With a 16-24-4 record, the Ottawa Senators are headed for another high draft pick, and another trade deadline (March 21st) in which things will potentially be just as busy as in previous years.
Last season, defenseman Mike Reilly was the most valuable Senator on the trade market and was dealt to the Boston Bruins for a 3rd round pick in the upcoming 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Erik Gudbranson and Braydon Coburn were also moved to the Nashville Predators and New York Islanders respectively, for seventh-round picks. This year may prove to be similar, as Ottawa is currently home to several options as depth for playoff teams.
Two pending UFAs in particular should generate a decent amount of interest. Nick Paul currently has 9 goals and 5 assists in 43 games (roughly 27 points over a full 82-game season) and has been a key defensive player and penalty killer for Ottawa since earning a full-time role in the 2019-20 season. Such a player is most effective in situations in which your team is defending a lead, something the Senators will most definitely have more chances to do in the next few years, so signing him to a deal that some would consider an overpayment (in my opinion, anywhere between of $2.5M-3.0M/year) might be worth it here.
However, if the two sides can’t agree on a new deal before the deadline, teams will be calling for his services. A top team like the Florida Panthers could improve their average penalty kill and 5-on-5 defense by acquiring Paul, and they might be tempted to offer a bit more than you’d expect for a player of that caliber, perhaps as much as a second-round pick. The Tampa Bay Lightning raised some questions a few years ago when they moved a first-round pick for bottom-six forward Barclay Goodrow — only to raise two Stanley Cups afterward, putting said questions to rest. They gave up a lot for a single bottom-six forward, but they also showed that if you’ve got a strong hockey team, using draft picks to maximize your potential usually is a good idea.
Another position that teams could be looking to strengthen at this time is that of the backup goaltender. Most clubs exclusively use their number-one netminder in the playoffs, and managing their workload in the regular season could give them more of an edge in the more important games.
Not to mention, the injury bug could always bite, and leave you in a difficult position. Casey DeSmith of the Pittsburgh Penguins currently has a .901 save percentage through 11 games this season, and that’s after shutting out the Ottawa Senators sans-Drake Batherson and Josh Norris, so it’s easy to see the Penguins getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year upon an injury to their starter, Tristan Jarry.
That’s where Ottawa comes in (provided the Penguins are the only team with interest). Through 19 games in 2021-22, Anton Forsberg is sporting a .911 save percentage, and while his body of work has been inconsistent, we’ve also seen him steal games against the likes of Toronto and Carolina. He’d be an improvement over quite a few backup goaltenders in the league, and I can see teams parting with a late-round pick for his services. Ottawa currently has Filip Gustavsson under contract for the 2022-23 season on a one-way deal, so it’s hard to imagine them keeping Forsberg around beyond this year.
Paul and Forsberg are the two players Ottawa has that should be able to bring back some decent draft capital, though they’ve got several other pending UFAs on their roster as well. I doubt there are any teams pining for Chris Tierney and Josh Brown, but players of their caliber are frequently acquired each year by teams looking to add a bit of depth for cheap. Even if Ottawa isn’t able to get picks for these players, they should still be looking to give some younger players a chance down the stretch while saving a bit of cash in the process.
Despite a large amount of pending free agents, it’s hard to predict just how many will be moved before the deadline. I think it’s more likely than not Paul is re-signed, but the organization might surprise us and bring a few others back next season as well.
Be sure to let us know how busy Pierre Dorion will be leading up to the trade deadline, as well as who you think will be the first Ottawa Senator to be moved!