What's Next: Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators stood by the word of being ‘sellers’ this past Tuesday night when the team traded Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings, for Marian Gaborik and NIck Shore. Many believed this was a total salary dump but Ottawa retained 25% of Phaneuf’s salary until his contract expires, which makes him the 3rd highest paid defenseman on the Sens roster as of right now. Gaborik is at the twilight of his career at age 36 while still making $4.875Mil through the 2020-2021 season and Shore is set to become an RFA at the end of this upcoming season. After everything is said and done, Ottawa saves about $2.5Mill over the next three years and if Shore does not come back next season, removes the $1.6Mill on the books from Thompson’s deal earlier in the season. I think the hockey community as a whole was surprised for someone to take on Dion’s contract, even with the discount LA received this was a great financial move from Ottawa’s perspective. Los Angeles gains a more than sufficient NHL defenceman who will most likely see top 4 ice time in LA and maybe some power play time while Nate Thompson adds depth required for the King’s playoff run.
So the question may not be what’s next for Ottawa but rather, whose next? As I see it there are 5 roster players that have targets on their backs until trade deadline day but these three I forecast being the most likely to move.
Zack Smith might not be the best available trade bait for the Senators, but his lack luster performance this year combined with his $3.25 mill cap hit through the 2020-2021 season makes him susceptible to being traded by deadline day. Smith has showed glimpses of being a more than capable third line center and even a second line center in the event of an injury by tallying 25 goals in the 2015-2016 season and another 16 last year in 74 games. This year, not the same story. Smith has looked sluggish, and his stats reflect that with his 4 goals and 14 points in the 41 games he has played this season. The potential is there and any playoff team in search of third line center with moderate cap room could use Smith to bolster their power up the middle.
With that being said, it does not take an NHL scout to realize that Smith is not playing up to the levels he has the past two seasons. His performance can be pointed at a variety of factors, with the most realistic being the overall play of the Ottawa Senators being nowhere near the caliber of last year which has spiraled them into third last in the NHL this season. Smith will not be easy to deal away with the cap hit and presumably bad play this season however, Pierre Dorion was able to work magic by letting go of Dion Phaneuf so as the great Kevin Garnett said “Anything is possible”.
Prediction: Pierre will pull a rabbit out of his hat in the form of draft picks and deal Zack Smith for the highest bidder among prospects/picks from a playoff team. The teams most likely to land Smith in the east are the Flyers, who will need another centre to keep their playoff hopes alive and Valteri Filpula is set to become a UFA at the end of this year so the fit almost seams dare I say it, perfect. The Tampa Bay Lightning are my other selection with Smith adding some grit to a speedy team who is looking like the Stanley Cup favorites and given both Stamkos’ and Johnson’s injury history, this may be a good long term move. From the West, I see Winnipeg and San Jose being the destinations for the Zack Smith trade train. Winnipeg’s break-through season is being done because of their power up the middle with Scheiffle and Little so I think Zack Smith could slide right into the third line center role to add to the big bodied Jets for this upcoming playoff run. The Sharks are aging fast, so Smith isn’t exactly an ideal add for the Sharks however, he fits the mold of a San Jose shark with his physical play, good locker room presence and the potential to grow a thick beard for their playoff run.
It pains me to write this but JG Pageau has too much trade value to pass up on if you are the Ottawa Senators. Pageau is 25, signed through the 2019-2020 season with a cap hit of $3.1 million, Ottawa native, with lots of room to improve his game for any team in the league. Pageau might not have any eye popping numbers, but he did not miss any games in the last two seasons while also contributing 43 points in the 2015-2016 season before declining to 33 last year. Pageau is a specialist both on the face offs and a high quality penalty killer with his above average speed accompanied by a rather tenacious attitude on the ice. Not to mention, playoffs seem to be when Pageau has boasts his best performance by managing to have two separate occasions of scoring four goals in a single game to help the Senators during their playoff runs over the last 5 seasons. Pageau has slipped along with the rest of the Sens squad this year but unlike Smith, Pageau’s play has not been too different from recent memory.
Pageau is an interesting piece to a lot of the buyers in the market for this upcoming trade deadline in less than two weeks and I think the toughest thing to decide is his asking price. Pageau is a third line centre on most teams and would be considered an overpaid fourth liner who is playing on the penalty killing unit on all rosters. I think it is safe to say that unless he throws his skates on a telephone line and receives superior offensive skills from the lightning strike that he won’t be a second line center in this league. I think his feisty play, moderately low cap hit and abilities in the defensive zone will make him an asset that is worth chasing for many teams across the NHL. Pierre Dorion will also have to consider that if Pageau gets dealt, is Colin White ready to be thrown into the fire permanently? Is Logan Brown going to be a roster player next year? Is Chlapik? Gabriel Dumont has yet to impress so I do not think he is the guy to replace Pageau if he gets dealt but again, Pageau’s return I think will be sufficient enough to answer these questions after this season.
Prediction: I think Pageau could land just about anywhere but again, I think a playoff team could use his playoff experience along with his faceoff prowess to help them go deeper into the playoffs. His return would be in the neighborhood of a middle to upper tiered draft pick and a quality prospect, or if the right team could be found, a top 4 defenceman. The teams that come to mind are the playoff pushers in the west, Calgary, Dallas and Minnesota. Calgary and Dallas in particular with their lack of depth up the middle, after their first two lines I feel as if Pageau could work his way into the third line for both teams and keep pace with his forwards. Minnesota seemingly got a steal with Eric Staal but he is getting older and adding JG would only help his potential. In the east, New Jersey could suit him quite well with their system and his speed would only add to already what is one of the fastest teams in the league.
I know what you all are thinking, there is absolutely no way someone will not absorb such a high dollar valued contract for a band aid of a top 6 forward but I will refer to the Dion Phaneuf trade for all the haters. Ryan is signed through the 2021-2022 season at a cap hit of a whopping $7.25Mill for a player who has not crossed the 60 point mark since the 2010-2011 season where he was playing with Getzlaf and Perry. He has had numerous injuries over the past few season with a lot more than you would think resulting in a hand injury but this is still the second overall pick to the greatest player of our generation (for now), in Sidney Crosby. Bobby is out of his prime but is without a doubt a top 6 forward in the NHL and would still be a sought after player for a lot of teams if his contract was not structured in the fashion that it is. Bobby Ryan is often criticized for his inability to keep up with today’s NHL due to his lack of speed and agility but has proven that his skill with the puck and hockey IQ can make up for that.
I think the Sens have made it clear they are sellers in today’s market which leads me to believe they are going to do everything in their power to get this contract off their backs. With Karlsson needing a new contract after next season, they will have to get rid of this massive cap hit so they can grow their core. Going forward the Sens main focus should be filtered around Karlsson, Chabot, Stone, Duchene and Hoffman so for all those clinging on to hopes of Bobby finally being ‘the guy’, I do not see this being a remote possibility. It is truly extremely difficult to find a franchise who will be willing to take on Bobby’s contract but if the Sens want to plan for the future, he cannot be a part of it.
Prediction: There are a handful of teams that come to mind for taking on this contract and with the exception of Colorado, Bobby Ryan and a 2nd round pick and maybe another pick is where I am setting the bar from the Sens side, and they will accept anything in return. Colorado is an interesting possibility because Carl Sodoberg is a player that is underperforming and also has a messy contract considering his stats with a cap hit of $4.75 million through the 2019-2020 season, a 1for1 trade is not out of the question. Other than that, there is the obvious choice of Arizona who has shown that they are willing to take on high dollar value contracts when they accepted a non-contributor in Pavel Datsyuk. Buffalo is shipping Evander Kane out after this season with his locker room presence and will have plenty of cap room and a lack of offensive depth after Kane leaves. The last and least likely of the possible destinations for Bobby is Carolina, a team on the rise who would love to equip themselves with a top 6 forward and is also in a cap friendly situation. All of these trades could include a similar situation of Phaneuf with Ottawa continuing to pay 25% of the contract if it means they can wipe Bobby off the books.
The players that have also been speculated as trade bait for the Sens include the likes of Derrick Brassard, Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci. Brassard is the clear cut second line center in Ottawa and has only one year remaining on his contract so I think it is in Ottawa’s best interest to keep him for the remainder of the year. If the deal of the century is offered, then there can be a valid argument but past Brassard, the Ottawa Senators do not have a player to replace his value to the team right now. The Sens have heard many murmurs of interest in Mike Hoffman but with his recent success with Matt Duchene, I believe you cannot move him. His killer speed and paired with one of the quickest releases in the NHL, makes him valuable to any team and Ottawa realizes that Duchene will need a player on the wing like Hoffman if they want to have success down the line. Cody Ceci has not performed up to potential and clearly will never be better than an average top 4 d-man in this league. I think with the Phaneuf trade, this was the nail in the coffin for Ceci’s trade rumors because Ottawa cannot deplete their entire defensive core. Phaneuf was contributing 20+ minutes of ice time and power play time which will have to be filled by both Ceci and Chabot so as much as Sens fans may want to see Cody go, it won’t be in the foreseeable future.