Many fans think Ottawa Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion will mostly be a seller at the NHL Trade Deadline on Mar. 21, dumping players who aren’t part of their future in exchange for draft picks. Still, most say the team needs to get off to a strong start next season and prove themselves as contenders. To do that, Dorion must make some meaningful player additions.
This year was expected to be the transition year for the Senators when they moved on from their six-year rebuild to be a club the rest of the league took seriously. Before training camp, Dorion proclaimed, “the rebuild is over. I don’t want to hear the word anymore.”
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By early December with his team registering a 5-15-1 record, Dorion ate those words saying, “What I should’ve said is pretty much all the core pieces of the rebuild are in the organization right now.” He doesn’t want to be wiping egg off his face again with a poor start next season.
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The current roster features eight players heading into unrestricted free agency (UFA) this summer and six who will become restricted free agents (RFA). Of the 14 headed into free agency, only centreman Josh Norris and left-winger Alex Formenton are untouchables.
Several depth players on the list could be moved as playoff rentals in exchange for draft picks. Dorion will likely look for 2023 picks since with 10 this summer, he has plenty of opportunities to bring in new talent.
I can hear many in the peanut gallery demanding to know why Paul isn’t considered off-limits at the trade deadline auction. The big left-winger offers great defensive play and is effective on the penalty kill.
Skating under a contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $1.35 million Paul is a bargain right now, but if TSN’s Frank Seravalli has it right, he will probably be looking for a contract renewal with an AAV well north of $2 million. That’s probably fair value given comparable contracts for depth forwards producing 25 points per season. Still, Dorion would have a hard time justifying paying more.
If Paul can’t be re-signed at a reasonable AAV before the trade deadline then look for Dorion to move him as a playoff rental. He could round out the roster of several Cup contenders with his size and grit.
Yes, I know, with many questions about starting goalie Matt Murray, why would Dorion move Anton Forsberg? After all, he has a save percentage (SV%) of .917 (better than Murray’s) and a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.79. What’s more, he’s signed to a one-way deal until the end of the 2022-23 season. If Murray becomes what the Senators thought they bought several years ago, Forsberg is the ideal backup.
Yet it’s all of this that makes Forsberg a valuable trade asset. He could fetch an interesting package of picks and prospects and perhaps more if he were sold to a Cup contender in need of a good backup. After all, Cup runs depend on solid goaltending duos.
Zach Sanford could be moved at or before the deadline and bring back a few draft assets. The rugged 27-year old brings a strong defensive dimension to any bottom-six. Not only that, but he knows how to win having gotten a Stanley Cup ring with the 2019 champion St. Louis Blues.
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Of the remaining pending UFAs, Tyler Ennis and Josh Brown could be the subject of some discussion around the trade deadline. So too could pending RFA Erik Brannstrom given the bevy of talent vying for a regular spot on the blue line. How much these players would raise on the market is open for debate, but the Senators need to try to get something for them if they aren’t going to be re-signed.
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When Dorion puts on his buyer’s hat he’ll probably be guided by a number of considerations. He explained to TSN that, “obviously, we would like to make hockey deals.” Translated, that probably means any acquisitions he makes leading up to the trade deadline will have to bring improvement to his team over the next few years. So they’ll need term left on their contracts. Ideally, they’ll be veterans who can support and mentor the young core he has assembled.
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Bringing in veterans that support his rebuild is a page Dorion has taken from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playbook. With young superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin making their debut in 2005-06, Penguins general manager Ray Shero brought in several veterans including Gary Roberts to mentor his youngsters. It paid off with a Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Every young team needs a number of quality veterans and Ottawa just doesn’t have many. Yet still, Dorion knows he needs to leave room on the roster for the young guns with the Belleville farm team who could crack the lineup next season.
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While Dorion has some expensive signings he needs to make in the off-season, he’ll have a projected cap space of $55 million at the trade deadline. So, he has the flexibility to make some significant acquisitions. After all, if his team is to contend in the next three or four years, he needs solid roster additions, not picks and prospects who are going to take at least that long to make it to Ottawa.
Another avenue available to Dorion is serving as a third party taking contracts off the hands of cap-strapped playoff contenders to facilitate their trades. He may be able to pick up players who would improve his roster at the cost of pending free agents that he’s unlikely to re-sign and possibly late-round picks or prospects.
Holes in the Senators’ roster will also shape Dorion’s strategy at the trade deadline. If there is a soft spot in the roster it’s surely at centre. What’s more, I have made the case for the Senators to pick up another defenceman in a previous article.
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While Norris and Tim Stutzle are solid top-six skaters down the middle, the Senators need more help there. Here are two intriguing options:
Monahan is a shadow of his former self with just eight goals and 22 points in 54 games this season with the Calgary Flames. With another year on his contract that features an AAV of $6.375 million, many would wonder why Dorion would even give him a second look.
Even so, he is a veteran presence down the middle and Ottawa may be just the change of scenery he needs to return to the pure goal scorer that he has been for most of his eight-year NHL career. At just 27 years old, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound centreman has plenty of runway left in his career. It’s important to remember he played last season with a hip injury and this year is struggling to recover from surgery to correct it.
What’s more, the Flames need to unload salary to allow their general manager Brad Treliving to make another acquisition at the trade deadline. That means the Senators may only have to give up an expendable top-six forward along with some picks and prospects.
With 22 goals and 41 assists in 55 games, J.T. Miller is the Vancouver Canucks’ leading scorer. He’s a versatile elite-level player capable of playing at left-wing or centre. Under contract for another season, he comes with an AAV of $5.25 million. There’s no question he would be an exciting addition to the Senators’ lineup most likely skating as the team’s top centreman for a few years.
The question is why on earth the Canucks would part with him. They are certainly under no pressure to do so. Even so, at 30 years old when his contract comes to an end, it’s not clear that he has a long-term future in Vancouver. Not only that, but they need cap space to re-sign a number of players entering free agency this summer and complete several more expensive contract renewals in the next few years.
Yes, Miller would cost a boatload of picks, prospects and a valuable roster player or two. Yet if the Senators’ window is the next three to four years, he may be exactly what they need to boost their odds of bringing the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital.
On defence, Jakob Chychrun’s name has been batted around as an option that Dorion should consider. Sure, he only has three goals in 44 games with the Arizona Coyotes this season, but let’s be honest, even Jesus Christ would have a hard time scoring with the Coyotes. They are just that bad.
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At just 23 years old with three years left on his contract, Chychrun would be an investment in the future for the Senators. Last season, he notched 18 goals and 23 assists in 56 games, which would put him on track for 60 points over a full 82-game season. He ranked 10th last year in scoring among NHL defencemen. Since the ‘Yotes are rebuilding and selling assets, and Ottawa is flush with picks and prospects, a deal for him should be possible.
Senators 2022 Trade Deadline Action: Both Buyer and Seller
Dorion recently told TSN, “We’re definitely hoping this is our last deadline as a seller. I think the need to sell is definitely diminishing. We did want to get a few players in this year, and we knew some of them would only be around for a year and some we’ll try to sign. But there’s no real need to be selling at a premium compared to previous years.’’
While there may not be any dramatic sales the Senators make this year, their fans will no doubt be following Dorion closely leading up to the deadline for any hint of some big buys that could help the team as soon as next season.