Instant Analysis: Senators Hit Home Run, Acquire Alex DeBrincat from Chicago

Pierre Dorion and the Sens made a huge upgrade at forward without giving up any currently rostered players

In February 2019, Pierre Dorion boldly declared that the day he traded Mark Stone was his proudest day as General Manager of the Ottawa Senators. Dorion didn’t make any such bold statements today, addressing the media after pulling off what could quite possibly turn out to be the best trade of his career - a blockbuster that brought star forward Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa in exchange for a handful of picks - but if he had, they probably would have been better received this time around.

The 24-year-old Debrincat was probably the best forward rumoured to be available this offseason. The young winger scored 41 goals and 78 points in 2021-22 and has produced at that pace throughout his career. On top of being a pure goalscorer, he’s also an analytics darling. Those who watch him a lot say that he has a great shot and great hockey IQ. According to Dorion, D.J Smith has said nice things about Debrincat’s hockey IQ, as that’s what stood out him when he coached against him in junior.

Debrincat is so good that before the trade there was a lot of debate about whether or not Chicago should trade him in the first place, as he’s exactly the type of player a team would want to build around.

Debrincat has often been overlooked because of his size - he’s only 5’7 - but he plays a pretty physical style of hockey, which is good because that’s how the Sens like to play, too.

Addressing the media at the Bell Centre after the trade, Pierre Dorion said that Debrincat had been his #1 trade target. It’s easy to see why: not only is he an excellent player, he also seems like a perfect fit for the Sens’ current forward group. Tim Stützle proved himself to be an excellent playmaker last season after moving to centre, and with a 40 goal scorer on his wing instead of the rotating cast of third liners he carried around last year, he could reach another level in 2022-23.

It is maybe worth noting that Debrincat has always played on a line with Patrick Kane, which probably helped boost his production. Ottawa doesn’t have anyone at that level (yet), but they do have enough talented forwards that it’s not like he’ll have to carry his linemates. In their top six, Ottawa now has two goalscorers in Norris and Debrincat, two playmakers in Stützle and Batherson, and Brady Tkachuk, who is his own special type of player.

Debrincat shoots right but usually plays left wing. This could give the Senators more flexibility when it comes to potentially acquiring more forwards. It could also give them two one-timer options on the powerplay, with him on one side and Norris on the other.

Dorion talked about this move in the context of the team transitioning into a contender and exiting the rebuild phase. He reiterated that the goal is to play meaningful games late in the season.

You also have to think this makes Ottawa a more enticing option for free agents like, say, a certain former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Basically, it’s a good day to be a fan of the Ottawa Senators. Feels pretty incredible to say that.

Upgrading at forward instead of on defense

It’s no secret that the Sens have also been looking for an upgrade on defense, especially on the right side. Dorion didn’t give an answer about whether or not he’s done trading today, but it seems likely there will be more moves.

Using the 7th overall pick to net a forward is probably the move that made the most sens given what we know about the trade market. The Sens also have enough top prospects on defense that it’s possible they’ll be able to find an upgrade internally. I don’t think the same can be said of their forward prospects.

What about the pick?

This trade is an instant win for the Ottawa Senators. Frankly, it’s very unlikely any of the three picks they gave up will turn into anyone as good as Alex Debrincat.

Still, trading the 7th overall pick was a big move. Dorion said at the press conference that there were “2 or 3” players he was considering selecting at the draft. He was so close to keeping the pick, in fact, that he had Thomas Chabot ready to announce it.

Chabot apparently sent him a thumbs-up and a heart when he got the news about the trade. A glowing review from the alternate captain!

It’s frankly ridiculous that the Sens managed to get this done without giving up a single player. I don’t think that pick will be missed.

The contract question

The one big concern about Debrincat is that he only has one year left on his current contract. In 2023 he’ll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and a qualifying offer of $9M. He’ll also be only a year away from being eligible to test unrestricted free agency.

The Sens have historically had a lot of trouble re-signing pending unrestricted free agents, so it’s natural to be a little bit apprehensive about their ability to sign him — especially with Tim Stützle also being an RFA next season and Sanderson still on his ELC. Still, they have a year to figure it out, and maybe a year of hanging out with Brady Tkachuk and friends will convince him to stick around.

In Montreal, Dorion said that he hasn’t spoken to DeBrincat’s agent yet. The player will be eligible to sign a contract extension as of July 13th, and Dorion says he plans to begin talks this summer.

Asked about how Debrincat feels about the trade, Dorion said that it was a bit of a shock, but that he’s really excited to come to Ottawa and play with the Sens’ young core.

Plus, the Sens do have the cap space for a big contract.

Trade grade: A++++++

Absolute steal. Thank you, Pierre.

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