The next month in the NHL is going to be quite hectic. Protection lists will be made public on Sunday, the Expansion Draft is on Wednesday, the NHL Draft is on Friday/Saturday the 23rd/24th, and free agency begins on the following Wednesday, the 28th. Big signings and trades usually happen for a few weeks, so there will be plenty to discuss well into mid-August, which has never happened before.
As we inch closer to the Expansion Draft, I wanted to look at some possible names that the Ottawa Senators could look at acquiring, specifically on defense. I’ve wanted to do an article like this for a while, and to no surprise, Ian Mendes just came out with a fantastic version of this on Monday, so check that out if you haven’t already. There are many teams that stand to lose a good player to Seattle, and perhaps Ottawa could take advantage of that as Los Angeles did by trading for Viktor Arvidsson. There isn’t a clear spot open at forward, but with Thomas Chabot and Victor Mete the only defensemen truly worth protecting, it’d be smart to target a third defenseman (who preferably shoots right) to protect in order to maximize value.
In reality, I’m certain that Nikita Zaitsev will be protected based on how much praise he has received from the organization, so I’d still be surprised if the Senators acquire any of these players before the draft. However, it seems like they will be looking for a right-shot defenseman at some point in the off-season, so some of these players could also be available after the Expansion Draft. I looked at who would most likely be available based on the lists provided from The Athletic, but of course, things can change. Each case is different, which I will talk about below:
Lyubushkin is not well known and only has a meagre 10 points in 134 NHL games, but he’s solid defensively:
(For these graphics, the percentages are for percentiles—so if someone is in the 100th percentile, they are the best in the league, and vice versa for 0%).
He is never going to wow you, but for a dependable and cheap ($1.35M) option, you can’t go wrong.
Miller has been up-and-down in his career, with his best season coming in Vegas’ inaugural campaign. Since joining Buffalo, the 28-year-old has been unable to recapture the magic of 2017-18 where he put up 41 points, but his $3.875M cap hit is only for one more season and there seems to be something in the water in Buffalo where nothing goes well. He’s more of an offensive defenseman, so I’d be surprised to see Ottawa acquire him, but he would be a decent asset considering the Sabres would most likely give him up for very little.
Kylington is an RFA this summer, so his contract negotiations will be interesting. The 23-year-old has been playing on the third pairing but only got into 8 games in 2020-21. He’s played 94 games over the past three seasons, making him a bit of an unknown commodity. Over that time, he ranks last on the Flames in relative corsi (-3.69%) and relative xGF% (-3.97%), so his results leave something to be desired, plus he shoots left-handed.
He would be a project, but if Calgary wants to move on from him, he shouldn’t cost much.
Graves seems like a likely selection for Seattle, and he might be the best player available. He’s also left-handed which is not ideal, but considering how strong he has played, it might be worth it. He is making just $3.167M per year for the next two seasons at the age of 26, so he would instantly make the Senators better at a reasonable price. The bad news is that Colorado may elect to keep four defensemen (Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Devon Toews, and Ryan Graves) and four forwards if they would rather lose someone like Nazem Kadri. Or they might prefer to lose only one of Graves or Joonas Donskoi and elect to not trade anyone.
He could cost a fair amount in a trade (perhaps maybe a 2022 1st and a prospect) but the Avalanche might also feel pressure to get something done. Then again, maybe dealing with Joe Sakic isn’t the best idea...
Kukan is another unheralded name who has been quite dependable for Columbus:
He’s very sheltered and only averaged 14:11 TOI last season, but who’s to say he can’t do more in a bigger role? Much like Lyubushkin, he isn’t going to give you much offense, but the Senators need better defensive results anyway. It’s hard to say what the Blue Jackets will want to do this off-season, but I doubt they see Kukan as an integral piece. The 28-year-old has one year left at $1.65M.
Gudas isn’t exactly a fan favourite around the league due to many dirty hits over the years, but he defends well on the penalty kill and would be a “big body presence” like the Senators have been looking for. If they are insistent on getting somebody similar to Erik Gudbranson, Gudas is not a bad option. He is signed for 2 more years at $2.5M, but with the Panthers in contention, it might not make sense to move him. Either way, it’s worth kicking the tires.
Nutivaara is a former Blue Jacket who spent the past season with the Panthers, so much like Gudas, it’s difficult to say whether Florida would even want to move him. However, the 27-year-old lefty is making $2.7M on the final year of his contract, and the Panthers are on a tight budget so that money could be used elsewhere for them. Furthermore, Nutivaara has consistently been above average at limiting chances against, which is what the Senators should be shopping for.
Dunn is finished in St. Louis, as it’s all but guaranteed that they will move him this off-season. He seems like the likely pick for Seattle, unless Ottawa can get there before. He wasn’t quite as good this past season and he averaged just the fifth most ice-time amongst Blues defensemen. He has a solid track record though, plus he can play on either the left or right side:
He is an RFA this summer, but I can’t imagine he will be making a ton of money on his next contract.
Foote has been a popular name from some Senators fans, as he has the family pedigree and draft pedigree (14th overall in 2017). He played in 35 games for Tampa Bay this season, but none in the playoffs, so he has yet to fully establish himself. The Lightning are probably more likely to lose someone like Yanni Gourde or Ondrej Palat, but maybe they are worried about losing Foote for nothing and want to get ahead of things. Then again, Julien BriseBois is one of the best GMs in the game, so it would be tricky winning this deal involving a young defenseman who still has upside.
Jensen is one of the more noteworthy names from Washington along with Vitek Vanecek. He averaged 17:18 of TOI per game last season, which was sixth amongst Capitals defensemen, so perhaps they would be fine with losing him. In that case though, they might be less motivated to deal him to Ottawa because if they moved Jensen, they would also most likely lose Vanecek to Seattle. As with most of these examples, it is worth checking in on him though. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has two years left at $2.5M, so it’s a bit more of an investment. As another defense-first option who has been elite on the penalty kill, he would help the Senators very much.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk
TVR has a similar profile to Jensen, although he only played 20 games this past season and seems to be less trusted as well. The 30-year-old has two seasons left at just $950k, which means he doesn’t come with much risk, but he also might be kept by the Capitals because of how cheap he is. Van Riemsdyk will help on the penalty kill and could be a stabilizing presence for either Erik Brännström or Victor Mete, but as with many of these players, the offense won’t be there.
So there you have it. None of these names will be game-changers for Ottawa, and that makes sense because if they were, they’d be protected by their teams in the Expansion Draft. While these names might not be the most exciting, I think there is some real potential value here. A right side that features say, Vince Dunn, Artem Zub, Nikita Zaitsev, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Josh Brown isn’t elite but it is competent.
The best case scenario is making a deal before Seattle selects their team—but even after that, some of these players could still be available. As with many things the Senators have done over the years, I expect them to go a bit off the board with who they bring in, but it’s fun to think about these hypotheticals. Let the off-season begin!