The first signs of a full rebuild began almost two years ago to this day, when Derick Brassard was dealt to Pittsburgh on February 23rd, 2018 for a package that included Filip Gustavsson and a first round pick. That was the least anxiety-provoking part of that deadline, with rumours swirling around captain Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, and the Vegas Golden Knights at the time. The writing on the wall came a few months later, when Karlsson and Mike Hoffman were jettisoned off in separate deals.
The following season’s trade deadline featured a trio of big names in Ryan Dzingel, Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone — with an agonizing February coming to an end with Vegas finally getting a Senators star and the heart of the franchise.
In the two years that followed, the Senators have all but dismantled the roster that went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, with Craig Anderson, Mark Borowiecki, and Ryan the lone holdovers. By the time the puck drops next season, Ryan could be the only one left.
While this was Pierre Dorion’s busiest deadline in terms of the number of moves, the quality of players relative to their emotional attachment has progressively balanced out in a positive way for Senators fans. Yes; Jean-Gabriel Pageau was beloved (and they should still rename the bridges to Gatineau after him!), but moving Stone at least year’s deadline — and for a worse return — meant that there was really no point in keeping a player over 24 anymore. Finally, as of February 24th, 2020, I think we can declare that the Ottawa Senators have officially torn it all to the ground.
The emotional pain of seeing your favourite players depart is likely over for the foreseeable future, while the difficult task of rebuilding an NHL-quality roster that has a similar timeline for competitiveness (in all of the many definitions of what that word means to Eugene Melnyk’s Senators) has begun.
In this article, we’ll revisit the team’s six moves this month, before turning our attention to prognosticating the remainder of the 2019-20 season for this group.
The first of this year’s crop to go, and the move that brought the most visceral reaction from fans. DeMelo was the definition of an underrated top-four defender who fit the modern NHL and really came into his own over the last two seasons. Throw in the fact that he was one of the team’s most personable off-ice characters, and the return didn’t match the value he had to the organization as a stop-gap to Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, you have the formula for an easy move to pan.
We soon learned that Dorion would’ve been hard pressed to receive fair value (a second-round pick) for DeMelo — showcasing an area where fans, analysts, and current NHL general managers differ in their opinions. Case in point: the other player with a similar reputation, Chicago’s Erik Gustafsson, got an equivalent return. We’ll just have to come to an understanding that while Brendan Dillon (2nd, 3rd), Marco Scandella (2nd, conditional 4th), Alec Martinez (two 2nds) got better returns despite being less impactful players, they had more caché and that means something to league executives.
F Max Veronneau to Toronto for F Aaron Luchuk and a conditional 6th in 2021 [reaction]
F Aaron Luchuk and a seventh round pick in 2020 to Montréal for F Matthew Peca [reaction]
I’m pairing these two moves together, because in sum, Ottawa traded Veronneau and a seventh round pick in 2020 for Matthew Peca. I’d be surprised, barring injuries, if that sixth round pick ever reaches the 416 because of the depth the Leafs have at forward. Why couldn’t the team have just called up Veronneau if they were going to pay more money and a pick to Montréal for Peca? I’m not sure! Peca doesn’t appear to be any more NHL quality than Veronneau would’ve been, just older (and costs more money!), but if Dorion can find a way to give up a pick in a trade, he’ll do it. Does it mean anything given the impressive draft capital the Sens have built? Not really. But if you like to wring your hands over maximizing every asset like I do, this is a head scratcher.
F Vladislav Namestnikov to Colorado for a 4th round pick in 2021 [reaction]
When all is said and done, there’s a (really slim) chance that the Sens actually upgraded their fourth rounder in 2021... should they finish ahead of the Avalanche in next year’s standings. Overall, it’s clear the goal was to play Namestnikov in middle-six minutes while keeping the kids in Belleville. Ideally, they would have recouped better value for him, and while the player had decent production — 13 goals and 25 points in 56 games — it wasn’t enough to account for the depreciation in the rental (54 games versus 28 games).
Forwards putting up similar production who got moved include Cody Eakin (4th), Nick Cousins (4th), Wayne Simmonds (5th), and Nate Thompson (5th), while the older, more accomplished veterans like Patrick Marleau and Ilya Kovalchuk went for third-rounders.
F Tyler Ennis to Edmonton for a 5th round pick in 2021 [reaction]
Given the returns we just looked at with Namestnikov, I’m unsure how a player who’s having the best year of that middling group of forwards got traded for a worse pick, but that’s all you can really say about the return for Tyler Ennis. While the Sens clearly like the player and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-sign come July 1, credit to Dorion to moving him for something rather than keeping him like he decided to do with Ron Hainsey.
F Jean-Gabriel Pageau to New York Islanders for a 1st and 2nd round pick in 2020, and a conditional 3rd in 2022 [reaction, analysis]
First question: would you rather the Isles win the Cup this year to recoup the extra third? Or would you rather them miss and take the higher first rounder this year? I’d rather the latter, which also looks like the more likely option of the two.
Regardless, it’s clear that while there’s some mediocre results for the depth players he moved today, Pierre Dorion was able to make the best of a difficult situation with his most valuable deadline piece. Pageau makes so much sense for the Islanders, and will suit Barry Trotz’ style so well as the team builds a forward group that’s four lines deep as they hope to compete with their more skilled divisional rivals.
Meanwhile, there’s no way signing Pageau to his eventual extension — six years at $5M per season — made sense for the Senators at the dollar value or term, as while he’d likely be valuable for years one to three, when the Sens are competing (???) during years four to six, he’d likely be a drag on the team’s limited budget and potentially their on-ice performance.
For the last time (I promise!), let’s compare and contrast rosters from 2017’s game seven lineup against Pittsburgh:
Smith - Brassard - Stone
Hoffman - Pageau - Pyatt
Dzingel - Wingels - Stalberg
Methot - Karlsson
Phaneuf - Ceci
Claesson - Wideman
To tonight’s post-deadline lineup against Columbus:
Duclair - Tierney - Brown
Paul - Anisimov - Sabourin
Balcers - Peca - Boedker
Chabot - Hainsey
Reilly - Zaitsev
Englund - Jaros
Shades of the Francis Lessard, Matt Kassian, Andre Benoit, David Hale, Marek Svatos, Mike Brodeur years. Shades.
While the team will have up to four AHL call-ups at their disposal for the remainder of the year, they’ve already used three on Andreas Englund, Christian Jaros, and Rudolfs Balcers. Moreover, claiming Hawryluk and trading for Peca indicates that Dorion sees a benefit in keeping the kids together in the AHL as they gear up for a playoff run. This means that Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, Christian Wolanin won’t likely see NHL time this year unlike their counterparts Logan Brown, Erik Brännström, Drake Batherson, and Filip Chlapik, who all got extended stints earlier this season. Englund and Jaros will operate as the team’s third-pair out of necessity, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jaros and Hubert Labrie swapped to give the latter extended development time in the AHL.
The offseason is going to be one for the books, because in addition to the nine picks the Sens have during the first three rounds in the 2020 NHL Draft, they only have nine players signed to NHL deals, and a boatload of restricted free agents coupled with hungry young prospects who will be fighting for a full-time opportunity after being held down in Belleville.
??? - ??? - ???
??? - White - Ryan
??? - Anisimov - ???
Chabot - ???
Wolanin - ???
Reilly - Zaitsev
The players in the lineup above have been placed in terms of where they’re likely ideally positioned for a competitive NHL team. As you can see, only the goaltenders, the team’s bottom-pair, and two top-four spots are figured out.
If you just look internally, can you fill the holes?
At forward, there’s potentially 14 players competing for 8 regular spots:
- RFAs Chris Tierney, Anthony Duclair, and Connor Brown have all had decent years and could potentially be parlayed in the offseason for players who suit this new group’s timeline, traded at next year’s deadline, or be long-term fits in varying capacities. They could be this team’s second line next year.
- RFAs Nick Paul, Rudolfs Balcers, and Jayce Hawryluk could fill out spots on the team’s bottom two lines, with Paul already filling that role this season.
- Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, and Logan Brown have the best shot at fighting for a top two line position as early as next season, while Alex Formenton, Vitaly Abramov, and Filip Chlapik could make the push for a full-time spot with offseason improvements.
- Depending on who they select with their two top-10 picks in the upcoming draft, there are high-end spots available in the lineup.
On defence, there’s potentially 7 defenders competing for 2 regular spots:
- There’s been signs that UFAs Ron Hainsey and Mark Borowiecki may be brought back on short-term deals.
- RFAs Christian Jaros and Andreas Englund will likely both push for spots, with Jaros having the inside edge in terms of ability, handedness, and NHL experience.
- Prospects Erik Brännström, Olle Alsing, and Lassi Thomson will all be gunning for a top-four spot during main camp, with Jacob Bernard-Docker potentially joining should he turn pro after his sophomore year is over at North Dakota.
The lesson? In my view, the hard part for the team’s hockey operations group starts now. Every decision, from the way the remaining RFAs and UFAs play out the year and Belleville’s playoff run, to the decisions made at the draft and free agency, will be fascinating to follow as the organization attempts to work their way back into icing a competitive on-ice product.
Almost every player acquired by the Senators over the last two years have focused in on one key factor that excites them about this group: opportunity. While there were some fantastic memories from the rebuild that began in the 2010-11 season — the 2017 Cup run, the unexpected Hamburgular year, the Pageau, Pageau, Pageau chants from 2013 — a new decade has brought a new rebuild. My best guess for a timeline for this group is from now until the 2027-28 season, when Thomas Chabot’s eight-year contract is scheduled to expire and Brady Tkachuk, assuming he signs an eight-year extension, has one more year left on his deal. With a star defenceman and a highly-skilled, two-way forward, it’s Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone all over again. We hope there’s a better ending this time.
As Senators fans know all too well, a lot can change by then.
Picks are worthless if you don't invest in amateur scouting, prospects are worthless if you don't give them a chance to succeed, and roster players are worthless if you can't afford to sign them.— le daigle un / el daigle uno (@thedaigle1) February 18, 2020
Mangez a Arby's.
Thank you as always to CapFriendly for being such an indispensable resource, especially on days like today.