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Senators at the 2023 Trade Deadline: Buy, Sell or Extend?

With the March 3rd trade deadline only 11 days away or, more importantly, five games away, Pierre Dorion needs to decide if his team is worth doubling down on for a playoff run or if it's time to plan for next season.

Or does he?

I have always wondered why it had to be one or the other. For teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Rangers, who have just made major acquisitions or teams like Vancouver and St. Louis, who have made deals to fold the tent, it has to be one or the other.

For teams like the Red Wings, Sabres and even the Senators, there still seems to be a path to the post season with the games in hand that they hold.

Thanks to the move to ship Tyler Motte back to the Rangers, the Senators have five UFAs to deal with... or not. Here’s a theory on how they should move forward.

Cam Talbot

When healthy, Talbot has met my expectations. I know his numbers with Minnesota were better last year. So too, was the defensive structure playing in front of him. Being injured leading up to the deadline doesn’t give Pierre Dorion much leverage from a trade perspective.

Talbot is on the record that he wants to stay, and that’s the angle I think the Senators should take. If Dorion tries to trade Talbot, he won’t get the value he should unless Talbot delivers some solid starts before the deadline. If he does that, and the Senators are still within sight of the playoffs, the question then becomes, “Why would they want to move a guy like that?”

Normally if UFAs are not signed or traded by the deadline, they are as good as gone. I don’t believe that to be the case here. I think a deal can be worked out to extend Talbot later in the year.

The issue becomes the term he would get. He may not be willing to sign a one-year extension and do the Senators want to give him two years? Someone on the UFA market will. Not knowing how Anton Forsberg will recover after a double MCL injury also creates a tenuous situation.

Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese have both acquitted themselves nicely since their recalls. That kind of recency bias can lead GMs to make rash decisions. Due to injuries, they have a combined 30 games played in the AHL this season and neither has a save percentage in the 90s.

Talbot has shown he still has game when healthy. So has Forsberg. If Talbot can recover in time to play some games and garner an offer the Senators can’t refuse, then never say never. In the absence of that trade scenario, I would target that tandem to start next season even if it meant a two-year extension for Talbot.

Travis Hamonic

Pierre Dorion has, for some reason, already gone on record that Travis Hamonic won’t be traded by the deadline. He likes his leadership and how he has helped Jake Sanderson’s development.

I am fine with that. However, let’s see an extension at money that makes sense for him to be a bottom pair defenseman. I think Sanderson has been as good or better for him than vice versa. Stability is important when developing players, but Hamonic is replaceable for the right deal.

It could also be a case of suitors not liking the pro-rated $3 million cap hit they would be absorbing.

This is a case where the Senators could move Hamonic and replace him with someone like Jacob Bernard-Docker or Lassi Thomson next season and perhaps get back the pick they gave up getting him.

A move like that would not seriously impede any push the Senators make for a playoff spot. This wouldn’t be a sign of the team giving up on a season. Erik Brannstrom appears to have displaced Hamonic in the top four as it is. As long as Sanderson isn’t playing, Hamonic is a bottom pair defenseman and should be extended as such or moved.

Nick Holden

Much like Talbot, Holden lingers on IR, and this diminishes whatever trade value he may have. He has played to the value of his contract. His veteran presence, and having 55 playoff games on his resume, would make him an attractive seventh defenseman option for a team making a playoff or cup run.

I can’t see a scenario where I would want Holden back at his age. If he can prove himself healthy, there has to be a team looking for a veteran with some gas left in the tank as insurance and I am sure Holden would welcome that chance regardless of whether the Senators were in contention or not.

Seeing how the Senators are playing without him in the lineup should also reassure fans that moving Holden is simply asset management and not a sign of waving the white flag.

Derick Brassard

Brassard is the forward version of Nick Holden. He has definitely been worth his $750K cap hit. He has shown that he can still be a value add to a team on a limited basis. He has a reputation for being a big game player and has 118 playoff games to his credit.

Again, Dorion has said that Brassard will play his 1000th game in a Senators uniform. With five games leading up to the trade deadline, assuming he plays all of them, that can still happen with a deal being made. Why this player wouldn’t be available to anyone looking to add depth is a mystery to me unless it is Dorion’s intention to bring him back.

Brassard, like Holden, would surely welcome a chance to make a run at the cup and the Senators could always bring him back in the off-season. Brassard doesn’t stand between the Senators and their chances of making the playoffs. With Brassard moved, the Senators could stop burying Mark Kastelic in the minors on his two-way deal and start playing the best available players.

Austin Watson

It’s hard for me to imagine a market for this player though his 45 career playoff games played have been far more productive than any regular season he has enjoyed.

In this particular case, with Watson having found himself in the press box for a stretch of games earlier this month, the writing appears to be on the wall for this player.

His contract will expire, and he will walk.

Dorion’s having already pulled the trigger on the Motte deal in exchange for former first round pick in 2016, Julien Gauthier, and a conditional seventh round pick sends a message to the fans that the Senators are open for business.

I liked what Motte brought to the table this year and though he didn’t replace Alex Formenton’s production in the lineup, he was a good pick up for Pierre Dorion. It also makes me wonder if a path is being left open for Formenton to return. The investigation has gone eerily silent.

Except for Talbot, it would seem to me that the Senators could survive the loss of any of these players and still make a run at the playoffs.

I understand that Sogaard and Mandolese have done well in their starts since being recalled. One of them will be here for the rest of the season and one should go back and get most of the starts to finish the Belleville season.

My thoughts would be to have Mandolese back up Talbot while Sogaard takes the net in Belleville. This wouldn’t be a matter of a demotion for Sogaard rather than a view of him being the guy in a year or two. Development is precious for any prospects and, I believe, Sogaard is whom they have tagged as the future franchise goalie. It’s better that he be playing.

The term healthy scratch has been expanded to include “Trade Related Reasons” which I find amusing at best.

At least the Senators traded the player they used it for on the day they used it.

Others like Jakob Chychrun and Vladislav Gavrikov are indefinitely sitting out until trades can be worked out. I find it even more amusing that the Coyotes have points in nine of their last 10 games and the Blue Jackets have six in the same timeframe.

If I am Pierre Dorion, I am not limiting myself to moves that relate to outgoing UFAs. I wouldn’t acquire any without some kind of assurance that the player would sign with the Senators.

That said, with all the talk about Chychrun going to the Oilers or other teams looking to get to the playoffs, people seem to forget the fact that the Senators have the cap space to make it work. With Norris on LTIR, they could even dip their toes into that pool if ownership were onboard. You would think any move that made the Senators a more attractive acquisition would come back to Anna and Olivia in the sale price.

Whether or not the next five games go ill for the Senators and whether they are within striking distance of a playoff spot, moves at the deadline should involve positioning them for the rest of this year and next with the following:

1) Talbot & Forsberg as the starting tandem. Sogaard and Mandolese in Belleville.

2) Travis Hamonic either extended for a bottom six role or traded.

3) Mark Kastelic back to the NHL to continue his development while moving Brassard.

4) Show a path for one or both of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson to ascend to the NHL for the remainder of the season and next.

5) Find a home for Nikita Zaitsev’s contract or have him in Belleville for cap relief next year.

If the Motte deal serves as a benchmark for what Pierre Dorion is looking to do with the team, he is looking to acquire assets he can control. This would be draft picks, prospects or players with term or RFA years remaining.

Except for Talbot and perhaps Hamonic, the UFAs available would be relatively easily digested from a contract perspective and, if it improved the return, the Senators are in a position to help with that by retaining salary.

Though I would like to see Talbot remain, it’s not the only scenario that makes sense. That said, it’s nice to have players play for you because they like the organization. The one thing the dressing room seems to have is chemistry. Every new player you add or remove has an impact on that.

The Senators already have cost certainty on multiple key players already and they are in the enviable position of having cap space that others don’t. The only question is how much latitude does Dorion have to make that wish list happen?

The next 11 days are going to go a long way towards revealing not only Pierre Dorion’s intentions, but also the Senators intentions for this season and beyond.

Hopefully the pending sale of the team won’t interfere with doing what is best for the on-ice product.

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey

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