OTTAWA – At this time of the year, press boxes around the NHL are usually filled with pro scouts. But there were just two on the list for Saturday afternoon’s game in Ottawa – Andre Savard of the New Jersey Devils and Andrew Brunette of the Minnesota Wild – and Brunette was nowhere to be found.
That means Savard, who works for a team that definitely won’t be buying at the trade deadline, had a front-row seat to UFA Day in Ottawa in the Senators’ 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets Saturday afternoon. The victory did not pull the Senators out of last place overall in the NHL, but it did give their three prominent unrestricted free agents and prime trade targets another chance to showcase themselves with 16 days to go before the trade deadline.
But the Senators have an internal deadline of two weeks prior to Feb. 25 when they want to know whether or not Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and/or Ryan Dzingel has a long-term future in the organization. That leaves the big day on the calendar as Monday, which means the Senators should start listening to some offers early in the week. Stone had two goals in the win over the Jets, while Duchene had a goal and an assist and Dzingel a goal. And goalie Anders Nilsson, who also stands to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, allowed just two goals on 46 shots, giving him a run in which he has stopped 89 of 91 shots and picked up two wins in his past two starts.
There is no end to the permutations when it comes to what the fate of three of the Senators top four scorers might be over the next two weeks. The smart money is on all three of them leaving for more futures and assets, players upon whom Senators owner Eugene Melnyk will lavish money when the organization goes back to being a cap team for the 2021-22 season. Stone, who scored two goals against the Jets and might end up playing for them before long, has run a continual quote about how all of this involves him, his agent and the team. Neither Duchene nor Dzingel was made available after the game.
The haul could be immense if the Senators trade all three and get what they’re seeking in return. The demands for Stone and Duchene appear to be a first-round pick, a roster player and a top prospect. The Senators are hoping for a first-rounder for Dzingel, but that seems unlikely. The more likely return would be a second-rounder and a mid-range prospect.
If any of the players ends up staying in Ottawa, the most likely would be Duchene. Offensively, he has the capacity to be an offensively dynamic player and is dangerous around the net, but Stone is more effective when matched up against the opponents’ best players. There’s also some face-saving for the organization when it comes to Duchene. The Senators gave up a mother lode for him in the form of their first-round draft choice –one that could turn out to be Jack Hughes if the Colorado Avalanche win the draft lottery with that pick – Kyle Turris and prospect Shane Bowers. So either way there is pressure when it comes to Duchene – pressure to either sign him or get a massive haul in return for him in order to mitigate their losses.
At this stage of the season and with the Senators in such a unique position, the hockey world notices when Team UFA accounts for four goals in a game and stops 44 of 46 shots. Senators coach Guy Boucher said there has been no need to manage the situation because all three players have handled the situation pretty well.
“We don’t manage it. We don’t talk about it,” Boucher said. “That’s outside stuff. We talk about how we’re going to play and we talk about who is going to play with whom. Who’s on the power play, who’s on the penalty kill? All that stuff here is stuff that doesn’t help the player play well. I know it’s your jobs, but my job is the complete opposite. It’s about managing what we control on the ice and the players have been extremely professional and very focused. I haven’t seen any change in their approach.”