As the calendar shifts ever closer to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Ottawa Senators find themselves in a slightly awkward position when it comes to one of their prime assets, Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
The Gatineau native is the Sens’ current No. 1 centre, has scored 20 goals to go along with his 32 points in 50 games, and has been an instrumental player for the Senators this season. Pageau is at the tail end of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 barring any re-signings, either with the Senators or with whichever team acquires him at the deadline.
Pageau is shooting at a 17% clip, far higher than his career average of 10.5%, and his 20 goals are a career high, besting the 19 he scored in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. This uptick in production could be a by-product of playing a larger role. As the de-facto No. 1 pivot for the Sens, he is getting more power play opportunities and more minutes, but is also playing against the opposition’s top players in a quasi-shutdown role.
What Could Pageau Bring Back in a Trade?
If the Senators do indeed proceed and look to trade Pageau, chances are they’d be after any type of future asset, be it in the form of draft capital, young NHLers, or even prospects who have yet to breakthrough. The problem is the ask; Ottawa will likely be fishing for a first-round pick, whether it be conditional or not, if they want to justify moving him.
The list of teams interested in his services isn’t necessarily a long one, and that lack of a competitive market puts a strain on any type of leverage the Senators could use to create a bidding war, particularly if the price for Pageau remains in the first-round pick and above territory.
Beyond that, the Senators don’t really seem overly desperate to move on from Pageau, and look like they’re considering re-signing him to a long-term contract. His uptick in production on the verge of becoming a UFA while riding an uncharacteristically high shooting percentage looks like it could be a recipe for disaster should the Sens pursue signing him to a contract. However, for a team that hasn’t been able to hang on to key players in recent history, throwing the kitchen sink at tying down a hometown kid isn’t exactly unreasonable.
If the offers being thrown their way aren’t in line with their demands, why move him? There are plenty of valid reasons to want Pageau to stick around.
His value in a vacuum isn’t overly high. While teams making silly trades at the deadline for centres (enter Paul Gaustad and Martin Hanzal) isn’t exactly a foreign concept in the NHL, it isn’t really unfair to say that Pageau is more valuable as a Senator than he would be elsewhere.
He plays a defined role, and he plays it well. He’s not a No. 1 centre and he probably never truly will be, but he is an unbelievably effective middle-six center who is defensively responsible and has scored big goals in his career. But to Ottawa, he’s more than that. He’s a cushion the team can rely on, and a player who can help with the development of Ottawa’s younger players.
Rebuilding teams often find themselves in positions where their young players are playing too much or are in roles too difficult and unsuited to their current level of play. Players like Colin White, Logan Brown and Drake Batherson aren’t top six players yet, and they shouldn’t be asked to be.
Having Pageau allows the Senators to shelter their young players, giving him the tougher defensive assignments and soaking up minutes against the opposition’s top players, which allows the other, younger Senators to just go out there and play without being overwhelmed.
The situation isn’t as black and white as presented, and the general public isn’t privy to the negotiations between teams or players and management, but there are pros and cons to both avenues. What it comes down to, is the return and if that trade makes the Senators a better team down the road as they continue to rebuild. All we do know is that Pageau will be an interesting name to keep track of come deadline day.
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