When the news broke, late Saturday night, that the Ottawa Senators had acquired 30 year-old Derek Stepan from the Arizona Coyotes, there was a vocal contingent of fans expressing displeasure with giving up a second-round pick.
There’s merit to this, sure. Sending a second-rounder the other way for a guy with a rough-looking salary figure, who posted 28 points in 70 games last year is a tad puzzling on the surface. Especially for an Ottawa team that should have no delusions of competing any time soon, and for whom picks and prospects are premium assets.
Ottawa has no shortage of draft capital in 2021, however. With three picks in the first two rounds, the Sens actually gave up what figures to be their least valuable second-round selection; the one belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They retained their own second-rounder, as well as the San Jose Sharks’, both of which could reasonably be expected to be worth more than the one from Columbus when the 2021 draft rolls around.
This trade could also be a win for the Ottawa Senators is in the asset they received: Stepan is closer to the twilight of his career than the beginning, but as a player with 739 regular season games under his belt, and 109 more playoff contests, he brings a much-need veteran presence to a young Sens team.
The fact of the matter is that the Senators are at a point where they can no longer accept being caved in on a nightly basis. This team is entering a pivotal period in which they need to begin to build confidence through at least playing competitive games, and that starts with depth. Josh Norris and Logan Brown are on the cusp of being ready for full-time NHL duty, but Stepan gives Ottawa the ability to ease their young guns into the lineup, and give them nights off in a compacted season.
Ottawa will be facing a lot of back-to-backs, and several games packed into each week against some talented Canadian teams. Stepan’s ability to at least be serviceable up and down the lineup gives the Sens the luxury of flexibility on any given night.
There is also what Stepan brings to the team in a locker room capacity. Those who know him rave about his character, and with nearly 900 games played between the regular season and playoffs, including a Stanley Cup Final, Stepan will be a valuable resource for a young team learning how to win.
Acquisitions like Matt Murray and Evgenii Dadonov communicate loud and clear that the Ottawa Senators are no longer content with being an Eastern Conference doormat. Becoming a winning team starts with building a winning culture, something that Stepan is all too familiar with.
If you need further proof of that, here’s an interview he gave after his New York Rangers were eliminated by the Senators in 2017.
Winning starts with accountability, and throughout his career, Stepan has demonstrated a deep understanding of that tenet.
“This group came and worked hard every single day. No one made excuses for this group.” - Derek Stepan pic.twitter.com/12M0xIDWL7— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) April 5, 2019
All of this is not to say that Stepan only holds value in an intangible capacity. While his last two seasons’ point totals have been uncharacteristically low, this is still a player with some upside. His offensive instincts haven’t taken a step back, and a change of scenery could serve to reignite his production.
Stepan was playing mainly in a bottom-six capacity on an Arizona team that frankly lacks the youthful offensive potential that the Senators have. Players like Dadonov, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, and Tim Stuetzle could all be linemates for Stepan at one point or another, and all have shown an ability to elevate teammates offensively. Playing more minutes, with fast, talented linemates that drive offensive production, could lead to a resurgence for Stepan.
This would, of course, would make him a welcome addition to the Senators, but Ottawa doesn’t need Stepan to be a gamebreaking talent. The offence will run through the likes of Tkachuk, Stuetzle, Batherson, and hopefully Norris and Brown, so all the Hastings, MN native needs to do is provide a veteran presence as advertised, and chip in as he can.
If he does, he could even be an appetizing deadline flip candidate. The Senators want to start winning some games this season, but they’re fighting an uphill battle in a stacked North Division. They’ll likely be sellers at the trade deadline again, and a resurgent Stepan could be a highly sought-after addition to any given playoff team.
The argument can be made that the Senators should have hung on to their third second-rounder, but they know what they’re looking for in Derek Stepan. Whether or not he delivers will be determined in time, but Sens fans should have reason to believe this may just work out in the team’s favour after all.