Unlike many of the other Canadian teams, the Ottawa Senators are gearing up for a very quiet trade deadline. The team’s biggest trade chip is Alex DeBrincat, who is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but there’s little indication that he’ll be moved. His value has plummeted since being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for a first, second, and third-round draft pick, and so Pierre Dorion is likely unwilling to take a loss on the two-time 40-goal scorer. Right now, the plan is to sign him to a long-term extension and hope that he continues to develop alongside the team’s young core.
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There are a few names that could be on the move in the coming weeks, however, especially if the Senators want to pursue one of the bigger names out there. They currently have six players set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and it would be surprising to see more than one or two back in 2023-24. A few have them have done quite well despite the team’s record, too, which could attract some buyers looking for playoff depth and veteran leadership.
The Senators’ goaltending was rough last season. Their starter, Matt Murray, sported just a .906 save percentage (SV%), which ranked 41st among NHL goalies who played at least 10 games in 2021-22. That allowed Anton Forsberg to steal the show and force Ottawa to pay the Toronto Maple Leafs to take Murray off their hands. So, heading into 2022-23, the Senators decided to bring in a reliable veteran in Cam Talbot to stabilize the crease and support Forsberg.
The result, however, has been more of the same. After 28 games, Talbot has a .905 SV%, placing him 38th in the NHL among goalies who have played at least 10 games, and to make matters worse, Forsberg hasn’t been any better, also sitting at a .905 SV% after 27 appearances. The problem isn’t solely the goaltending, though; the Senators have the ninth-lowest expected goals against (xGA) this season at just over 102 but have allowed 108 goals over 50 games, the 11th-highest total.
Given that Forsberg is signed for two more seasons, Talbot and his expiring contract may find himself on the trade block in the coming weeks. Teams know that he’s a reliable veteran that can play heavy minutes but also provide support in a backup role. With the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vegas Golden Knights currently looking for some crease security, there could be a market for the 35-year-old. The price to acquire him would be cheaper than other goalies on the market, too, making him an ideal fit for a cap-strapped team like Vegas.
If Talbot’s $3.67 million cap hit will be relatively easy to move, Nikita Zaitsev is the complete opposite. Signed to a $4.5 million deal with a modified no-movement clause in 2017 until 2023-24, the defender has been an anchor on the team’s cap. A deal was reportedly in place earlier this year with the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Tyler Myers, another overpaid and underperforming defender, but Zaitsev refused the trade. Looking at the Canucks’ current situation, it was probably a good call on the blueliner’s behalf, but it didn’t make moving him any easier.
But a bad contract hasn’t stopped Dorion before, and despite the challenges, he is actively looking to move Zaitsev and is willing to attach a draft pick to get it done, which could be as high as a second-rounder. But will that be enough? The struggling defenceman is on pace to put up the worst statistical season of his career with just four assists in 23 games, putting him on pace to hit just 10 points. He hasn’t been much better defensively, either, owning the second lowest high-danger chances against per 60 minutes and the third lowest in expected goals against per 60 among Senators’ defencemen. Add in his monster contract, and he looks practically unmovable.
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The one saving grace is that Zaitsev is a right-shot defenceman, which carries a lot of weight in today’s trade market, and there are more than a few teams in need of a bottom-pairing defenceman. The Calgary Flames will be without Oliver Kylington for the foreseeable future, while the Washington Capitals will need to add someone to at least partly fill in for the injured John Carlson. Even the Minnesota Wild could be a fit, especially if the team decides to trade Matt Dumba at the deadline and is looking for some temporary depth. In any case, Zaitsev is on his way out and if there continue to be no takers at the deadline, he’ll likely be bought out in the offseason.
As mentioned previously, there are plenty of teams who will be looking for defensive depth ahead of the deadline, which means there could be a significant market for reliable veterans who can fit seamlessly into any lineup. Enter Nick Holden, the 35-year-old blueliner who joined the Senators at the start of 2021-22. He’s performed exactly as advertised, putting up 19 points in 76 games last season and currently on pace to hit 16 this year, while also sitting second in Corsi For % among defencemen who have appeared in at least 10 games. Add in his playoff experience with the Golden Knights in 2019-20 and 2020-21 and his expiring contract makes him a great candidate to move for some picks at the deadline.
The one possible concern for the Senators is that he’s been great with Erik Brannstrom on the third pair, who has had a difficult time adjusting to the NHL. This season, however, he’s been one of the team’s best blueliners defensively, leading the team in Coris For % and expected goals-against per 60 minutes. If Holden, his most regular defence partner, is moved, that could set him back, which is exactly what the Senators want to avoid. Building confidence in the second half needs to be a top priority for the team, and if the offers for Holden are merely a late-round pick, the team may choose to hold onto him rather than upset the balance.
However, given the state of defensive depth around the league, a bidding war may emerge for players like Holden, in which case the Senators need to take advantage. The aging veteran will not be back next year and if the return looks closer to a third-round pick or young depth option with term left, that puts Ottawa in a much better situation for 2023-24. Holden’s departure would also open up a spot for someone like Jacob Bernard-Docker or Jacob Larsson, both of whom have been solid in their brief appearances with the Senators this season.
Senators Will Be a Team to Watch
On the surface, the Senators don’t have a lot of big trade chips, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do something unexpected at the deadline. Dorion has made a habit of pulling off surprising moves, such as when he acquired Travis Hamonic for a third-round pick after the defenceman was on waivers earlier in the year. It’s also unclear if the Senators are going to go into the deadline as buyers or sellers, as the team is only 10 points out of a wild card spot with three games in hand. Will fans see a trade involving Derrick Brassard, Tyler Motte, or Austin Watson? Or will a top prospect be sent away to bring in a top defenceman? Anything is possible, so they’ll be a team to pay attention to as the deadline grows ever closer.