Stability Central in Centre Swap
Sometimes, breaking down a trade is an exercise in futility. Draft picks exchanged in deals take years to develop and even when they do, it’s often arguable that a different player would have been selected by the pick’s original owner.
Sometimes, the consequences of a trade are apparent from the git-go, Sens fans knows this well. On June 23, 2001, Senators general manager Marshall Johnston pulled off a blockbuster deal, trading Alexei Yashin for a quickly developing Zdeno Chara and that year’s second overall pick, Jason Spezza. It altered the course of the franchise, and helped build a core that brought the team to its first and only Stanley Cup Final.
The trade Senators GM Pierre Dorion executed on Monday won’t be looked at in the same light and it shouldn’t, but there is a comparison point. The Senators acquired Derick Brassard and a 2018 seventh-round pick for Mika Zibanejad and a 2018 second-round pick — a relatively even trade on the surface.
It is arguable that the Rangers got the better player, but that will be discussed further below. The similarity it has with the robbery Johnston got away with in 2001 is that the consequences for both teams are known immediately, for the most part.
Control and Stability
In Brassard, the Senators are getting a dependable player that is under contract through the 2018-19 season. He’s only missed five games over the past three seasons, and his scoring numbers have been creeping up in recent years. He notched a career-high in points during the 2014-15 season with 60, and netted 27 goals last season, breaking the 20-goal plateau, a first for the 28-year-old Hull native.
While Brassard’s career faceoff numbers are nothing to write home about, it’s another area of his game that has been improving. Over the entirety of his career, Brassard has won 47.7 percent of his draws, but last season, he finished with a 50.2 percent winning rate, taking the most faceoffs for the Rangers by far.
With Brassard in the fold, the Sens have also made their depth and experience at centre far greater, while setting themselves up for a very talented and affordable centre core going forward.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a breakout year in 2015-16, showing that he has the makings of a top-nine NHL centre. At 23, the Ottawa native has a paltry $900,000 cap-hit to the team, and more importantly, is a restricted free agent at the end of next season. The Sens are also likely planning to re-sign Curtis Lazar as he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and using cap space and money to re-sign cheaper, young talent to longer-term deals is what the Sens should be planning now.
These factors helped make Zibanejad expendable, as the organization recognized that Zibanejad’s $2.65 million salary was due to go up, and Pageau and Lazar would be more affordable signings after next season.
The Sens have 41.5 percent of their cap space taken up by five players on their roster (Ryan, Phaneuf, Karlsson, Methot, MacArthur) and they are still working on re-signing both Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci. If they kept Zibanejad, and he reached the potential ceiling many pundits believe he could, they may be looking at committing upwards of $6 or $7 million per year in a deal that takes the 23 year-old to the age of 28 or 29. That would not only force the Sens ownership to spend more than it seems they wish to on the team, but quickly create a dangerous situation for the team financially. The Ryan and Phaneuf contracts are both monstrous, if Zibanejad were to stay, one of those would have to go, and neither is easy to move. The trade guarantees Ottawa a top-six centre at a reasonable price through 2018-19 and the financial flexibility to make sure they don’t let quality young players slip away.
The trade also brings Brassard into a familiar situation in several ways. First, he joins three other Sens players as the Ottawa-area boys on the team. He already owns a home in the area and his family lives there, so the transition shouldn’t be too hard on him.
He is also joining his former major junior coach in Guy Boucher, although Brassard only played 14 games in their one overlapping season in Drummondville; having an idea of who your coach is before joining a team is sure to make things easier. The common ground extends on the ice as he played with Mark Stone and Cody Ceci on Canada’s gold medal-winning World Championship team in May, and was teammates for five seasons with Marc Methot in Columbus.
Brassard should have no problems acclimatizing to life back at home.
The Future is Bright
The Senators made a lot of front-office changes early this offseason, and though the new group didn’t jump into the free-agent pool cannonball-style, they have made signings and moves that are beginning to reflect how Dorion and Boucher want to build this team.
Ottawa has the core of their defense locked up once they complete the signing of Ceci, and with a wave of young centres coming through the pipeline, getting a more experienced man in Brassard was smart. Curtis Lazar and J.G. Pageau are already in the pool. Ryan Dzingel and Nick Paul are both also fighting for spots down the middle, and Colin White is looking like a surefire NHLer going into his second year at Boston College.
The signing of Chris Kelly and the Zibanejad trade both look to bring a solid body of work to this young Senators squad.
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