For three seasons, Connor Brown was a good soldier for the Ottawa Senators. Brown was always hailed as a reliable forward who could play on any of your top three lines. He was fast, killed penalties and despite his penchant for not converting on his many breakaway attempts, he finished second in team scoring in two of his three seasons here.
Brown still had one more year left on his contract so the Senators were going to have to make a decision at some point this season. But back in June, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman announced on Hockey Night in Canada that Brown and his camp might not be interested in signing an extension with the Sens right now. There was a feeling that he wanted to test the free agent market in 2023.
If that were all true, then the Senators had to get to work on trading Brown sometime before next spring’s deadline.
Friedman’s declaration was a couple of weeks before the Sens went out and acquired Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat. At that point, the Sens top six was now completely set. Even if he had stayed, Brown was absolutely going to be a third liner in Ottawa. And an expensive one at that. The Sens knew they had cheaper third line winger options in Alex Formenton and Mathieu Joseph, riding shotgun with centre Shane Pinto.
The Sens were also hot and heavy in the market for another top four defenceman, and clearing out Brown’s money would help to pay for that.
So, on day one of free agency, a few hours after signing Giroux, the Senators abruptly traded Brown to Washington for a second rounder in 2024.
Trading Brown was sensible enough. But did they get enough for him? A second rounder two years from now? Had they waited until the deadline, would they not have gotten more?
Just because the Sens had some new, better options than Brown at forward doesn’t diminish the asset he is. If you buy a new house, you still want fair value for your old one.
Plus, Washington is always pretty good, so the 2024 second round pick Ottawa received in the deal probably won't even be a very good one. When the Sens traded a comparable player in JG Pageau two years ago, they got a first rounder, a second rounder and a conditional third rounder for him. Ryan Dzingel was dealt away for two second rounders and Anthony Duclair.
If the right deal wasn't there for Brown over the summer, why not wait until it is?
Here are my theories:
With Brown basically saying he'd go to the highest bidder next summer, he was no longer part of Ottawa's Stanley Cup strategy and it's likely the Sens wanted him out of the way immediately. Dorion was waist-deep in the middle of the NHL free agent frenzy and it's called a frenzy for a reason. Teams are furiously trying to fill holes in their roster, and as they do, the summer trade market for players like Brown would get smaller and smaller with each passing day.
The Sens could have waited until next year's trade deadline when they'd surely get more for Brown. But in doing so, Brown would have blocked the roster spot and a season's worth of NHL development time of a younger, less-expensive player who is in the long-range plans.
The top 6 is now set, of course. With Formenton still unsigned, the third line will likely be Tyler Motte, Pinto and Joseph. Brown might bump someone to fourth line status. That would be fine if Brown were staying. But he's not. So there's no point in him standing in the way of someone’s developmental path this season.
Meanwhile, Dorion also wants to be sure Brown's salary and cap hit (yes, the Sens may soon have to worry about the salary cap) are definitely off the books and out of the way so he can keep shopping for that elusive top four defenceman next week.
The Senators only want players who actually want to be in Ottawa. Brown's super early, free agency declaration seems to suggest he's looking for a change of address.
And maybe there are other factors that only people in that locker room will ever know.
As a straight up trade, the Sens didn't get enough for Brown. It’s even more glaring when you see him lining up on Washington’s top line to start this season with Alex Ovechkin.
But a second round pick isn’t nothing, and you don't always see a trade's full value and objectives just by looking at the NHL transaction report.
By Steve Warne | Sens Nation Hockey