Ottawa Senators players have done their part.
They didn’t just beat – they hammered – the Detroit Red Wings on consecutive nights, 6-2, 6-1, like a lopsided tennis match, to run their record to 4-2-1 over Pierre Dorion’s anointed seven-game stretch of games.
Ottawa has just one game remaining before Friday’s trade deadline.
So now what?
To think that the Senators GM is going to instantly switch into heavy buy mode on the basis of four wins over a ten-day stretch seems unrealistic. However, there’s a sense now that Dorion will feel obliged to add a piece or two to reward his players for stepping up in the games preceding the trade deadline, not to mention a winning trend this calendar year. The Senators are five points back of Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot in the east with 22 games left in their schedule. They are six back of the New York Islanders for WC1, with four games in hand on the Isles.
To say they are in the “mix” is an understatement. The Sens are tied with Detroit at 66 points and just two behind Buffalo.
Even before the Senators sweep of Detroit, veteran forward Derick Brassard was speaking out in favour of a buy-mode attitude.
“I honestly think that we’ve earned the right – maybe for Pierre to add a player at the deadline,” Brassard said. “I think this group, we’re trying to get to the next step and we’ve progressed all year long.”
“We want to keep winning,” said veteran winger Austin Watson, following his epic two-goal performance Tuesday vs Detroit, punctuated by a second goal that ended with him gushing blood from a high stick. Not that it stopped him from raising his arms in salute at the bench as he exited to get stitches. Of course, he returned to action.
“We’ve put ourselves in a spot where we can touch some of the teams ahead of us, and we’re right there,” Watson said. “It’s hard not to look at the standings and see where you are. And you know it’s tough when you know ownership changes are coming because – what are the rules? What are the parameters, you know? You’ve got unrestricted free agents going into the trade deadline – can you sign ‘em? It’s an interesting time.”
It certainly is. All the more so after Ottawa’s resounding victories over the Red Wings in what was being billed as a ‘mini-playoff.’ The Sens came out of it looking like a team capable of playing physical, sound playoff-style hockey.
Will Dorion do something to try to help his team get to the playoffs?
He has said he could be a buyer or seller at the deadline, and possibly both.
Look for the Sens to make additions where they make sense – not necessarily rentals for a playoff push but players that could be part of the picture next season. And if an offer is too good to turn down, Ottawa could also be selling off an asset or two that other teams might covet for playoff depth.
Projected deadline day cap space: $20,920,483
Salary cap committed to 2023-24: $62,749,047
Draft picks next three drafts
2023: Rd 1, Rd 4, Rd 5, Rd 6, Rd 7 (3)
2024: Rd 1, Rd 2 (2), Rd 4(2), Rd 5, Rd 6
2025: Rd 1, Rd 2, Rd 3, Rd 4, Rd 5, Rd 6, Rd 7
Ottawa’s sorest need continues to be an experienced, top-four defenceman. With Jake Sanderson and Thomas Chabot already established, they don’t need a flashy D-man, but someone big and strong defensively to box out the crease. Also another forward, probably a centre in the short term to add depth with Josh Norris out for the season.
The goaltending situation is interesting. Veteran Cam Talbot was added in the off-season to provide experience alongside Anton Forsberg. Now, with Forsberg out for the season, do the Senators hang onto Talbot, and possibly re-sign him if he helps the Sens to a playoff spot?
Longer term, like most teams coming out of a rebuild and into the contending phase, the Senators could use some depth additions all over. And so Dorion will be eyeing players not just for the stretch run but for next season as well.
D Jakob Chychrun, ARI
6-2 | 220 lbs | 36 GP | 7 G | 21 A | 28 PIM
The Senators have long been interested in landing the 24-year-old Chychrun (25 next month), but like other teams, they have balked at the price. With so many defencemen having already been moved, will the price drop on Chychrun and could Ottawa get back in the running? Dorion is certainly keeping tabs here. If it means dropping a couple of first round picks plus a top prospect, it’s doubtful Ottawa would be game for that deal. Chychrun has two years remaining at $4.6M.
D Matt Roy, LAK
6-1 | 205 lbs | 62 GP | 9 G | 10 A | 14 PIM
The LA Kings are loaded with right-shot defencemen, which could lead them to move Roy or Sean Walker and perhaps both of them. Roy, 27, has one year left on a contract with a cap hit of $3.1M and $4.2M actual salary to be paid next season. (Surely the incoming Sens owners won’t mind). Walker earns less but is smaller and less productive than Roy. Walker has an AAV of $2.65M and also has one year left on a deal paying $3.35M actual dollars next season.
C Nick Bjugstad, ARI
6-6 | 209 lbs | 59 GP | 13 G | 10 A | 26 PIM
Bjugstad has been productive and healthy for the Coyotes. And with an expiring contract of just $900,000 is a cheap and cheerful addition to a roster. Bjugstad is 30 and would bring size and add depth to Ottawa’s bottom six.
Assets to trade
G Cam Talbot
6-4 | 196 lbs | 13-14-1 | 2.87 GAA | .905 SV%
Talbot is a tough call. Before recent events, it would have been easy to see him moved as a pending UFA at the deadline. But with Anton Forsberg out for the year and only rookie prospects Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese in the organization, Dorion will probably want to hang onto Talbot to support Sogaard down the stretch, especially with the Senators’ on-ice performance this week. Talbot, 35, has a cap hit of $3.66M on his expiring contract. If Dorion sees a deal he can’t refuse and parts with Talbot, he would have to bring in an experienced goalie just to get through the season.
RW Austin Watson
6-4 | 204 lbs | 56 GP | 7 G | 2 A | 72 PIM
In their 6-1 drubbing of Detroit Tuesday, Watson put on a display of why he wants to stay and help Ottawa win more games in a push to a playoff spot. But he also showed his value to a contending team looking for grit and depth. At 31, Watson doesn’t skate well, but his breakaway goal versus the Wings showed he still has some touch around the net. And nobody is more willing to block shots and muck it up than Watson. “Watty” is loved by his teammates and they won’t want to see him leave.
D Nick Holden
6-4 | 214 lbs | 51 GP | 1 G | 11 A | 10 PIM
Holden is another veteran UFA candidate to be moved, but also a very popular player that would be sorely missed in the room. Holden, 35, has playoff experience and could be of interest to a team looking to add depth for a playoff grind. But if it only means a late round pick, is it worth giving up a third-pairing D-man who is like a crazy uncle to the younger Sens players? If Dorion does add a defenceman or two, Holden could be bumped out of the picture, either as an extra player in Ottawa or as a trade chip.
The Eastern Conference has turned into an arms race, with major deals completed by the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others. How does that impact Dorion’s moves? Does he feel the need to keep pace somewhat, or does he stick to his mantra of helping the Senators for the future, not just the immediate?
Watson touched on the ownership factor. Is Dorion actually limited by the fact he will have a new boss by the summer time? To this point, Dorion has been acting on the budget and guidance of his board of directors. The trade deadline is going to be a fascinating test case for this GM of a team in ownership transition. Does he have the backing to swing for the fences on a deal?
Dorion himself said he could be a buyer and seller simultaneously.
Senators fans will be watching anxiously to see how that plays out.