The trade was always going to hurt. While Erik Karlsson may have been the most talented player to ever play for the Sens, Stone is arguably the most popular player in Sens history. Even a guy like Daniel Alfredsson had lots of detractors early on, and now there’s no unified opinion among the fanbase as to how we should feel about Alfie’s departure. Stone was the best forward on the Sens, and everybody loved him. His teammates raved about him. His celebrations and enthusiasm were infectious. His skill was undeniable. He finished third in mid-season Selke voting. He’s led the league in takeaways every near-full season he’s played in the NHL. And now he’s gone.
We knew he was going to leave, and whatever happened, it was going to hurt. But it hurts even more that this trade had an underwhelming return. Erik Brannstrom is an A+ prospect. There’s no question about that. But he’s really the only meaningful return here. Oscar Lindberg was a contract throw-in, a guy who hasn’t impressed since his first 20 games or so in the NHL. A 2nd round pick can be valuable, but it’s also something the Sens have been known to throw into a deal to get out of a signing bonus. And that trade gets referred to as the Derick Brassard/Mika Zibanejad trade, and we kind of gloss over the 2nd-/7th-round pick swap. In that sense, this was essentially a Stone-for-Brannstrom swap.
We lamented that teams were unwilling to put a top prospect into a trade for Erik Karlsson. It seemed ridiculous that Dallas wasn’t willing to trade Miro Heiskanen, because absolute, one-in-ten-million, best-case scenario is Heiskanen turns into Karlsson. Trading Stone for Brannstrom and spare parts hurts because Stone was a bona fide superstar, and best-case scenario is Brannstrom ends up being that valuable for the Sens. When you’re trading certainty for uncertainty, you need value to make up for that uncertainty, and the Sens just didn’t get that here.
I think it’s safe to say GM Pierre Dorion waited too long. Matt Duchene garnered two prospects, a first-round pick, plus a first-round pick if he’s extended. Stone already has an extension in place, and the Sens couldn’t earn a single first-round pick. Even Kevin Hayes went earlier today for a first-round pick. Trading has not really been Dorion’s strong suit, and this deadline seemed hopeful after getting a reasonable return for Duchene and a great return for Ryan Dzingel, but he held on for too long. Teams seems to know that they can outwait Dorion. With Erik Karlsson, the Sharks knew he had to trade him before training camp started, and they waited until the price came down to having no big-name roster players or prospects. With Stone, Dorion seemed to keep hoping he could extend him, and didn’t face the music until it was way too late. Vegas thought they were out of the market, but they circled back when the price came down. Just like Dorion waited too long to extend Stone before arbitration or to start negotiating an extension he could sign in January, Dorion waited too long to cut bait and the return was a single great piece. Teams knew Dorion couldn’t not trade Stone, and it was a buyers’ market.
Luke Peristy had a wonderful line after the Karlsson trade: “If you’re the guy who drafted Erik Karlsson and then traded Erik Karlsson, it just means you’re the guy who traded Erik Karlsson.” The same thing applies here: any benefit Dorion’s staff get for having identified and developed Stone is lost because they’re also the ones who traded Stone for one piece. No prospect is good enough to offset the loss of a top-25 player in the league who’s only 26 years old. And Dorion will wear this for the rest of his time as an NHL GM.
The fanbase of the Sens has been especially pessimistic ever since Karlsson trade rumours started surfacing last spring. To earn back any trust from fans, the Sens had to hit a home run on these deals, and especially on Stone’s. The bottom line is they didn’t.