him, an extension would likely be in place. Conceptualizing a fair deal for both sides, given the salary cap struggles and lack of premium assets facing the Canucks is a challenge, but examining his low value makes it more tangible.

DeBrincat’s Season With the Senators

The Senators acquired DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft for picks seven (Kevin Korchinksi), 39 (Paul Ludwinski), and a 2024 second-round pick. At the time, the high cost was deemed fair. Fast-forward a year, and the Senators would be lucky to get a similar haul for their star forward. During the 2021-22 season with the Blackhawks, Debrincat scored 41 goals and 37 assists for 78 points while accumulating 19 penalty minutes in the 82-game season. This season with the Senators, his totals dropped drastically.

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 82 games, DeBrincat only scored 27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points while racking up an uncharacteristic 45 penalty minutes. His value is low. His poor season, contractual status, and rumors of him not wanting to sign a long-term deal with the Sens create a world where his talents may be available to teams without all the premier assets typically required to acquire a skilled player like him. With the Senators exploring options mixed with his down year, now would be the time for the Canucks to strike, getting a bonafide top-line forward while the acquisition cost is relatively low. 

How Canucks Could Make DeBrincat Work

DeBrincat does not fill a position of need for the Canucks. He does not slot in at either defense or center, so why do this trade? He’s arguably the best player on the trade market entering the offseason, and despite having a good winger-core, upgrading from Brock Boeser or Conor Garland to DeBrincat would vastly improve the team.

For an ownership group eyeing the 2024 NHL Playoffs, improvement is necessary. The acquisition cost will be much lower than what the Senators gave up last season, but there is one major hurdle — DeBrincat’s $9 million price tag to qualify him once he is an RFA. A DeBrincat trade would certainly include a sign-and-trade aspect, where an extension would be in place. For argument’s sake, let’s assume he signs an extension for his qualifying number, $9 million. The Canucks do not have much cap space and are nowhere near close to it.

Related: Senators: 3 Teams That Should Consider an Alex DeBrincat Trade

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The Canucks are already allegedly looking to move contracts to create cap space, such as Tyler Myers, Garland, Boeser, and others. The Senators would not be looking to take salary back unless they are quality NHL players, so a third party is needed. The Blackhawks are a team that needs to reach the cap floor this summer, making them a perfect salary broker to make this trade work. The Canucks ship off a bad contract — in the mock trade, we are using Myers — while also gaining an All-Star-level player. The Blackhawks will get draft picks, while the Senators will recoup as much value as possible to keep or flip to continue building their roster. Before putting this trade together, I consulted with writers who cover the Senators at The Hockey Writers to add various perspectives.

The Three-Team DeBrincat Mock Trade

  • Vancouver Canucks Receive:
    • (F) Alex DeBrincat
    • (F) Julien Gauthier (RFA Rights)
    • (F) Boris Katchouk
  • Ottawa Senators Receive:
    • 2023 11th-Overall Pick (VAN)
    • (F) Anthony Beauvillier
    • 2023 Third-Round Pick (TOR)
  • Chicago Blackhawks Receive
    • (D) Tyler Myers
    • 2024 Second-Round Pick (OTT)
    • 2024 Fourth-Round Pick (VAN)

The Trade From the Blackhawks’ Perspective

There are three angles from which to look at this trade. We will begin with the easiest of the three, the Blackhawks. They need to acquire money to reach the cap floor this off-season. Their recent re-signing of Andreas Athanasiou helps, but bringing in a loaded $6 million contract in Myers while acquiring two good picks is a no-brainer. Whether the cost of offloading a contract of Myers’s size should be higher is potentially the only gripe with the trade; however, a second and fourth-round pick in the 2024 draft should be tantalizing enough for the Blackhawks to pull the trigger, give or take the round of each selection. Katchouk is an expendable roster filler that will serve as a cheap depth option for the Canucks.

Tyler Myers Vancouver Canucks
Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Three-team trades are becoming more apparent in the NHL. In recent weeks, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings, and Philadelphia Flyers all partook in a trade where, most notably, the Kings used it as an opportunity to dump cap space. The Blackhawks are facilitators and nothing more. Unconfirmed rumors are linking the Blackhawks and Canucks, involving a deal where a swap of first-round picks and the Hawks taking on salary occurs. The two teams will likely convene on a salary dump-style trade, making the Blackhawks the perfect suitor to include as the third-man-in with the Canucks.

The Trade From the Senators’ Perspective

On initial viewing, this trade may not make much sense for the Senators. They would want win-now pieces for DeBrincat. Most teams interested would not necessarily be willing to part with win-now pieces for him. The assets received for DeBrincat — the 11th-overall pick, a third-round pick, and Beauvillier, a middle-six winger with top-six upside — would likely be the best possible value they could get. The Senators do not pick until the fourth round of the 2023 NHL Draft. Getting two quality picks gives them choices on draft day, something they did not have. They could either pick at 11 or trade it to a rebuilding team willing to give up win-now pieces for futures, something not possible with DeBrincat.  

Julien Gauthier Ottawa Senators
Julien Gauthier, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Senators giving up Julien Gauthier is harmless. The 2024 second-round pick was added as colleagues and Senators writers at The Hockey Writers felt the value would be tilted too heavily in the Sens’ direction, so rather than the Canucks giving up their assets to the Blackhawks, the Senators do their dirty work. The DeBrincat trade will likely end with a disappointing return for the Sens. At least with this mock trade, the Senators gain a great draft pick, a good roster player, and additional pieces.

The Trade From the Canucks’ Perspective

Tackling the trade from the ground up is the best route with the Canucks. The rights to Gauthier, who should sign for close to the league minimum, will be a cheap bottom-six energy forward, helping offset the salary of DeBrincat. Katchouk, from the Blackhawks, is from the city of Vancouver. Acquiring another cheap bottom-six forward, this time bringing him home, is a good hockey move but also an intelligent PR move for the organization. The 2024 fourth-round pick going to the Blackhawks is necessary to add more value to take on the Myers contract, while the 2023 third-round selection, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Luke Schenn trade, helps offset the Senators giving up their 2024 second-round pick.

Anthony Beauvillier Vancouver Canucks
Anthony Beauvillier, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The bulk of the deal involves the Canucks sending Beauvillier, acquired in the Bo Borvat trade, and the 11th overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft. Beauvillier is a good top-six winger for the Canucks, but the upgrade to DeBrincat is more than worth it. Shipping off Beauvillier and Myers frees up $10,150,000 in cap space. While DeBrincat eats up most of the space, allocating the money toward an All-Star is better than a middle-six forward and borderline unplayable defenseman. The top-11 pick is the challenging part to send off. As mentioned, the Senators can keep or flip the pick for more pieces. For the Canucks, from ownership down, a rebuild is not on the horizon for the team; instead, a swift and harmless retool. Ownership and management want to return to the playoffs as early as next season.

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The Canucks’ recent draft history shows a willingness to part with first-round picks, such as 2019 in the Miller trade and 2021 in the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade or at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline for Filip Hronek. While from a fan’s perspective, the eleventh overall pick may be a slight overpay due to DeBrincat’s down year and them not necessarily needing another top-six forward, a can’t-miss talent is an easy sell to ownership with a team vying to be a contender. The Canucks can absolutely trade for DeBrincat; while Vancouver may not be at the top of his list, with management looking for young players and willing to move their pick, the potential is there. However, the question of whether it is the smart thing to do is an entirely different conversation.

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canucks are likely not the home of DeBrincat this off-season. Multiple suitors will be lining up for the Senators, offering packages comparable to the one just compiled. The salary cap struggles plaguing the team, mixed with the assets, despite lower than usual, needed to acquire an offensive threat like DeBrincat is proving too expensive this year.

Additionally, the Canucks do not need a winger who plays on the perimeter rather than getting into the dirty areas. He would improve the top six and become a fantastic wingman for Miller or Pettersson, but the cost and fit are not one-hundred percent workable. Crazier events have happened in the NHL, but while this thought exercise proved the Canucks could make a blockbuster trade work, it is probably in their best interest to avoid such conversations until the future.

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