Two teams heading in opposite directions, the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators have the pieces to pull off a pretty big deal ahead of this season’s NHL Trade Deadline. This is not to say that the two teams are talking or that any kind of trade is imminent. This is more to suggest that if the Oilers wanted to get creative, the Senators might be an interesting target.
Here’s the crux of where I’m going with this. First, the Senators look like they’re going to be sellers. A team that spent a lot of money and took a big swing in the offseason to be competitive has been anything but. They now sit 24th in the NHL standings, have major injuries that have affected their win/loss record, and insiders are starting to talk about the pieces they’d consider moving before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3. Winners of three in a row, they might not be writing off the season just yet, but a few more losses and that this season will be considered a failed experiment with some difficult decisions ahead.
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Meanwhile, the Oilers are trending in the right direction. They are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, are relatively healthy, and have depth with a couple of holes to fill. The team isn’t entirely sure what their priority will be heading into the deadline, but most insiders believe they’ll look at a left-shot defenseman, possibly picking up a depth center and/or physical winger. Their cap space situation will limit what they can do, so they need a team willing to retain salary, offer useful pieces and be open to taking contracts back.
Could these two teams work together?
The Positives and Negatives
The players the Oilers might key in on here are Alex DeBrincat and Nick Holden. DeBrincat certainly doesn’t answer the depth center or physical winger question, but what he does do is allow the Oilers to run Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle, negating the need to add another pivot. DeBrincat slots in the top-six as a winger, potentially reuniting with McDavid (from their days with the Erie Otters) and the Oilers run with the top-three centers in the NHL for the playoffs.
With Holden, Edmonton gets a left-shot defenseman who plays an average of 16:24 a night, he can kill penalties, and offers 55 games worth of playoff experience, having gone to the Stanely Cup Final with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019-20. He’s certainly not a top-four fix, but he’s got the ability to be a reliable option and a suitable back-up if a player like Philip Broberg falters a bit down the stretch. His addition allows the Oilers to keep their current blue line, but adds depth in the event of an injury or experience if the team wants to run 11-7.
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The physical winger thing might have been taken care of with the way some new additions (Klim Kostin, Vincent Desharnais…) stepped forward this season.
Why Would Ottawa Trade These Players?
DeBrincat is an interesting option and his name has just recently popped up in trade rumors as the Senators struggles continue. He’s a pending RFA that Ottawa hoped would sign an extension, but there’s been no indication he’s open to doing so. Talk among insiders is that the Senators might look to flip him in an attempt to get a top-four defenseman (not something that needs to be done in-season). He’s proven he can score without a megastar on his line, but when he’s got one, he’s dangerously good. DeBrincat’s contract comes in at $6.4 million this season before he gets really expensive.
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Holden is a pending UFA making $1.3 million this season. He’s unlikely to return and could be moved at a relatively low price compared to some of the asks around the NHL for defensemen this season. He’s playing alongside Thomas Chabot right now which means he’s got the ability to play up in the lineup. Ken Warren of the Ottawa Sun writes, “If playoff-bound NHL teams are looking for a 35-year-old insurance policy for depth reasons, Holden might get a chance to chase a Stanley Cup.”
Why Would the Oilers Be Interested?
This is an out-of-the-box type trade for the Oilers because they don’t necessarily need a big-time winger. At the same time, adding a player who can score, contribute in the top six and has some contract control isn’t the worst move in the world. DeBrincat’s $9 million qualifying offer is not something the Oilers will probably be considering if he’s acquired, nor will they potentially look at signing him long-term. But, after a quick conversation about what DeBrincat wants, they could flip the player in the offseason and ahead of the NHL Entry Draft, thus recouping some of the cost associated to trading for him. In other words, DeBrincat becomes a rental with a high ROI.
If the Oilers go after a player like Bo Horvat or Patrick Kane, the likelihood either stays following this season’s playoff run is minimal. And, the Oilers get nothing when their push for a Stanley Cup in Edmonton is over. GM Ken Holland will have given up major assets to acquire these players, only to see them walk. With DeBrincat, Holland has a major trade chip heading into the draft, potentially opening up the idea he can get a better first-round pick than the Oilers currently have. Moreover, if DeBrincat goes on a tear down the stretch and scores a ton in the postseason, Edmonton could sell at a profit.
What Might a Trade Look Like?
Edmonton will certainly have to give up their first-round pick this season, a top prospect and a couple of players to make this work. Ottawa might be open to it because they are clearly not a team that wants to rebuild. Might a deal like Edmonton’s first and a later pick this season, plus Markus Niemelainen, Jesse Puljujarvi, Warren Foegele and Xavier Borgeault get things started? It takes care of the salary situation if Ottawa agrees to retain 30% of DeBrincat’s deal and it gives the Senators useful assets, prospects, and the pieces to potentially go out and acquire the defenseman they’ll be looking for.
Fans in Edmonton might say that’s a huge haul to give up, but remember, the Oilers will flip DeBrincat in the summer, getting a high draft pick back and likely a prospect or two in return around the draft (a very deep one according to most draft experts).