It is well stated that the Ottawa Senators have one of the deepest prospect systems in the NHL, and it will become even deeper after the 2020 NHL Draft. With the Senators picking third and fifth overall this year, the expectation is that at least one of those prospects will make the team in the 2020-21 season. Opening up a spot means getting rid of a current roster player, and one of the candidates to be moved is center Artem Anisimov.
In his first season in the nation’s capital, the Russian was more impressive than predicted, scoring 15 goals in 49 games while providing a stabilizing presence for a constantly changing roster. He played well with the younger players, especially Colin White, and proved that he still has a place in the NHL. What is up for debate is how much longer the Sens should keep him on the team.
He is very talented, and that is why he should be a trade priority. When Anisimov was acquired, the Sens had very little center depth at the NHL level. The depth isn’t at the level the Senators want it to be, but with the younger prospects about to make the jump to the next level, space needs to be made. Since Anisimov is so talented, teams who are in contention would be willing to pay more for him, and the Sens would be able to acquire more assets for him than if they traded a depth player.
Buy Low, Sell High
The 31-year-old is coming up on the last year of his contract in 2020-21, and, while the Senators could wait until his deal expires and allow him to leave, they need to trade him. What the Sens should do is keep him on the roster until they receive a great offer, or until the trade deadline. With the salary cap for 2020-21 currently unknown, many teams will be in a crunch to retain players, so Anisimov’s value is not currently at its highest. The Sens will have players who can do what he currently does, so they can afford to be patient with him.
When the Senators traded Zach Smith to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 16, 2019, they maximized his value. Smith played a specific role in Ottawa and became a fan favorite, but ultimately was replaceable. Aside from his career year in 2015-16, he had little to no offensive ability. Getting Anisimov for Smith was an upgrade, and the Senators dealt from a position of strength, which is what they need to do in this situation.
Waiting until the right moment will maximize Anisimov’s value, and making the right deal could get Ottawa another draft pick or younger player. More importantly, it will open up his roster position for Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, or if they are lucky, Tim Stützle or Quinton Byfield.
Competition Breeds Excellence
Keeping Anisimov in the fold also allows competition at the Senators next training camp, whenever that may unfold. Having veterans like him present and battling will bring out the best in the younger players. Much like competition in business breeds excellence, competition in camp breeds the same.
When the prospects come into the camp, they will need to prove themselves. Anisimov is fully capable of grabbing the third-line center position in 2020-21, but it isn’t ideal. If the team is able to draft a player like Byfield, Stützle, or Cole Perfetti, there will be no need to rush them to the NHL.
The Senators’ plan should be to have one of their several younger centers or draftees break out into the NHL, but having Anisimov as a backup plan is not the worst thing in the world. He is a four-time 20-goal scorer and was on pace to break his career-high this season if not for his injury and the COVID-19 related pause.
Possible Scenarios For Anisimov
In the best-case scenario, one of the prospects wins a spot on the roster out of camp/after preseason, and you can find a good trade for Anisimov. In the circumstance that the younger guys aren’t ready yet, he can fill the role for the remainder of the season, or until the team feels the kids are ready. Once he has been effectively replaced, then you seek out a trade. On the off-chance that the Senators are competing for the Cup in 2021, you can keep Anisimov if he is producing, or ship him off to address a different need.
By addressing their concerns with the roster before dealing with Anisimov, the Senators will be able to trade from a position of strength, rather than trading him for the sake of just opening a spot. Sooner or later, the team will have to move on, and they have an opportunity to get assets for him, rather than let him leave. For now, he fits the role that the Senators have given him, but when the time comes, trading him will fetch some decent value.
Patience Is a Virtue
The Senators are not a team that dabbles in free agency very often, so when they have a valuable asset, they need to use it wisely. While the team should trade Anisimov, they don’t need to do so now. They can afford to wait until an offer comes to them, or take their time to find a deal.