When Mika Zibanejad was drafted 5 years at 6th overall, the thought was that he would take a few years to develop into an NHL player, but that he had a chance to become a first line centre. Now in the year 2016, it's nice to see that his progression has been quite linear. In his first four seasons, he has increased his point totals from 20, to 33, to 46, and then to 51 this past year.
He finished tied for 37th amongst centres in scoring, meaning that he was essentially an upper-echelon second line centre. At the age of 23, there is a chance that he can get even better too. Is 60-65 points possible? I'd say there's a chance he can get there, but he may just stay as a consistent 50 point second liner. After Kyle Turris went down with an injury in December, Zibanejad was the Senators best centre, and now some people believe that he will completely overtake Turris as the 1C.
By putting up a solid finish to the season, it's understandable that people are falling in love with what Zibanejad brings to the team. However, is he really going to be untouchable? I certainly think that if the right deal presents itself, I'd be willing to trade him.
Of course, I don't want him to be forced out of Ottawa. But if there is a top notch centre or number 2-3 defenseman available on the trade market, Zibanejad is most likely the player that teams will ask about. For this scenario, I'm thinking about players like Matt Duchene, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kevin Shattenkirk, Hampus Lindholm, Tyson Barrie, and perhaps a few others. Ottawa will have to give up quite the package if they want to acquire one of those impact players, and Zibanejad is someone that I would be willing to give up.
Those aforementioned players may not be realistic targets considering the assets that Ottawa has and what the other teams would want, but I would at least try if I was Pierre Dorion. If the Senators really want to take the next step forward, they are going to need another good defenseman and perhaps an upgrade at centre. It would be hard to get a deal done, but I think Ottawa can dangle assets like Zibanejad, Curtis Lazar, Thomas Chabot, Zack Smith, draft picks, etc.
Take Anaheim for example. For the upcoming expansion draft, they have to protect Kevin Bieksa and considering they just signed Sami Vatanen, they'll most likely keep him too. That means they have to keep either Cam Fowler or Hampus Lindholm, which should be an easy decision for them. However, Lindholm could be more expensive than Fowler's $4 million cap hit, so getting a package along the lines of Zibanejad, Chabot and another top-5 prospect may be worthwhile for the Ducks.
The same goes for the Blues and Kevin Shattenkirk, who seem willing to deal him in the coming days/weeks. If St. Louis loses David Backes to free agency, then Zibanejad could be a necessary replacement in their top 6. It would take more than just him, but I think the Blues would at least be intrigued.
Trading for a better centre seems unlikely, but when dealing with the Avalanche and the Oilers nothing is impossible. Bryan Murray had reportedly inquired about Duchene earlier in the year, and although they were told no, I'd like to see them try again because Colorado has been just about the worst management group over the past several years. Once again, it would be a package deal that would include more than one piece going to the Avalanche, but it would be a worthy upgrade giving Ottawa a one-two punch of Duchene and Turris.
Then there is Nugent-Hopkins, who has been on the block for a few years it seems like. I wouldn't give up as much for him compared to Duchene, but if all it takes is Zibanejad straight up or him and a minor piece, then Ottawa should be all over that. But in reality, the Oilers would most likely be asking for someone like Cody Ceci in a deal, so Nugent-Hopkins doesn't seem like a realistic option.
At the end of the day, Mika probably isn't going anywhere. But his value has never been higher, and we don't know for sure that his linear growth is going to keep going up. It may be smart to cash in on the belief that he can become a 65 point player, because Ottawa's need on defense is so large. However, he may actually become that 65 point centre, so a trade to another team may end up being regrettable.
Still though, if Ottawa has a chance to make their defense much better with a number two or three defenseman, then I wouldn't hesitate to move Zibanejad. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is perfectly capable as a 3rd line centre, and I think it's possible to have a stop-gap next year to play on the second line before he hopefully makes way for Colin White in 2017-18.
It would not be the end of the world if Mika has to go, just because Turris is still a player who has proven he can score 60 points, and they have Pageau, White, and perhaps another top prospect from the 2016 draft at centre. People forget that Turris is a 60+ point player when healthy and is still a first line centre too. I have loved seeing Zibanejad improve every season and become a more complete player, but if he's the biggest piece the team has and Ottawa can get better at defense (or centre for that matter) then he should not be untouchable.
If he stays that's totally fine by me, but the Senators don't have many big chips, and he is one of them. If you want to drastically improve your team in one area, it's going to hurt.