The Ottawa Senators are in a position to take another step forward in 2021-22. After finishing 10-3-1 down the stretch last season, the Sens were a team that showed adversity and had a style of play that was gritty, relentless, and always full of energy. They’re still a ways away from being competitive again, but everything is trending in the right direction.
The organization has hit at the NHL Entry Draft over the years with the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Tim Stützle and Josh Norris, but now it’s time to build around them. There are other great pieces in the pipeline like Shane Pinto, Egor Sokolov and Ridly Greig who turned heads at training camp, but there are only so many spots available on an NHL roster, and they have to be ready to play at the highest level.
During the offseason, general manager Pierre Dorion had said they were looking to acquire a top-six forward. The thought process was that if some of the younger aforementioned players weren’t ready to make the leap to the NHL full-time, then at least they would be able to push them down the lineup for protection. So far, Dorion has traded Logan Brown for Zach Sanford, and Evgenii Dadonov for defenceman Nick Holden. The total opposites of a top-six player.
Dadonov was the subject of a cap dump, however, he still had upside with two more years left on his deal. They also let Ryan Dzingel walk to free agency which doesn’t hurt them but he did provide some goals. The Sens are hoping that someone will emerge from training camp to fill that void so they can put their acquisition of a top-six forward in limbo. However, if Ottawa is going to make a move of any sort, here are three players of value that could be going the other way.
Erik Brännström might be the only player on this list that most fans don’t want to see traded, or even mentioned in the same sentence together. Whether you love him for his offensive flair, or you’re just frustrated with his lack of defensive capabilities, he will grab your attention.
The 22-year-old Swedish defenceman has been with the Senators since February 2019, when he was traded by the Vegas Golden Knights for Mark Stone. The situation that led to Stone being dealt by the Senators was bittersweet. Brännström coming the other way took away some of that sting, because another top-end prospect (15th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft) was something to look forward to. They had drafted Tkachuk the year before, and players like Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton and Jacob Bernard-Docker were in the system as well. There was a lot to be optimistic about.
Fast forward to today and the prospect pool continues to grow. Many players have made the leap to the NHL on a consistent basis, or are really close, but Brännström keeps getting pushed to the side. To this day, he has played just 63 games for the Senators. Not terrible, but most would like to have him pencilled in the lineup regularly by now. Part of the problem is that his offensive game doesn’t outweigh the lack of defence in the eyes of head coach D.J. Smith.
With Michael Del Zotto and Holden coming into the picture, as well as Artem Zub’s emergence last season, the blue line is getting crowded. He was the main piece in trade discussions during the summer, and it seems like the Sens are just trying to move on at this point. This season could be the make or break in terms of the organization finally making a decision on what to do with him, although it still seems crazy to think that when he’s just 22 years old.
Smith prefers a more rugged, battle-tested defenceman, i.e. Del Zotto and Holden. Someone who can lay the body and has a defensive mindset before anything else. Brännström is not close to that and may never be. Other teams may cling on to the potential Brännström still has and attempt to make a move for him if they see the situation in Ottawa doesn’t change.
Chris Tierney has been a Senator since the 2018-19 season. He will forever be linked to the San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson blockbuster deal that saw him, the 2020 conditional first-round pick (Stützle), Norris, Dylan DeMelo and recently signed rookie forward Zach Ostapchuk, come to Ottawa. The 27-year-old centreman arrived with four seasons under his belt playing with the Sharks.
After a solid playoff performance in 2015-16, where he recorded nine points in 24 games on the Sharks’ eventual run to the Stanley Cup Final, Tierney had shown the makings of being a capable top nine, maybe even top-six, centreman. However, it never really panned out that way. He’s been good for Ottawa, but not great. He’s more of a two-way centreman who at times, is more defensive than offensive, and it’s put him at the front of trade speculation.
After reaching a career-high in points with 48 during 2018-19, it feels like his game has started trending downwards. Last season, Tierney signed a two-year, $7 million contract as a restricted free agent (RFA), but was only able to record six goals. He was on the verge of being traded at the deadline last year because of it and his lack of offensive plays which are attributed to poor decision-making is a big conversation topic amongst fans.
Maybe he’s not in the best position to succeed on this team but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be of help somewhere else. For starters, his minutes were cut down after the emergence of Norris and Pinto and after the first few exhibition games this season, it doesn’t look like he will be the No. 2 centre anymore. As it’s currently situated, Tierney would be the Sens’ No. 4 centre. With younger players at that spot in the system, it’s best to try and move him out now and get something of substance in return, rather than nothing.
Colin White has been on a bumpy road since joining the Senators. After they took him with the 21st overall pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the expectations were set that he would turn into the teams’ No. 1 centre of the future. Although White was given his fair share of opportunities in that spot, it hadn’t worked out as planned but the Sens weren’t ready to give up on him just yet. They signed White to a six-year, $28.5 million contract back in August of 2019 but unfortunately, they haven’t gotten much return on their investment.
At the start of last season, White was made a healthy scratch. It came as a shock seeing as he had been putting in minutes with the top line at training camp. However, as the season moved along, his time spent on the bottom line was more. When White was in the lineup, he didn’t provide a whole ton. He finished the season strong but as a whole, it was very inconsistent and underwhelming considering his contract. It’s something that will follow him until the deal is played out, but I don’t believe the Senators can afford to hold onto it much longer.
As it currently stands, the Sens have another four seasons committed to White at a price of $4.75 million per. Not great, considering he takes up 5.8% of the cap without Tkachuk’s new deal (at the moment), and not much offensive upside. Stützle, Norris and Pinto are still on entry-level deals so they do have a bit of time to shuffle the deck around, but the time to trade White is running out. It will hurt to trade him knowing how much faith and effort was put into getting his career going, but the team is moving on and he might be best suited for a different situation where he can have a second chance.
A trade involving one of these players would have to be followed up with other players and/or several draft picks. Other than Brännström, Tierney and White wouldn’t bring back as much of a return unless the deal is sweetened further. This isn’t to say that the Senators are definitely shopping these players but they have come up often in recent trade speculations over the last few seasons.