Among all the trades we’ve seen the Ottawa Senators make in the past several years, their recent deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning is one that stands out. Rather than merely selling off a UFA for a valuable draft pick, GM Pierre Dorion opted for a player-for-player swap, sending forward Nick Paul to the Bolts in exchange for forward Mathieu Joseph and a 2024 4th-round pick. Not only has the deal seemingly made both teams better than before, but Joseph’s success may force us to seriously re-evaluate a past trade, previously judged to be underwhelming.
Let me explain. Most fans including myself would consider the trade which sent star forward Alexi Yashin to the New York Islanders in 2001 to be the best in franchise history, for good reason. Ottawa received 6’9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, who played four full seasons for the team, depth forward Bill Muckalt, who played one season, and the 2nd overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, which materialized into Jason Spezza.
Spezza, as we all know, was phenomenal for Ottawa, scoring 687 points in 686 regular-season games, as well as 52 points in 56 playoff games. Following the 2013-14 season, however, the Sens honoured a trade request from the then-captain, sending him to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forwards Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, Alex Chiasson, and a 2015 2nd-round pick, which they used to select (after moving up in the draft) Gabriel Gagne 36th overall.
Throughout the years since Spezza was sent to Dallas, it had become increasingly clear that the Sens had lost the trade. Moving the first-line center for four different assets, you’d expect at least a couple of players to have a positive impact on the team. Paul certainly qualifies, as he tallied 66 points in 227 games, but Chiasson, Guptill, and Gagne were unable to do the same before being shipped off in separate deals. One of those deals, however, has materialized into something potentially great, and I’m not talking about Sens legend Brian Gibbons.
Since being acquired from Tampa Bay, Joseph has 4 goals and 8 assists in his first 11 games with his new team, playing primarily with Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris. He’s a pending RFA at the end of the year, with a qualifying offer of just $775,000. We’re obviously dealing with a tiny sample size here, but as Trevor pointed out in his piece on Joseph earlier in the month, it’s a sample of very solid hockey, and not necessarily a spurt of good puck luck.
As mentioned before, Paul is also doing a fantastic job with Tampa Bay, with 14 points in 19 games, while playing with a level of confidence even surpassing that which he had in Ottawa.
Nick Paul showing off the mitts pic.twitter.com/pOHo40ARIl— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 25, 2022
For me, Joseph’s strong play makes it easier to root for Paul. Watching a former player find success on a new team is always bittersweet, and knowing your team got a good deal for that player definitely takes away that bitterness.
Now here’s the burning question: since he was acquired in exchange for Paul, does that make Joseph part of the return for the Spezza trade? And, if Joseph establishes himself as a key player in Ottawa and helps them win a playoff series down the road, does it serve as a case for the Senators winning that trade? In my mind, the answer is yes. In the 2014 trade, Paul was acquired as a prospect with a decent amount of trade value, and out of the many possible outcomes, he became a useful role player for the Sens — they successfully developed an asset they received from the trade and used it’s value to acquire another player in Joseph, one who’s younger, plays a similar style, and has RFA rights in the offseason.
Either way, it makes that Yashin deal even better. The fact that the return from that 2001 trade is still coming in over 20 years later is something else.
Here’s a fun little bonus: all in all, there are 22 pieces that have been part of the Alexi Yashin trade tree. A mix of big names, obscure AHLers, and draft picks — including ones used by the team, ones that weren’t, and one still waiting to be used. I’ve created a quiz on Sporcle for you to try, in which you’ll have to name every one of the 21 named players (not including the recently acquired fourth-rounder) in the trade tree. The original trade, as well as any subsequent deals the Sens made in which those players are dealt, are fair game. Good luck!