Earlier this week, Eliotte Friedman reported that the Ottawa Senators had nearly traded Nikita Zaitsev to the Vancouver Canucks for Tyler Myers. While he claimed that “…It would give Vancouver a bit of cap relief, [and give] Ottawa help on defence,” fans were quick to point out it was simply a trade of problem defenders. In some areas, Zaitsev has been more effective than Myers, which is saying something about the Senators’ worst defenceman this season.
So, why did the Senators try to acquire another problematic defender?
It’s no secret that the Senators are desperate for a defenceman, and Pierre Dorion has been very active in the trade market. However, since everyone knows that the Senators are looking, no one wants to help them out. The Arizona Coyotes reportedly are still looking for two first-round picks and a top prospect for Jakob Chychrun, despite their place near the bottom of the standings. If the Senators want to add Zaitsev to the deal, the price would go up even further, meaning that Ottawa will have to get creative if they want to acquire a defenceman shortly. Thankfully, there are options out there. Here are three names that the Senators could target to improve their blue line.
Luke Schenn, Vancouver Canucks
Sticking with the Canucks, the Senators could look to veteran Luke Schenn, who is putting together a decent 2022-23. In 20 games, the 33-year-old defenceman has two goals and eight points all while logging an average of over 17 minutes a night. Additionally, he currently sits at 86 hits, 28 blocks, and to top it all off, is a right-shot defenceman that makes less than $1,000,000 on a deal that expires at the end of the season.
Despite playing on a struggling Canucks team, his advanced stats have been solid. His on-ice save percentage (oiSV%) sits at 92.4 percent, which puts him ahead of all but two Senators defencemen, neither of whom has played more than six games. He also has a 1.0 defensive point share (DPS) score, tying him for first in Ottawa with rookie sensation Jake Sanderson. The only drawback is his possession metrics, which sit below 50 percent, but with the Senators already possessing some strong puck movers, that’s not a big issue.
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Acquiring Schenn is an incredibly low-risk deal that would come at a very affordable cost. The Canucks are struggling this season and have already popped up in the rumour mill. Bo Horvat has been linked to the Columbus Blue Jackets, while J.T. Miller could be sent to anyone that could afford his contract. It may be the best chance the Senators have at acquiring a defender that can help decrease some of Thomas Chabot’s heavy workload while also providing some veteran leadership on a young team.
Niko Mikkola, St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues haven’t had the season they hoped for. From Oct. 24 to Nov. 8, they rang up eight straight losses while scoring more than two goals in a single game once. Since then, the team’s been on a bit of a heater, posting seven wins in their last eight games, but tensions are rising. There’s some speculation that upcoming free agents Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko could be moved before the trade deadline, which would likely trigger a fire sale of all their other valuable assets. If that’s the case, then the Senators need to get in on the action and target defender Niko Mikkola, whose $1.9 million deal expires in June.
Mikkola checks off several important boxes for the Senators. He’s a big, physical, defensive defenceman who averages around 17 minutes per game, and leads the Blues with 38 blocks and a team high of plus-8. He’s not the most offensively gifted — he has just one point in 18 games this season and has one of the lowest possession scores on anyone in St. Louis — but he excels in play away from the puck. His oiSV%, which sits at a whopping 95.5 percent, is one of the 10 best in the NHL among defencemen who have appeared in at least 10 games, and his DPS is at 1.2, which is comparable to some of the best shutdown defenders in the league.
However, all of that comes at a cost, and Mikkola will be more expensive to acquire than Schenn, especially if the Senators still want to dump Zaitsev. There is some history between the franchises, as the two swapped Zach Sanford and Logan Brown at the beginning of last season. But the Blues currently have two defenders out with significant injuries, meaning they may not be able to part with a third-pairing defender. Still, it’s an avenue that the Senators should check out, especially if the Blues decide to transition into a rebuild.
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been curiously average this season. In 21 games, the team has 11 wins, which is tied for sixth in the NHL with six other teams; a strong pace, but not dominant, which is what was expected from Auston Matthews and company. Maybe most curious is former first-round selection Rasmus Sandin’s loss of favour among fans who feel he is not living up to his potential. A lengthy and pointless standoff didn’t help matters, either, which may mean that he could find himself on the way out, especially if the Maple Leafs begin looking for some help in other areas.
Sandin’s six points this season, all assists, are far less than one would expect from a potential top-four defenceman, but he’s been for the Maple Leafs in plenty of other areas. He leads the team with 50 hits, has a 0.9 DPS, and has a 94.3 percent oiSV%, all of which are comparable to Mikkola and Schenn, but he also has decent possession metrics. Both his Corsi For% and his Fenwick For% are above 50 percent, meaning he’s helping both prevent goals and generate offence. Add in the fact that he’s just 21 years old, and he’s a perfect candidate for the Senators to pluck from the frustrated Leafs.
However, Sandin will also be the most expensive of the three players mentioned here, and with all the injuries they currently have on the blue line, the Maple Leafs are unlikely to part with him at this time. But the pressure is rising exponentially to be a competitive playoff team, so some of the team’s young players may become expendable in favour of proven veterans, cap space, or contract space. The Senators can certainly offer the latter two, which could result in a deal that benefits both franchises.
The Senators Need to Change Something
Although these three defenders fit the Senators well, there are plenty of other options out there. Cal Foote, Pierre-Oliver Joseph, Calle Rosen, Jacob McDonald, or Kevin Bahl all could improve the team’s defence in one way or another. However, the one thing Ottawa can’t do is nothing. Yes, injuries to Artem Zub, Thomas Chabot, and Josh Norris haven’t helped, but the team has needed a defenceman for years now and they still don’t have one. While Jakob Chychrun may still be a Senator yet, the team needs to make a change sooner rather than later or risk losing the whole season.
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.