We’ve seen the history.
Mika Zibanejad, Kyle Turris, then Erik Karlsson, all traded in the name of getting something back before the players need a raise on their impending extensions.
The Ottawa Senators have fallen into a similar situation with a few key players this year, and headlining them is Mark Stone. The 26-year-old winger from Winnipeg is scheduled to hit the free agency market this summer, and if the Sens won’t be able to pony up the salary that he’ll be commanding, February could possibly mark the last month that we’ll be seeing Stone in a Sens jerseys.
The journey to the current conundrum is a long one, although the turning point came this past off-season, when Stone forced the hand of Sens management ahead of arbitration, signing a one-year contract worth $7.35 million, instead of a long-term extension as Pierre Dorion had hoped. This lined up Stone to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, providing himself an open door to leave this team after just one more season. For the fans this felt devastating, akin to Karlsson picking up the puck in his final game. Another beloved player, on his way out the door.
By all means, a contract extension for Stone is still very possible. The team and player were already in deep talks of an extension during the off-season, so there won’t need to be as much re-hashing between Dorion and Stone’s agent Craig Oster. It’s also well established that Stone loves the city of Ottawa. His teammates adore him too, and recognize that his decision to stay or leave will impact theirs as well.
But if negotiations stall to the point where the Senators are convinced of Stone’s departure, Dorion will surely act quickly to make a trade. The Sens won’t be able to afford the $9+ million salary that he’ll deserve, and even if they decide to go that high, they won’t be able to compete with other franchises in what they can offer in signing bonuses.
The PR nightmare of a beloved player leaving for nothing is something that no team wants to endure, so the only other way out would be through a trade... as we’ve seen before.
Looking at trade value, we first need to establish one thing: Mark Stone is a superstar. He’s has the Midas Touch of Corsi — every player he plays with instantly starts producing better results. On a Sens team team that scores 45.0% of the goals and gets 44.1% of the shot attempts at 5v5, Stone raises those numbers to 59.3% and 52.3% whenever he hits the ice.
Even on the surface, he’s a point-per-game player who has hit 20+ goals in every single season he’s played. He’s also the NHL’s master of takeaways, the best the league seen since Pavel Datsyuk. He once again leads the league in that category by a healthy margin. Even the media is finally starting to warm up to Stone’s incredible defensive abilities, as he came second in Selke voting during the PHWA’s mid-season awards. For a winger, that type of recognition is unheard of in the past decade.
The problem that belies us, the outside analysts, is that elite forwards don’t get traded every day, so it’s really hard to gauge what kind of value Stone will return. It almost seems silly to discuss, because the situation is so absurd to begin with. Although the Sens will surely be aiming for high picks, top prospects, and maybe a young roster player or two.
Personally, I’d love to see him go to Winnipeg, as not only is it his home town, but the Jets have a plethora of young talent that they could expend in preparation for a Cup run. Other contenders that could potentially target Stone include Calgary, Nashville, Vegas, or dare I say it, San Jose.
Artemi Panarin could be an interesting situation to watch, as he’s in a very similar situation to Stone. They’re both elite wingers who are set to reach unrestricted free agency this off-season at a relatively young age, and are both on their last legs with their current teams. If Panarin traded soon, that could definitely impact how trade negotiations play out for Stone.
Then we also have to think about how the Sens will play their leverage. Every other team is well aware of the team’s financial troubles, which can push the Sens into a corner. We saw this happen to a degree in the Karlsson trade. Combine that with the fact that the Sens are already very thin in basically every department, including pro scouting, and the confidence of them getting an ideal return starts to fade quickly.
It’s a dire situation, and in the midst of the biggest season in franchise history, the Sens will need to make some big decisions involving some big players. Mark Stone is the centrepiece, and now we wait to see what happens.