According to reports out of Edmonton, Pierre Dorion took in two of the most recent Oilers’ home games leading to suspicions that the Senators’ general manager is doing some scouting for a prospective offseason trade.
In an article for Sportsnet Mark Spector hypothesized that Dorion could be looking at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who, thanks to the emergence and prominence of Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, may be too expensive for the Oilers as a third line centre. Nugent-Hopkins has three years left on the seven-year, $42 contract that he signed in September of 2013.
Nugent-Hopkins has spent the past number of games flanking McDavid on the Oilers’ top line, but if Oilers management and the coaching staff believe that he is not well-suited for the wing, it could position the organization to use him as a trade chip in a deal to bring in a coveted winger for McDavid.
Enter Mike Hoffman.
Hoffman, who has two years left on his contract that will pay him $5.65 million in real dollars (carrying an AAV of $5.1875 million), could be perceived as the speedy natural goal-scoring winger that McDavid needs to get the most out of his game.
The question Spector poses is “do you ever trade a well-rounded centreman like Nugent-Hopkins for a winger in Hoffman?”
Unless the assets headed the other way for a package consisting of an expendable and overvalued asset like Cody Ceci, a more appropriate question might be, with Erik Karlsson’s future being so clouded in doubt, why would the Senators trade one of their best trade chips for a second line centre that they don’t desperately need at this juncture?
Maybe the circumstances would be different if Karlsson was interested in staying, but this fan base’s fear was essentially outlined by Elliotte Friedman in an interview on The Fan 960 in Calgary yesterday (transcript courtesy of Chris Nichols from FanRagSports) in which he stated that he doesn’t “see how under this ownership (the relationship between Karlsson and the organization is) going to be rectified.”
“Erik Karlsson wants to win,” Friedman explained. “They’ll have a great year, but there’s no consistency there. I think Erik Karlsson and them, they wanted to make a deal at the deadline.”
The widely-held assumption is that Karlsson’s days with this organization are numbered, making the Nugent-Hopkins move would essentially amount to a lateral move in which the need for a second line centre would shift to needing a new first line winger.
Considering the performance of the Senators’ first line of Hoffman, Duchene and Dzingel and the job Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s done playing second line minutes, Senators brass has to determine whether it wants to risk marginalizing the production of its other two centres to bring in a player at a position where there is already tons of organizational depth.
Nugent-Hopkins would obviously represent an upgrade over Pageau, but in the wake of the Derick Brassard trade on February 23, 2018, the Senators have slid Pageau up to the team’s second line where he has been quite productive.
Pageau’s offensive aptitude has languished playing a shutdown role alongside defensively responsible players like Tom Pyatt, but as the postseason demonstrated last year, Pageau has the potential to be a more impactful even strength scorer if he is afforded the luxury of playing with more skilled linemates.
In the 11 games that have followed the Brassard trade, Pageau has tallied four goals, five points and 30 shots on goal.
Looking at the five-on-five numbers, Pageau’s not generating significantly more chances or shots, but he is scoring on a greater percentage of shots. The unsustainable shooting rate of 17.65-percent will play up his numbers, but the absence of Brassard has not only created more opportunity for Pageau to play with the team’s best forward, Mark Stone, but Pageau can also log significantly more power play ice time, thereby creating an opportunity for him to generate more shots and offence.
It may not be sexy, but there’s no reason why Pageau cannot be an inexpensive placeholder until one of the team’s offensive centre prospects like a Logan Brown is ready to make the jump.
Was the Karlsson Trade Close?
It’s bizarro world in Ottawa these days.
As much as fans enjoy the goals and wins, fans are just as content with a loss and the increased draft lottery odds that accompany it.
The coaching staff recently benched Fredrik Claesson so it could get a look at the 29-year old journeyman in Erik Burgdoerfer before he was returned to the AHL the next day.
Waiver claim Magnus Paajarvi is producing at a level that he hasn’t experienced since his 2010-11 rookie campaign.
Don Brennan has become must-read.
Yes, between the biting criticisms of ownership, one of Brennan’s most recent articles from the team’s Florida road trip featured an in-depth conversation with Bobby Ryan about how he handled the rumours at this year’s trade deadline.
The most important takeaway is that Ryan heard a deal had been reached involving him and Karlsson.
“I heard on Sunday it was done and somebody backed out at the last second,” Ryan said Monday morning at BB&T Center. “Karl and I were like, ‘pack it up’. We thought we were gone. That’s just the way it goes. Then you’re like, I’ve got to move again?
Ryan never discloses where he heard the news. It could have been inferred from listening to the talking heads on social media or television, it may have been from his teammates or it’s possible that the rumour came from his agent through some leaked information by one of the parties involved.
What matters is that Ryan’s hearing his name be included in trade rumours involving Erik Karlsson. If there is any legitimacy to how Ryan found out this deal was close on deadline day, it’s disturbing because it means that Senators ownership is more interested in saving money than maximizing the return on a prospective Karlsson trade.
If the Senators have to go down the trade route with Karlsson because he refuses to sign a contract extension, the organization cannot legitimately sell the news as a true win if it will willingly marginalize the trade return on the best defenceman in the league because it wants to get out from under what’s owed to Bobby Ryan.
There’s no mistaking the fact that the Ryan trade and his contract extension were ill-advised or that the remaining four years and $30 million left on the deal beyond this season are excessive.
It’s just that if the Senators trade Karlsson, the team is going to be bad. This team’s struggles with Karlsson off the ice are well-documented, and if this is a club that’s a playoff bubble team with him in Norris Trophy form, where are they going to be with him gone?
The Ryan contract is terrible, but it becomes less cumbersome if the team is bad and it isn’t forcing better players out because of the team’s internal cap.
It could be an extensive rebuild for the Senators to turn things around, but it’ll take a lot longer if the Senators don’t get the best return that they can.
Four Billboards Outside Kanata, Ontario
Today is the day.
Spencer Callaghan’s #MelnykOut campaign raised over $10,000 on GoFundMe to express Senators fans’ disenchantment with Eugene Melnyk and today is the day that four billboards around the city will convey that message.
According to the campaign’s official site, the billboards will appear at Ogilvie Rd. near St-Laurent Blvd., at Hunt Club Rd. near Paul Benoit Dr., Bank St. near Riverside and Carling Ave. near Preston St.
In an email to Postmedia last week, Melnyk responded to the billboard news by stating, “I bought the Senators when no else would, and I have continued to own them and invest in the community when no one else would. No one should doubt my commitment.”
In his letter to season seat holders a few short weeks ago, Melnyk reminded fans that “the Ottawa Senators were in deep financial trouble” when he bought the team in 2003.
That Melnyk’s PR handlers felt compelled to include this in either response comes off as desperation.
It is a tone-deaf response that encourages fans to be ingratiated to a man for something that happened 15 years ago without harboring any kind of judgment or critical analysis of his stewardship since he bought the team.
In fairness, he bought the team during a period of instability when the long-term viability of this franchise could have been questioned, but at the same time, Melnyk shouldn’t behave like the purchase of the team was a selfless act or that he didn’t get anything out of it.
Beyond the cachet of being an NHL franchise owner or the innumerable ‘Prime Time Sports’ radio appearances, Melnyk’s got it pretty good.
Even if Forbes’ franchise valuations should be questioned, expansion price tags and other club sales around the NHL give us an idea of how sound Melnyk’s 2003 investment was. Melnyk bought the team and the arena for a reported $120-150 million at the time, but the Senators’ franchise has appreciated in value and is worth hundreds of millions now. If he ever reaches the decision to sell, he will profit handsomely off the deal.
Perhaps most importantly, being an NHL owner saved his life.
This public platform provided him with the opportunity that he needed to jump the queue and receive a liver and because of it, a Senators fan saved Melnyk’s life.
If fans should look past the blundering and turmoil that his 15 years of ownership have wrought, why did he impulsively use a national platform to declare fan base needs to “prove itself” while also threatening Ottawa with relocation if attendance doesn’t improve?
Melnyk can hire a Toronto-based PR firm to oversee his actions now, but they cannot undo the past 15 years. Over this stretch of time, this city has come to understand who and what he is, but the same cannot be said of Melnyk’s grasp of what makes this city and its hockey fans tick.
Formenton’s Outlook Improving
In one of his most recent pieces for The Athletic (paywall), Corey Pronman penned thoughts on one prospect from each organization in the NHL. When it came time for the Ottawa Senators, he used the space to write about Alex Formenton.
Despite having elite speed, one of the knocks on Formenton at the time of the 2017 NHL Draft was that his offensive skill set wasn’t at a high enough level to instill confidence in scouts that this was a player who could play in an NHL team’s top-six.
Although Pronman expressed some lingering doubt about Formenton’s upside as a top-six forward, he has seen enough creativity and skill in his last few viewings to at least think there’s a chance Formenton can get there.
Formenton had a late birthday for his draft class and if he was born a few days later, he would have been eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. It’s possible to dream on an argument that Formenton just needed an increased role with the London Knights and time to gain confidence and more poise with the puck.
His 24 goals in 43 games this season are a marked jump from last year’s 16 in 65, but his assists total (18) still lags somewhat which lends itself to the perception Formenton lacks creativity. Regardless, it’s reassuring to hear that Formenton’s offensive skills are improving.
Christian Wolanin to Test UFA?
Sticking with Corey Pronman, he recently penned a piece identifying some NCAA collegiate players who could be targeted as unrestricted free agents once their college season is done.
Interestingly although he’s not a free agent yet, the Senators’ Christian Wolanin, a defenceman drafted in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, made the list because “there is a belief in the industry that Wolanin will probably could North Dakota this summer to become an NHL free agent.”
According to Pronman, Wolanin could do this despite being drafted only three years ago due to section 8.6(c)(5) of the NHL CBA. This clause in the CBA would allow Wolanin to become a free agent 30 days after he withdraws from school since “he was drafted in his third eligible draft season”. Due to this overage draft status, Wolanin qualifies for this free agent loophole.
I certainly don’t want to overhype the potential loss of a player who may only be destined for the third pairing or a depth role, but with the Senators’ expected to endure a rebuild, losing any asset of value for nothing, would suck.
The 23-year old junior tallied 12 goals and 35 points in 40 games for the University of North Dakota this season.
It’s not really known why Wolanin would gauge outside interest on the free agent market, but it’s hard to blame him if he wants to control his own destiny. Even though the Senators should offer some considerable opportunity thanks to their shortage of quality offensive defencemen prospects, one has to wonder whether the organization’s admission of cutbacks everywhere but the player payroll is making some players pause in their decision to remain with the organization long-term.
I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that the instability at the top of this organization is trickling down and having some impact on these low-level decisions.
Other News and Notes:
- Aaron Luchuk, the undrafted free agent that the Senators signed to an entry-level contract in December, has sewn up the OHL scoring title. In 68 games between the Windsor Spitfires and Barrie Colts, the centre has taled 50 goals and 115 points.
- Now that Filip Gustavsson’s season is over with Lulea HC of the SHL, the Swedish goaltending prospect will join Belleville this week and is expected to remain there for the rest of the AHL season.