Full disclaimer: this “weekly” question is completely ripped from the most recent Sens Callups podcast (feat. Ian Mendes!). If you aren’t a regular listener, you should probably make sure to check in. They do a great job of covering the Senators from a fan perspective, and make sure to have lots of interesting guests on. Plus I’ve met Pan and Canuck in person, and they’re pretty great guys too.
This week’s question is pretty obvious: what should the Senators do with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene? With Erik Karlsson traded, and will all due respect to Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick, Tom Pyatt, Chris Wideman, and the other guys on expiring contracts, Stone and Duchene loom as the team’s biggest pending UFAs. Karlsson was 28, while Duchene is currently 27 and Stone is 26. On the one hand, they’d be this team’s best players for years to come. On the other hand, they’d likely be past their primes by the time the Sens were ready to compete again. If the team is truly rebuilding, it might make sense to offload the remaining pieces that would bring back a good haul. Below you’ll find the arguments for and against each option:
Trade them both now
On the plus side, teams getting them would get a full season of these great players. It would stand to reason that they’d give up more to get more of them. However, trading them now doesn’t actually guarantee a good return (see: Karlsson, Erik). We’ve sometimes seen teams be looser with prospects and 1st-round picks at the trade deadline, especially once teams know they’re going to be contenders. Teams might be struggling to figure out how to fit in all the players they already have coming out of training camp, and so trying to work out a trade now might be very difficult. But at the same time, trading now might allow the Sens to get a young prospect who has yet to prove themselves, but might be considered untouchable by Christmas if they stand out in the first few months (think Tomas Hertl in 2014).
Trade them both at the deadline
Teams worry about the chances of a key injury derailing their Cup chances early in the season (think the Lightning two years ago, when the Steven Stamkos injury in November 2016). At the deadline, teams know who’s healthy and if they’re going to compete. OK players like Andrew Ladd and Paul Stastny bring back first-round picks and perceived top-level prospects. Even Ryan Hartman brought back a first-rounder last year! Teams start dreaming of what could be, and become willing to give up a lot to get a player to put them over the top. There are two big problems with this approach: what if Stone or Duchene get hurt? What if they have mediocre seasons? You could hurt your trade potential or wreck it altogether by waiting too long for a worthwhile deal.
Re-sign them both
Any team needs veteran presence, and it helps when that veteran presence is skilled. A rebuilding Sens team led by Stone and Duchene could be very good in a short span of time. Good players also give reasons to come watch games other than “Young players are fun!” The problem is that if you’re rebuilding, you want to bottom out for a couple years (preferrably years you have your own first-round pick), and these guys could get in the way of that. Also, they’re going to make bank. Stone will want a raise on this year’s $7.35M, and probably a big raise to convince him to stay after the Karlsson trade. Duchene won’t want as much as Stone, but he’ll also need a raise from his $6M. Would Melnyk really be willing to put $15-16M into two players? It seems hard to believe a few months after being unwilling to put money into the best player this franchise has ever seen and might ever see.
Re-sign one, trade the other
This is an intriguing thought, and one that Ian Mendes really liked in the above podcast. His argument was that this organization needs a guy like Mark Stone to convince people this team is worth investing in long term. In a way, it gets you both of the benefits from above — you can help out the rebuild, give people a reason to come to games, mentor your prospects, and avoid being locked into two expensive long-term contracts. The problem here is what happens when you choose wrong (i.e. Chara/Redden). And would one guy want to re-sign, knowing he’s essentially the only proven top-line NHL player left on this team? This sound good in theory, but might be very hard to do in practice.
What should the Sens do with Stone and Duchene?
|Trade them now
|Trade them around the deadline
|Extend them both long term
|Trade one, extend the other