Sens Trade Ceci, Harpur to Leafs for Zaitsev, Brown

Both teams rid themselves of problem contracts

The Ottawa Senators have traded Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 3rd round pick acquired from Columbus to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Michael Carcone. The full press release from the Sens is here.

The deal had been rumoured to be nearing completion as early as Saturday night, but with Brown and Zaitsev due signing bonuses on July 1st, the trade was only formalized this morning. Zaitsev was paid $3M in bonuses by the Leafs, and will be owed only $1.5M in real dollars for this season. Meanwhile, Brown was paid $500k and will be owed $1.6M in salary.

In trading Ceci, the Sens put an end to the tenure of one of the most polarizing players in the team’s history. A local boy selected in the first round, Ceci made a dramatic entrance when he scored the overtime winner in on a December 16th, 2013 game against the St. Louis Blues — a mere five days before his 20th birthday. Ceci would go on to become one of the team’s leaders in minutes played, but struggled badly at times with defending top opponents and was without a contract going into next year.

By acquiring Nikita Zaitsev, the Sens get a defenseman that their new head coach, DJ Smith, is familiar with from his time in Toronto. They are also buying themselves a degree of cost certainty for the years to come: Zaitsev is signed through 2023-24 and will be a candidate to play heavy minutes on the right side. Whether or not you think having Zaitsev signed for that long at $4.5M per year is maybe a bit more debatable. The below is courtesy of friend of the blog Micah McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) and his indispensable site, Hockeyviz.

On aggregate, Zaitsev struggled badly in the defensive zone and didn’t add much offensively. He notched 36 points in his first season in the league, but his point totals have dwindled down to 13 in 2017-18 and then just 14 this past year. It is tough to look at this as a major upgrade.

The Sens also acquired Connor Brown as part of the trade, and though he doesn’t generate much by the way of points but he’s generally regarded as very sound defensively, and able to contribute on the Penalty Kill. Images are, again, courtesy of Hockeyviz:

Brown is 25 and will be an RFA after this year, which means the Sens could very well be trying to flip him for additional assets around the trade deadline.

Ottawa also managed to extract themselves from having to pay Ben Harpur this year and the Luchuk-Carcone swap is unlikely to have major NHL ramifications for either team.

Which brings us to the 2020 third round pick that the Sens are sending to the Leafs. This is the part of the trade that stings the most. Zaitsev’s contract is widely regarded as one of the worst in the league and the Leafs were desperate to get out from under it. Ceci, while no longer in favour with the team, is only owed one more year until the Sens could have walked away at no cost. Harpur’s deal expired at the end of this year as well. Brown is a nice enough player, but he serves no real purpose to a team that needs to stockpile as many long-term assets as possible. The meat of this trade is swapping Zaitsev for Ceci, and in that light for the Sens to send the Leafs a pick instead of receiving one in spite of the tight spot Toronto found itself in is a major loss.

There was a point in time when Ceci could have been dealt for an asset all by himself, there have been several rumours of nearly completed trades with Tampa Bay and Edmonton over the years, but those days are long gone. Nonetheless, it’s hard to look at this trade and see how it makes much sense in the context of the team trying to rebuild unless they view Zaitsev as a major player. If that’s the case, here’s to hoping Dorion and Smith know something we don’t.

More on this to come.

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