I know what you’re thinking, I’ve lost my mind. The Sens are currently sitting close to the bottom of the league and Spencer is out here suggesting they move their 2022 first round pick.
But, hear me out.
While this team has a number of areas to address through internal or external avenues this offseason, I think they’re much closer to being good than many people seem to believe. After all, they’ve been putting up a bubble team level record since December 2nd. If it weren’t for COVID ripping through the team in November, we’re probably looking at more of a team with an outside chance at the playoffs rather than one with an outside chance at first overall.
Of course, it’s important to consider both sides here so let’s start with why the Sens should keep their 2022 first round pick.
Why Shouldn’t They Trade The Pick?
Traditionally, teams in the bottom half of the standings aren’t out there trading their first round picks all willy nilly - and I get that! Despite Pierre Dorion claiming - and then walking back on - that the rebuild is over, it very much isn’t. The Ottawa Senators today are not in the playoff hunt and trading a pick that seems pretty destined for the back half of the top 10 would be quite the risky move.
It’s also important to note that while the Sens have plenty of young players on the roster and a few solid up-and-comers in the pipeline, the cupboards aren’t going to overflow forever. Recently, Scott Wheeler at The Athletic posted his annual prospect pool rankings which saw the Sens graduate so many players that they dropped from 3rd in 2021 to 17th in 2022. This time next year, Jake Sanderson will be out of this conversation and it’s possible we see Ridly Greig leave the “prospect” status behind in the next season or two as well.
Keeping a strong stable of prospects to filter into the AHL and NHL is an important part of ensuring long term success and it’s possible that by moving your first round pick, you’re giving another team someone like, oh I don’t know, Bowen Byram.
You also have to consider for a team with less money than most, having good players on their ELCs can be very valuable down the line - as it is today with Norris, Stützle, Formenton, etc.
And Why Should They?
There’s a question that’s been in my head for the past few weeks and is the inspiration for this entire piece.
Are we already in “the window”?
Every team who commits to a rebuild is working towards their window. A lot of the time, that window starts with a team hitting their stride and becoming a playoff contender. Down the highway in Toronto, for example, “the window” probably opened the first year the Auston Matthews-era team made the playoffs. Ottawa hasn’t hit that milestone yet but Ottawa also isn’t your average NHL team.
In my opinion, the window for financially strapped teams begins when you start to lock your young, rebuilt core into their long term deals. For the Sens, Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Drake Batherson are here long term while Batherson is on what’s looking like a contender for the leagues best value deal. This offseason, Josh Norris will be next. The following offseason, Tim Stützle will be up. What I’m saying is, particularly with the Batherson bargain contract, “the window” could very well slam shut in 2026-27. That gives them five season after this one.
So, here’s the point.
Whomever they pick in the first round this year - unless they win the lottery - is relatively unlikely to be a big factor in helping the Ottawa Senators win hockey games before 2026-27.
Five drafts ago was the 2017 draft, headlined by the likes of Nico Hischier, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson. Of the top 15 picks in that draft, I’d argue at most six of them are true impact players today. You’ve got Hischier, Makar and Petterson with Miro Heiskanen, Martin Necas and Nick Suzuki added in. Yes, I know Erik Brännström is in this group but he hasn’t been in a conversation with these other players yet, so I’m not counting him.
Of those six players, only Makar, Petterson, Hischier and Heiskanen have been at a top level for more than a season or two while I think it’s safe to argue that Necas and Suzuki only really had true coming out parties occur last season. Of course, the idea of keeping this first round pick for the lottery-level odds of walking out with a shiny “Cale Makar” is intriguing but he’s bordering on a generational talent at this point and those diamonds are next to impossible to reliably mine unless they’re Connor McDavid and you win the lottery.
I know, this is only one draft year. But let’s look at some others.
The 2016 draft was a special one, with Matthews and Patrik Laine headlining. Of that top 15, you have a ton of high level impact players today. You’ve got the top two picks plus Pierre Luc Dubois, Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy all in that top 15. But you still have half of that top 15 who are either just finding their footing or haven’t panned out at all (sorry Logan).
The 2018 draft - or as I like to call it, The One Where We Were Wrong About Brady - is a similar situation. Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes are all impact players four seasons later but the rest of the top 15 ranges from question marks to players who are just breaking out now.
What I’m saying is, unless Ottawa happens to get a top 2-3 pick in this draft, the likelihood they help the Sens win before the window, as I define it, starts to close is slim. I’d much rather move it for a known commodity who can help Ottawa take the next step in the fall.
And When Should They?
This one’s easy - any time after the draft order is settled.
The moment the balls decide the fate of the non-playoff teams, the Sens should be picking up the phone and making calls. Of course, if they happen to win the lottery, this whole post is probably irrelevant because I don’t see a world where Dorion moves the first overall pick in any draft, no matter who the top prize may be.
Once they find out they’re picking, more likely, 5th-15th, Dorion should be sending an email to the entire league stating they’re open for business and watch the offers roll in.
And For Whom?
Ah yes, the million dollar question.
I have many answers to this that mostly revolve around who they should not trade for. Mostly, that list consists of players who are at or past their prime (28+ years old) and players who play a position where Ottawa is already relatively or very strong (centre, left defense). While Jacob Chychrun, for example, would be an awesome target and someone I wouldn’t be upset about moving this pick (plus more) for, it’s not where I’d focus since they have Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson and Erik Brännström and I’d rather use this valuable trade chip for something which the Sens need more.
Two areas of weakness which could immediately be addressed by trading this pick would be the right wing and goaltending. I know for goaltending, Filip Gustavsson is trending well and Mads Søgaard is also looking strong, but there isn’t anyone in the system right now who screams “playoff ready” - although, as I write this, Matt Murray seems to be having some kind of resurgence right now. I’d be more inclined to find a top six winger rather than goaltender but I also can’t ignore the fact that Ottawa’s goaltending situation is far from certain, at this point.
At right wing, one name who came up that I would be very intrigued by is Conor Garland. The 25 year old right winger was recently rumoured to be available. Over the past two seasons, he’s produced at a 0.70 pts/gp clip and would be a fantastic compliment to either of Ottawa’s top six centres. There’s a world where Ottawa could keep Norris, Tkachuk and Batherson together while rolling out a speedy skilled line of Stützle, Alex Formenton and Garland. That’s a world I want to live in.
Garland also has what I deem to be the most Sens-friendly contract on the market. His cap hit is $4.95M, the cash back slides a bit and he’s owed nothing in signing bonuses. That’s Eugene Melnyk’s music.
Speaking of the Canucks, who are rumoured to be retooling, Brock Boeser feels like DJ Smith’s dream acquisition. He’s 24, plays the right side, plays hard and physical and he’s got a five season 0.77 pts/gp record to his name, so you know he’s going to be reliable in providing offense. The downside to a Boeser acquisition, from the front office perspective, is he’s due for a new contract this summer. They could acquire him ahead of time which would be advantageous, as he’s currently an RFA, but he’ll get a raise on his current $5.875M cap hit which might not be attractive, or possible, for Ottawa.
The Philadelphia Flyers have also been rumoured to be looking for some change - although there’s been some denial that a full-on rebuild is in their plans. That being said, Travis Konecny absolutely fits the bill for me as a player I’d spend the 2022 first round pick on. Another right winger, plays with an edge and contributes offensively.
The final forward who would be of interest doesn’t play the right side, but I’m sure DJ Smith could work his top six out where Clayton Keller fits nicely. Keller’s cap hit isn’t super Sens-friendly, as he’d become Ottawa’s third highest paid player the moment the trade goes through. If Ottawa could get Arizona to take back some cash, even just a million or two, the 23 year old skilled forward would be an ideal target for the Sens.
On the goaltender front, it’s a bit more difficult to assess who’s out there or who’s worth grabbing. Speaking of the Flyers, we’ve got Carter Hart as a young, NHL goaltender who could be had for the right price. He had a tough go last year but has been an above average goaltender during the other three seasons he’s spent in the NHL and is only 23 years old.
There’s an interesting storyline unfolding in Washington, as well, as the goaltender who many (or maybe just me?) pegged as the starter is being outplayed by his competition. Ilya Samsonov is currently posting a 0.903 SV% while Vitek Vanecek is crushing the season with a 0.916 SV% to his name. Both goaltenders are in an age window I’d feel comfortable with and they’re also both up for new contracts this summer. This would be a team to watch, as it’s yet to be seen whether the Caps will move forward with both - particularly if they can get a solid return for one of them.
The Islanders also have both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov - although Varlamov is in his final year next year and I imagine they have little interest in moving Sorokin at this point. The Rangers also have multiple young-ish goaltenders but the one I’d trade this first for (Igor Shesterkin) is certainly not available.
Will They or Won’t They?
While I believe they should the problem is getting the right deal and I’m not sure that right deal exists. If the Sens can get someone I mentioned above in a deal involving their first this year, I hope they jump at that. Particularly the forwards, who are all young and contributing 50-70 points a season to their current clubs.
Adding someone in that range of production to who Ottawa already has in the top six would afford the team the opportunity to play some of their veterans where they actually belong. Nick Paul, for example, is a player who can be moved up and down the lineup but a contending team would likely be deep enough that they’d rarely, if ever, see him above the third line. Connor Brown is another player who’s speed and skill would make for an excellent, maybe elite, third line winger whereas he’s currently deployed as a decent-to-good top six winger. Moving this first round pick would enable the Sens to run a third line of Paul, C. Brown and Shane Pinto and if that’s the kind of skill outside of your top six, that’s good news.
At the end of the day, I’m expecting them to use their selection in the spring, purely because making trades in the NHL is hard and I’m sure Dorion will need to feel incredibly confident he’s using his first round pick as best he can and, if he’s not sure, he won’t do it.
That being said, if I’m Dorion, I’m trying everything and anything to use this pick to make Ottawa better today.