Just when you thought the Ottawa Senators had closed the door on a very busy off-season of deal-making, GM Pierre Dorion smashed it open again last week. Just a few days away from Sens training camp, Dorion pulled off three big deals.
First, the club signed this year’s first-round draft choice, Tim Stützle, to his entry level contract. Stützle was chosen third overall in this year’s draft, the highest pick the Sens have had in 26 years. The 18-year-old was the youngest full-time player in Germany’s top pro league, yet still had 34 points in 41 games over there. As Germany’s captain at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton, Stützle led the team to a quarterfinal appearance and had 10 points in five games. Despite an outrageous 16-2 loss to Canada, Stützle was excellent and noticeable on almost every shift.
"Tim possesses an exceptional blend of both speed and skill and a playmaking ability that our fans are going to enjoy watching for several years to come," said Dorion. "He's a dynamic forward who we expect to become a key piece of our roster as we continue trending towards icing an eventual elite-level team."
Dorion also pulled off a pair of trades, doing a little business with Tampa Bay and Arizona, two teams looking to unload bodies and get under the NHL salary cap before the new season begins.
First, the Sens acquired 30-year-old centre Derek Stepan from the Coyotes for a 2021 2nd round draft pick - a pick acquired in an earlier deal with Columbus. Stepan was a fine scorer during his time with the New York Rangers, consistently putting up seasonal point totals in the 50’s. While he should be a fine replacement for the character and two-way game J.G. Pageau used to deliver, Stepan had a huge offensive drop-off the past two years and posted just 28 points in 70 games last season.
"Derek's acquisition provides us with important stability at centre heading into the season," said Dorion. "He plays a 200-foot game and has proven to be a reliable special teams' player throughout his career. His addition to our lineup will also represent a valuable leadership presence within our group."
While Stepan’s cap hit is $6.5 million, his actual salary this season is $5 million, and $3 million of that has already been paid by Arizona as a signing bonus. While the Coyotes needed this deal for cap relief, Stepan at only $2 million probably drew interest from other teams with cap room. This is probably why he cost Ottawa a second rounder. Stepan is here to be a leader but, with just one year left on his deal, and so many Sens’ prospects ready to push for NHL jobs, he’s likely to be back on the market again soon.
The Sens also traded away goalie Anders Nilsson, who will not play at all this season due to post-concussion syndrome. With the arrival of Matt Murray and the emergence of Marcus Hogberg, Nilsson wouldn’t have played much in his final season here anyway. Nilsson and Marian Gaborik - both on the long-term injured reserve list - were dealt to Tampa to help with their cap troubles. In return, the Sens get defenceman Braydon Coburn, forward Cedric Paquette and a second-round selection in the 2022 NHL Draft.
En route to a Stanley Cup win, Tampa was very deep on defence last season. So, Coburn played just 40 of the Lightning's 70 games last season and appeared in 3 playoff games. He joins an already crowded left-side on Ottawa’s blue line. Meanwhile, Paquette is a pesky, defensive forward who played in all 25 playoff games in Tampa. Both incoming players are in the final year of their contracts.
At a glance, it would appear the veteran newcomers are now blocking the NHL path of several young Senator prospects. That’s true to a degree but, due to COVID, teams will be allowed to carry 4-6 extra players this season. These players would be part of “taxi squads” that are allowed to practice and travel with the team, minimizing player movement between the NHL and the minors.
With seven veterans on the roster now due to become unrestricted free agents this summer, the Sens will likely be busy moving out most of them at the trade deadline on April 12th.
And that’s likely the day the Sens’ youth movement will truly begin in earnest.
Former Senators in the news: Craig Anderson has a new home, signing with a professional tryout with Washington. The Caps goaltending depth took a recent hit with the loss of newcomer Henrik Lundqvist. The former New York Ranger starter has to sit the season out, dealing with heart issues. Meanwhile, Mike Hoffman finally came off the free agent market, signing with St. Louis.