The ongoing struggles of the Ottawa Senators sparked growing speculation in recent days over the future of coach Guy Boucher, as well as trade rumors regarding key players such as defenseman Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.
Prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers, Senators GM Pierre Dorion addressed the conjecture in a hastily convened press conference. He stated Boucher wasn’t going anywhere but didn’t rule out the possibility of trades.
“We’re looking at everything,” said Dorion, admitting he’s spoken with “27 or 28 of my 30 counterparts in the last three days.” He said he’s seeking solutions for his club’s woes and acknowledged receiving 10-team no-trade lists from his players with no-trade clauses in their respective contracts.
Among them is Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner considered among the league’s elite defensemen. The 27-year-old is eligible in July 2019 for unrestricted free agency. With the Sens floundering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, questions are being raised over his future in Ottawa. Dorion noted any player can be traded but insisted re-signing Karlsson is his club’s priority.
That will be an expensive undertaking. Karlsson’s superstar status ensures he’s in line for a substantial raise over his current $6.5-million annual average value. His recent comments indicating his intention to seek top dollar could push the annual cap hit on his next contract toward $11 million. While Karlsson subsequently insisted he wants to win in Ottawa, his unwillingness to entertain a hometown discount didn’t sit well with the Sens front office.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos believes it doesn’t make sense for a club near the bottom of the standings to re-sign a player such as Karlsson. He points out the blueliner will be close to 30 in 2019, adding it wouldn’t be worthwhile to invest big dollars in him if they can’t afford to surround him with quality talent.
Dorion admitted he’d seriously consider an offer too good to refuse for Karlsson. While he didn’t elaborate, it would have to quite substantial and based around promising young players. In today’s salary-cap era, such moves rarely take place during the season. The trade deadline is usually a time when non-contenders ship pending free agents they cannot or will not re-sign to playoff contenders. Karlsson is not in that class this season. Dorion’s willingness to re-sign Karlsson means the talented blueliner won’t be traded this season. The earliest they can open contract talks is July 1, one year prior to his UFA eligiblity.
If Dorion does make a move, it could involve winger Mike Hoffman. The 28-year-old already submitted a 10-team no-trade list as part of his modified no-trade clause in his contract. A three-time 20-plus goal scorer, Hoffman’s been skating on the Sens’ third line of late. Entering Saturday’s game against Montreal he scored just once in his previous nine contests.
Kypreos said he’s heard Hoffman’s name mentioned the most regarding possible Senators trade candidates. The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell believes he could address the Edmonton Oilers’ need for a shooter on Connor McDavid’s line. But with the Senators in need of blueline help, he doubts there’s a trade fit between the two clubs.
Other options could include 23-year-old defenseman Cody Ceci and 25-year-old center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But if Dorion decides he wants to move out some older assets to build for the future, he could decide to retain those two.
Right winger Bobby Ryan, defenseman Dion Phaneuf and center Derick Brassard are also among the Senators carrying no-trade clauses. The trio, however, are all 30-or-older and carry expensive cap hits. Ryan and Phaneuf have annual average values of over $7 million each on long-term contracts, while Brassard is signed through 2018-19 at a cap hit of $5 millon. Moving one of those three in-season won’t be easy but it’s not impossible. The Senators, after all, acquired Phaneuf from the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2016 in a multi-player deal. Still, their respective on-ice struggles this season could make them tough sells.
KANE DEAL WILL LIKELY WAIT UNTIL AFTER BREAK
Sitting below the Senators in the Eastern Conference basement, the Buffalo Sabres remain the subject of ongoing trade chatter. As usual, left winger Evander Kane is the main topic of interest.
An unrestricted free agent in July, the 27-year-old Kane could seek a significant raise over his current annual cap hit of $5.25 million. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports the trade talk that’s surrounded the winger throughout this season has increased in intensity. He doubts Kane will be dealt before the upcoming holiday trade freeze (Dec. 19-26) but more clubs are speaking to the Sabres.
McKenzie said the Sabres hope to get more for Kane than a first-round pick, a prospect and a conditional pick. They’re hoping to drive up the asking price. He lists the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks “and perhaps the Calgary Flames” among the suitors.
The Sharks, whose offense slipped to 24th overall this season, definitely need a boost in scoring. However, GM Doug Wilson told the Mercury News’ Curtis Pashelka he won’t trade young core players for a quick fix this season. Losing Robby Fabbri to a season-ending knee surgery and high-scoring winger Jaden Schwartz for several weeks to an ankle injury could force the Blues to consider pursuing Kane. The Ducks recently acquired forward Adam Henrique from the New Jersey Devils, but the loss of veteran winger Corey Perry (week-to-week with a lower-body injury) could force them back into the trade market.
The Flames, however, might not be fit for Kane. They already have Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk as their top-six left wingers, while Sam Bennett is showing improvement on the third line.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.