June 22nd, 2024

Buyers? Sellers? Neither? Senators’ trade deadline strategy still unclear

By Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press on February 27, 2023.

Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion participates in a news conference in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. For the first time in six years, the Ottawa Senators are playing meaningful games as the trade deadline approaches.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – For the first time in six years, the Ottawa Senators are playing meaningful games as the trade deadline approaches.

It’s exactly what the Senators wanted, but it makes for an interesting situation for general manager Pierre Dorion.

The Senators were seven points behind Pittsburgh, which holds the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card playoff spot, heading into their game Monday against visiting Detroit.

While Ottawa has ground to make up, it’s not so far back that a late push is out of the question.

Dorion met with the media just over 10 days ago and at the time said his team’s next seven games would likely dictate how he approached Friday’s trade deadline. That seven-game stretch concludes Tuesday with the second of back-to-back home games against the Red Wings, a team the Senators are currently chasing in the wild card race.

“We have a plan in place if we are going to be a buyer,” said Dorion. “If we are going to be a seller. We might also be standing pat also.”

Dorion was probably hoping the picture would be a little clearer by this point. Ottawa has gone 2-2-1 through the first five games of the stretch.

A sweep of the Red Wings would move the Senators into a tie with Detroit with 64 points each, but failing to win both might force the Senators to realize the post-season is out of reach.

Even with a sweep, the Senators still need to contend with teams like the New York Islanders, the Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres, who all have more points than Ottawa. They also need to consider the likes of Washington and Florida, who are also in the wild card mix.

Late last week D.J. Smith was asked how his team was approaching the final four games of the seven-game stretch, and he kept things simple.

“It’s night to night for us,” said Smith. “We don’t want to look at the end result, we just want to keep getting better.”

After Tuesday’s game the Senators will have 22 games remaining, nine at home and 13 on the road.

Ottawa has a winning record at Canadian Tire Centre (16-12-2 heading into Monday’s game), but has struggled on the road with a 12-14-2 mark.

Most signs point to the Senators not being quite ready for the playoffs, but this team has pulled off far bigger runs in the past to qualify for the post-season .

The Senators have made a couple moves since Dorion met with the media Feb. 16.

Ottawa traded forward Tyler Motte to the New York Rangers for forward Julien Gauthier and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2023.

Last week, the Senators traded defenceman Nikita Zaitsev to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks also received a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a fourth-round selection in the 2026 draft for future considerations.

The move allows the Senators to rid themselves of Zaitsev’s US$4.5 million cap hit that expired at the end of next season.

Moving Zaitsev seems to set the stage for Dorion to shore up his defence by acquiring a needed right-handed defenceman, but the Senators aren’t the only ones looking for help on its blueline and the ask may be too high.

Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun has been a recurring name for much of the season, but the price tag has proven far too much for Dorion to this point. It’s believed Arizona is asking for two first-round picks and a high-end prospect.

Dorion told reporters he wanted a firm plan in place before the Senators take on the Rangers Thursday night.

Questions remain whether or not goaltender Cam Talbot could be moved. Ottawa is already without Anton Forsberg for the remainder of the season, and as well as Mads Sogaard has played of late it’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie goaltender who has just seven NHL career games to his credit.

If the Senators believe they have a chance to make a run, it would make more sense to keep Talbot. Considering Kevin Mandolese, who was reassigned to AHL Belleville, is now also sidelined by injury it leaves the Senators with very little depth in goal. Moving Talbot would require the Senators to bring in a goaltender to help them play out the season.

Should Dorion decide to be a seller, Austin Watson could be on the move. The eight-year NHL veteran could add some much-needed depth and grit to a playoff contender. Watson is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, making him an affordable option.

By Wednesday the Senators and Dorion might have a better sense of where they stand.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published February 27, 2023.

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