The 2019 Trade Deadline was all about the Ottawa Senators’ big three: Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel. Tasked with trading some of the franchise’s best players in recent years, general manager Pierre Dorian performed beautifully, getting top returns for all three players, including a top prospect in Erik Brannstrom and several high draft picks. It was arguably his most successful trade deadline of his career, and it brightened the future considerably for the floundering Senators.
This season, they are in a very similar situation, possessing one of the most sought-after players at the deadline in Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and another enticing option in Ron Hainsey. Still well into their rebuild, the Senators will be actively searching out all the picks and prospects they can get. However, without a bona-fide star to sell, and with the 2020 draft class shaping up to be one of the deepest in several years, it will be interesting to see what teams will be willing to part with for secondary scorers and depth pieces.
Dorian has proved to be a savvy deadline dealer, pulling in prospects like Brannstrom, Vitaly Abramov, and J.C. Beaudin last year, and his handling of the Erik Karlsson trade looks better each day as the San Jose Sharks look to be entering a forced rebuild. With Pageau a significant drop from what was available last season, though, he’ll have his work cut out for him, but it does appear that the Senators will once again aim to be aggressive at the deadline. With the Feb. 24 date fast approaching, here’s two names that made TSN’s Trade Bait list, as well as two more to keep an eye on, as well as some expectations as to what each deal could bring the team.
It seems at the moment that it’s not if Pageau will be traded, but when. TSN ranked him fourth among all available players and there’s good reason to believe plenty of teams are already calling. He’s on a career-high pace, having already scored 31 points in 46 games and should eclipse 50 points for the first time this season. He’s also just 27 years old and carries an affordable $3.1 million cap hit until the end of this season, and will likely cheaper to re-sign than a Chris Krieder or Tyler Toffoli.
Yet trading him is not a guarantee. Many have argued that Pageau should be part of the Senators’ future, as he’s from Ottawa and is a proven secondary scorer, but contract talks have been quiet so far. Adding to the rumours is speculation that he was actually a healthy scratch the past two games before the All-Star break, rather than injured as reported. It’s made a potential trade seem much more imminent despite his importance to the team now.
So far, Pageau is on a similar pace to Dzingel, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and had scored a career-high 44 points in 57 games before the trade. He was a proven secondary scorer, prompting the Blue Jackets to send a second-round pick in 2020 and 2021, plus Anthony Duclair, in exchange for Dzingel and a seventh-round pick in 2019. Duclair had potential, but was struggling to find consistency. When he was given it, though, he blossomed, and currently leads the Senators in goals and points in 2019-20.
However, Dorian seems optimistic that Pageau could land a first-round pick. It’s a bold prediction, and if that is the case, the Senators should definitely pounce on that. The 2020 Draft looks to be one of the deepest in several years, with most of the first round looking like surefire NHL talents, meaning many teams are even more hesitant than usual to part with mid- to late first-round picks. Personally, it feels a bit unrealistic, but a team desperate to make the playoffs may be willing to pay big for Pageau.
The second name listed by TSN is Hainsey, who was signed this past season after spending two campaigns with the Toronto Maple Leafs and now sits 13th on TSN’s list. Initially, he doesn’t seem that enticing — he’s 38 years old and on pace for his worst statistical season since 2015-16. However, teams can see that he’s a reliable defensive defenseman that solidifies the blue line. Currently, he’s second on the Senators in plus/minus at plus-8; while there are better stats to measure defensive presence, it’s clear he is doing his job well.
For proof, just look at the Maple Leafs this season, Hainsey’s former team. So far in 2019-20, they’ve allowed the fifth-most goals, whereas last season, they were 13th in the league. To compare, the Senators were abysmal last season and topped the league in goals allowed, whereas with Hainsey on their blue line, they’re two goals behind the Leafs, despite their low place in the standings. To add to his intrigue, Hainsey also brings plenty of playoff experience and leadership to a team looking for a boost — he won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17.
It won’t be quite as easy to trade Hainsey as Pageau, though. His $3.5 million contract is a tad expensive for someone who plays in the bottom four, and he also has a 10-team no-trade list that could bar potential destinations. The Senators could offer to retain salary, as they have the third-most cap space of any team, which will make him a slightly more attractive acquisition.
Last season, another defensive defenseman was shipped at the deadline, and the Senators could look to that deal to see a potential price for Hainsey. Ben Lovejoy was acquired by the Dallas Stars for depth defender Connor Carrick and a third-round pick in 2019, which the New Jersey Devils used on talented forward Graeme Clarke. The Senators are unlikely to re-sign Hainsey — he’s more likely to retire at the end of the season, like Lovejoy — so to get anything for him to aid their rebuild should be seen as a positive.
Although not listed on TSN’s top-20 trade targets, Borowiecki is an interesting option for a team looking for depth defensemen. Like Pageau, his value has never been higher, as he’s on pace for a 28-point season, over double his previous best of 11 points, and already has five goals, which is equal to his past three seasons combined. Prior to this season, he built his reputation on being a punishing hitter, and has continued to be a physical presence despite his new role as an offensive contributor. As of Jan. 20, he sits fourth in the NHL with 178 hits.
However, unlike Pageau, there’s good arguments as to why he shouldn’t be traded. Also from Ottawa, he’s become a fan-favourite this season after he stopped a theft, earning him the nickname, ‘BoroCop,’ and is heavily involved in the community. He’s also a much more one-dimensional player, and this season seems more like an outlier than Pageau’s breakout. That means he’ll likely bring in a much smaller return, and the Senators will have to decide whether stripping their defense corp down even further is worth a few low-end picks.
There is a chance, though, that teams will be hunting for cheap depth defenders and be willing to pay a premium for them. Last year, Adam McQuaid, a career bottom-pairing physical defenseman, was also acquired by the Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick and seventh-round pick in 2019, as well as a depth prospect. With Borowiecki’s cap hit sitting at a very affordable $1.2 million, it’s entirely possible he could bring in two promising prospects in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.
Despite their place in the standings, several Senators are having career seasons. Duclair is finally looking like the player he promised to be, Connor Brown is on pace to set career highs in points, and Tyler Ennis is playing as well as he did when he was with the Buffalo Sabres. The most recent addition to that list is Namestnikov, who was acquired earlier this season for a fourth-round pick and depth defenseman. In 43 games, he’s scored 21 points, a pace he hasn’t been on since leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017-18.
Adding to Namestnikov’s value is his age — 27 years old — and his track record as a proven goalscorer. With the Lightning, he scored 20 goals in 62 games in 2017-18 before being traded to the New York Rangers. He struggled in the Big Apple, but still scored 11 times on an off-year. And that’s really what his time with the Rangers is looking like — simply a dip in the talented wingers’ career. His cap hit at $3.25 million isn’t cheap for what he brings to the table, but as mentioned before, the Senators have room to retain salary.
A best-case scenario is likely what the Boston Bruins paid for Marcus Johansson at last year’s deadline. He was on a similar pace, scoring 27 points in 48 games before joining the Bruins. In return, the New Jersey Devils received a second-round pick in 2019 and fourth-round pick in 2020. With the talent the 2020 Draft is promising, a second-round pick would be a great asset to have, especially with the Senators already owning three picks in that round.
Who Else Has Value?
At this point, the Senators should probably listen to any offers that don’t include Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Erik Brannstrom or Colin White. While they have a good crop of prospects waiting in the wings, they still are several years away from competing for a playoff spot. And when it comes to rebuilds, quantity is often more valuable than quality. Here’s some honorable mentions that could be traded, but likely offer the Senators more than they would get in a trade.
Duclair has increased his value more than anyone else on the team this season, but being that he’s only 24, it’s likely the Senators will want to retain him going forward.
He finally looks comfortable since his rookie season with the Arizona Coyotes, and it’s unlikely he’d bring in any prospect with a bigger guarantee of success, especially with his spotty history.
DeMelo could generate some interest, as he’s a right-handed defender making only $900,000 before becoming a free agent this summer. Last season, he scored a career-high 22 points after coming over in the Erik Karlsson trade, although he’s played a smaller role in 2019-20 and only has seven assists and no goals at the half-way point. Some team with a weakness on the right side may pay a mid-round pick for him, but I’m not sure the Senators could afford to lose another veteran on defense.
As previously mentioned, Ennis has had a resurgence this season in Ottawa, and with an $800,000 contract, he’s as cheap as rentals come. However, at 30 years old, teams won’t be lining up to take on the inconsistent forward. It might be for the best for the Senators to keep him as long as he wants to stay in the city of Ottawa, as he provides great leadership for smaller players like Brannstrom and Abramov. Ennis has succeeded in a league that many thought he never should have made, and he can pass on plenty of wisdom to those developing players.
The 2020 Trade Deadline will be less exciting than last season due to the decrease in rumoured talent available, but it still promises to be an interesting day. Plenty of teams, the Senators included, will be looking to bolster their systems with picks and prospects, and several others are still trying to push for the playoffs. Is there anyone else who you think will end up on the trading block? Post your thoughts in the comments!
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.