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2023 Summer of Pierre: Rating the DeBrincat Deal and Off-Season Moves So Far

Heading into the off-season, I saw Pierre Dorion’s priorities as follows:


1) Alex DeBrincat – Qualify, Extend or Trade

2) Shane Pinto – Extend

3) Erik Brannstrom – Extend or Trade

4) Starting Goalie – Free Agent or Trade

5) Jake Sanderson – Early extension


Though not in that particular order, Dorion has delivered on 60% of that list with another 92 days until opening night.


Erik Brannstrom was given another one-year audition at $1 million while the starting goalie conundrum was resolved with a five-year $20 million dollar deal given to 29-year-old Finnish netminder, Joonas Korpisalo.


In addition, he gave Jacob Bernard-Docker his first one-way contract for two years at $805K AAV, addressed the need for defensive depth and grit by re-upping on Travis Hamonic for two years at $1.1 million AAV and responded to the Ryan Reaves and Milan Lucic signings with a three year deal with Zack Macewen.

Debrincat was traded to Detroit on July 9th

Finally, Dorion dealt with the most uncomfortable elephant in the room since Alexei Yashin held out for a season by trading Alex DeBrincat to the Detroit Red Wings.


Here’s how I view these five deals:


BRANNSTROM


I have been clear for a while now that I feel this player is no longer a fit with the Senators organization with the acquisition of Jacob Chychrun. For me, he is a top four player or not a player at all.


Has he hit his ceiling? I would say no. I think there is more under the hood. However, his ceiling is not a cathedral ceiling.


He seems to have rectified the issues of taking too much contact and making plays more quickly successfully enough. That said, his shot scares no one and nor does his foot speed.


Capable is the word I would use to describe him.


Don’t let his improvement last season fool you. It clearly didn’t fool Dorion. Brannstrom had to work extremely hard to earn DJ Smith’s trust. He was a healthy scratch in Jacob Chychrun’s first game with the Senators and that was March 2nd.


The Senators can be competitive for a playoff spot with Brannstrom in their top five. I am concerned about what would happen if/when they get there.


If Brannstrom builds on his late season momentum to become an entrenched member of the D-Core, I will eat crow. However, I would also strike while the iron is hot and move him at the deadline with the hopes of getting a Rasmus Sandin type return like the Leafs got.


By that time, I suspect a true bottom six defenceman with much more physical upside in Tyler Kleven will be ready to ascend to the NHL after receiving some much-needed experience in Belleville.

This deal doesn’t bind Dorion’s hands. I view it as a good signing.


HAMONIC


If a player like Brannstrom is going to be retained for another year, and possibly more, you need a player like this to balance off his lack of grit and physicality. Hamonic provides this.


Essentially, Hamonic becomes the new Nick Holden with nearly 800 regular season games to his credit and a Chris Neil smile. The cap hit of $1.1 million AAV is easily digestible and the no movement clause was a good piece of negotiating by both sides. It likely lowered the cap hit enough to justify two years while preventing the Sens from burying him in Belleville, and guys like Hamonic don’t have much of a trade market in March regardless.


Dorion won’t be lamenting the no movement clause on this player and DJ will be able to slot him properly. Last year, out of necessity, he played higher in the lineup and thanks to Jake Sanderson’s Calder Trophy caliber season, Hamonic lived to talk about it.


In a sixth/seventh role, Hamonic can still kill penalties, block shots and keep opposing forwards honest while not breaking the bank. In a pinch, he can absorb more minutes and be effective.

If I am honest, I would really like to see the season end with Tyler Kleven and Travis Hamonic in the five/six hole if the team is in a playoff position as those are the types of physical dimensions that playoff teams need in the bottom pair to win.


I approve the deal both for term and dollar value.


BERNARD-DOCKER


Dorion had already said that the spot with the Senators was JBD’s to lose come training camp. The signing seems to confirm that.


This is another young player that has had to work extremely hard to earn DJ Smith’s trust. Now that we know Smith is back, I see Bernard-Docker manning the blue line this season though it may not be opening night.


Smith likes his veterans and Hamonic has the edge in that department.


JBD is making a hair over the league minimum so it’s hard to criticize this signing. In fact, given that we are talking about a player of 32 games experience, I don’t think a contract of more was warranted. With club control beyond this contract, clearly the Senators hold the cards.


I like what this player brings in the regular season. I am not sold on playoff hockey yet. It would have been nice if Belleville had seen more than two games of playoff hockey since they were relocated from Binghamton.


For now, I see this player having to work his way into the lineup, but he will spell Hamonic on the right side as needed.


This is good asset management from Dorion.


KORPISALO


This is the shiny new toy for Sens Nation so far. With the previous trauma of Matt Murray’s four-year contract still on the books and Filip Gustavsson being moved for a goalie the Senators no longer want, you can understand fans not wanting the team to marry themselves to a 29-year-old netminder for five years.


That said, how many creases in the league cost less than $7 million with a combined 351 regular season starts to their credit? The Sens are a cap team now and their decision doesn’t just need to make hockey sense. It needs to make fiscal sense as well.


Sogaard needs more time to develop, and the playoffs are a priority this season.


It’s easy to look at what Korpisalo has never done:

a) Played 40 games in a season.

b) Won a Stanley Cup

c) Been consistently healthy


You could also easily look at what he has done:

a) Won a Calder Cup in the AHL (with Anton Forsberg)

b) Beat the Leafs in the play-in round of the 2020 playoffs

c) Averaged a .904 save percentage over the course of his NHL career

d) Played for a team that allowed a lot of chances


The term may seem long. However, if it lowered the AAV, it makes business sense as a cap team. If Korpisalo is the starting goalie for the entire contract, this is the deal of a lifetime for Dorion. With the cap increases expected, back-ups will be making $4 million by the time this deal is completed.

This leads me to my next point. If the time comes in years four and five of the deal, that Korpisalo yields the crease to Mads Sogaard full time or even Levi Merilainen, no one will be complaining about a veteran NHL goaltender costing $4 million a season in cap space. He won’t be making that much in real dollars given the front loading.


I was interested in making a bid for Connor Hellebuyck as he is a proven starter with a Vezina resume and plays a ton. However, Dorion needs to ice a complete roster and I fear the bounty that would have cost.


Finally, Korpisalo may not have started 40-50 games in a season. He has never played for a defensively sound team either. Hellebuyck plays in a structured system which limits his chances against. I would challenge anyone to play 60 games where you are facing quality chances every night in the double digits.


If the Senators want this contract to work in their favour, DJ Smith needs to shore up the defensive play and make it feasible to deliver that kind of workload.


This move is digestible on the ledger and allows a path of ascension to either Sogaard or Merilainen when Forsberg’s contract expires in two years.


Business wise and talent wise, I think this deal makes sense.


MACEWEN


I said many times that I was looking forward to the Sens spending the $1.5 million in cap hit previously reserved for Austin Watson on an upgrade in fourth line talent.


I have never taken note of Macewen’s play in games against the Senators. That really speaks for itself. I always noticed Ryan Reaves and Milan Lucic. If this is Pierre Dorion’s idea of a nuclear deterrent, at half the price of what Watson cost them, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.


If I am honest, I was hoping for more. I am not a fan of reverting back to the Brian McGrattan spot in the lineup and Macewen’s stats are not as good as Watson’s.


I begrudgingly approve this signing based on dollar value. Term at three years is not a huge risk when a player is playing for the league minimum.


DEBRINCAT


Sens Nation are going to tear this move asunder by rating the return and I am no different. Dominik Kubalik is not Alex DeBrincat. However, he is a legitimate replacement for Alex Formenton which is something that the Senators needed to do. He is a UFA next season. Therefore, this is more of a test drive between a team and player to see if it is a fit.


The Red Wings got the best player in the trade. They also got the most expensive. I never viewed DeBrincat as an $8.75 million player. So, for that reason, I am glad to see him moved on.


My only concern is that his arbitration hearing was less than a month away. Detroit obviously would have waited. Pending the outcome of that hearing, DeBrincat was slated to make $9 million this season. What if they had let the hearing happen and the outcome was the 15% reduction allowed under the collective bargaining agreement? Now you are trading someone who is making $7.65 million. Could they have asked for more given that? It would have allowed Detroit to have his four-year deal start in 2024.


Dorion played chicken on the Chychrun trade and did quite well. I would have preferred to see him do that again here. Why the rush? The trade isn’t a disaster. It all depends on how the savings on ADB are spent this summer and moving forward.


It’s easy to look at the math and wonder how the Sens can be cap compliant while bringing in more forward depth.


There is only $5,032,620.00 currently left to allocate. While defence and goaltending have full dance cards, there are only 10 forwards on one-way contracts for the coming season.

Pinto needs an extension and should get one done.


Sokolov also remains an RFA and will need to clear waivers moving forward.


Rumours have been confirmed true that Dorion is inquiring about bringing Colin White back which would be interesting having him count against the Sens cap twice in the same season.


Sens Nation can stop thinking about Vladimir Tarasenko. I don’t see enough money in the kitty to make that happen. All of this seems to open a door for Ridly Greig to make the team at left wing.

Agents are looking at the projected cap increases now that the pandemic has been paid back and taking short term deals while gambling on their clients. There will be more money to spend next season. However, that money will dry up quicker than people think, and I am optimistic of a sensible Pinto extension and a potentially highest paid player extension for Jake Sanderson this summer. Being in a position of cost certainty on so many players will ultimately play to the Senators advantage as the cap increases.


For now, I’m okay with work that has been done by Dorion and. with a little CAPROBATICS, I look forward to the Sens icing a competitive team on October 11th.

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