According to Mark Spector, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was in attendance for both of the Oilers’ last two games against the Flames and Sharks. It’s standard practice for teams to send scouts to watch other teams around the league, but having another team’s general manager out to watch back-to-back games certainly suggests this is something worth talking about.
Ah yes, the Ottawa Senators disaster
The Sens, much like the Oilers, are trudging along at the end of an extremely disappointing season. Their implosion over the past year has been much like the one we experienced after the 2006 playoff run. Ottawa came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Final with a gritty and endearing team that excelled due to the use of an effective trap.
It was pretty clear looking at the 2016-17 Sens’ underlying numbers that the team overachieved. Regardless, they went all in and acquired Matt Duchene a few weeks into the season, sending soon-to-be free agent Kyle Turris and multiple picks and prospects away in a three-way deal involving the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. Then the wheels totally fell off. The Sens collapsed down the standings and ultimately began blowing their team up prior to the trade deadline.
They sent Derrick Brassard to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dion Phaneuf to the Los Angeles Kings, and they were reportedly shopping captain Erik Karlsson, who’s set to become a free agent on July 1, 2019. They couldn’t get a deal done but apparently, they were trying to use Karlsson’s trade value to dump Bobby Ryan’s horrible contract. Ryan said after the deadline that he and Karlsson thought for sure they were going to be dealt.
The Oilers in 2006 went from being one win away from the Stanley Cup to having to deal away their best player in Chris Pronger and subsequently tanking out the next season despite aspirations of contention. Then came the biggest drop on the rollercoaster, trading away heart and soul Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline after him and general manager Kevin Lowe couldn’t agree on an extension.
The Sens, like I said, have endured a similar rollercoaster. They’ve gone from nearly reaching the Cup Final to making a huge trade for Matt Duchene to imploding to nearly trading away their captain and heart and soul. Also, in the middle of this whole thing has been a growing beef between owner Eugene Melnyk and Karlsson. Apparently, it’s reached a point where Melnyk came into the Sens dressing room and chewed out Karlsson for not paying him back for an Uber ride. It looks like the Sens are coming close to their Smyth moment.
It’s been a wild ride in Ottawa.
So, what’s next for the Senators?
Despite the disaster, Melnyk has shown faith in Dorion, inking him to a three-year contract extension in February. Dorion outlined a plan for how he was going to remedy this situation, and, based on the moves he’s made since getting extended, it involves rebuilding the team.
The team still has a decent amount of young talent in the system despite pulling the trigger on that Duchene deal. Among their top prospects are defenceman Thomas Chabot, who was incredible at the World Juniors in 2017, first-round picks Colin White and Logan Brown, and 2018 Canadian World Junior winners Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson, both of whom were selected outside of the first round in 2017.
The Sens will have to give Colorado their first-round pick either this year or next because of the Duchene acquisition and they don’t have their second- or third-round picks in 2018 because of two different Derrick Brassard trades. That said, they do have Pittsburgh’s first-round pick this year.
It’s reasonable to assume the Sens will continue on this path of trading away players for picks and prospects and actively trying to dump bad contracts. They have a 25-year-old Mark Stone hitting RFA status this summer and Karlsson, as I mentioned, one year away from hitting the UFA market for the first time in his career. Mike Hoffman is signed at $5,187,500 for two more seasons and Duchene is signed at $6,000,000 for one more season. Both appear to be prime trade candidates.
Where do the Oilers fit?
The Oilers aren’t really in a position to be sending Ottawa draft picks and prospects. Given Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s contracts, Edmonton will find themselves in a difficult salary cap bind beginning this summer and will need to consistently be augmenting their team with cheap, young players on entry-level deals.
The player on the Sens who appears to be the most obvious fit for Edmonton is Hoffman. He’s a good, cost-controlled winger under control for a couple more seasons. While this year was a disaster for the Oilers, there’s no doubt that the organization plans on contending in the next couple of years. The Sens, on the other hand, more than likely don’t see themselves contending during the final two years of Hoffman’s deal.
But like I said, it just doesn’t make sense for Edmonton to be giving Ottawa picks and prospects to acquire Hoffman. It seems the more likely possibility would be making a hockey trade involving Oscar Klefbom and Hoffman. Klefbom is inked at a very reasonable $4,167,000 cap hit for five more seasons. The fit is obvious for Ottawa because it would give Karlsson a fellow countryman to play beside him on the team’s top pair or a possible Karlsson replacement if the team ultimately isn’t able to re-sign him.
The Oilers have a logjam on the left side of their blueline right now. They have Klefbom, Darnell Nurse (who’s an RFA this summer), Kris Russell, and Andrej Sekera on the left side. Edmonton badly needs a good winger to score goals in the top six and Hoffman seems like a good candidate to fill that role.
Personally, I hate the idea of trading Klefbom. I think this would be yet another example of Peter Chiarelli selling low on a player after a mediocre season. I do like Hoffman, but Klefbom is a 24-year-old signed to a great contract who looked to be emerging as a top pairing defenceman as recently as last season.
If the Oilers and Sens are going to hook up on a deal, these seem to be the two players who are going to be involved. It’s certainly not inevitable, but this whole Klefbom coming back into the lineup for the two games Dorion was in the building watching makes it seem like there’s something going on.