In what can only be described as a merciful ending to an underwhelming five years in the Ottawa Senators organization, Logan Brown was traded to his hometown of St. Louis where his father, Jeff, enjoyed a lengthy career with the Blues in the 1980s.
In return, the Senators acquired soon to be 27 year old left winger Zach Sanford who comes to the team as pretty much a finished product with 209 regular season and 25 playoff games on his resume. The selection also cost the Senators a conditional 4th round pick in the 2022 draft. Sanford brings an imposing frame at 6’4” and over 200 lbs. His statistical line is nothing to sneeze at with 74 regular season and 8 playoff points.
He also brings with him, a Stanley Cup ring from 2019 and a $2 million cap hit. Both of those points cannot be overlooked as Matt Murray was previously the only Senator with a cup ring to his name and the Senators, even with this acquisition, are roughly $1.2 million below the salary floor pending signing RFA Brady Tkachuk.
The Senators did not make much of a splash in the free agent market and did nothing upfront after moving Evgenii Dadonov and his $5 million annual cap hit to Vegas.
If you're like me, the first thing you did when you heard of this trade was go to hockeydb.com and figure out who Zach Sanford is. If you knew who he was already, I suspect you may be related to Senators Vice President of Player Development, Pierre McGuire.
It can take up to five years or more to know who won a trade. The goal here isn’t to analyze the trade as much as to figure out what we acquired and how he is going to fit in. It is also worth noting that Sanford will be in mandatory quarantine for 7 days before joining the team. With this trade happening on September 25th, assuming he would come to Canada at the earliest September 26th, the soonest we can expect to see Sanford in the lineup would be October 3rd. With the season starting October 12th, that would give Sanford nine days and three exhibition games to get his bearings. As I mentioned, he comes as a finished product. Development and figuring out if he is going to be on the roster isn’t at issue.
The first thing that is clear is that the Senators have someone for the now. We know Zach Sanford is an NHL player. He is not a center like Logan Brown and he doesn’t seem to fill the hole on right wing that Dadonov left. He does, however, bring experience both in regular season and playoffs. The most experience in the playoffs on the Senators Cap right now, aside from Matt Murray, belongs to dead cap money being paid to Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf.
In terms of his frame, he seems to resemble Senators left winger, Nick Paul, with more offensive upside. On a left side that features Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Alex Formenton and Paul, things are getting a little crowded. Tkachuk and Formenton have been been playing their off wings. In terms of slotting, assuming Tkachuk signs and plays the left side on one of the top two lines, this seems to leave the third line left winger job up for grabs for Sanford or Paul with Formenton possibly staking a claim or moving to the right side.
Paul is coming off back to back 20 point seasons in 56 games and 4 points in 10 games at the World Championships, including the golden goal. Sanford is coming off an underwhelming season in which his production dropped by nearly half and his +/- went from +13 to -13. With the Blues acquisition of Brandon Saad in the off-season, this trade suggests to me that Sanford had fallen out of favour after previously trending towards being a top six forward in his two previous seasons.
I don’t know whether this acquisition says to me that the team isn’t sold on Nick Paul as a top nine forward or that they are just looking to create some healthy internal competition. Time will tell if Formenton’s hands will ever catch up to his feet. Should that happen, he would be the consensus third line left winger.
Should Sanford revert to what he showed in the 2019-20 season where he notched 30 points in 58 games, the Senators may have found themselves something that could come at a bargain at $2 million. He is a UFA at season’s end which can work for or against the Senators. If they think they have found something, it would behoove them to extend Sanford before season’s end to avoid a bidding war. Should the Zach Sanford of last season be what they get, it will be easy to let him go come season’s end. Of course, they'll have given up a former first round pick to get him.
However, it remains to be seen if Logan Brown ever becomes a legitimate top six forward. In my previous article, I suggested that Brown didn’t really strike me as a utility player. He will either flourish as a top six center who produces offensively or he will likely cease to exist in the NHL. Sanford is likely far more capable of doing for the Senators what Logan Brown couldn’t be expected to do which is play a 200 foot game with some grit and contribute offensively at five on five.
Thinking bigger picture, this trade also seems to suggest to me that the Senators needed to do something in the short term to get to the salary floor with little risk and some potential upside. With Tyler Ennis on a Professional Try Out (PTO), it would seem to make him the perfect recipient of a contract for $1.2 million to get us to the salary cap floor if Brady Tkachuk doesn’t sign by the start of the season. If Tkachuk does sign, I suspect Ennis will not be offered a contract and will be released from his PTO. I don’t know if the Senators value Sanford beyond this year or not. It has been pointed out that he and Colin White were teammates at Boston College. Of course, that wasn’t pointed out by the Senators.
What concerns me more is that Sanford doesn’t make the Senators more likely to make a push on the playoffs this year. We have all heard that “The rebuild is over”. If it is, that’s a little disconcerting. To me the rebuild is over when you have won the Stanley Cup. If the playoffs is legitimately the goal, does this lineup get you there?
LW C RW
Tim Stutzle Josh Norris Connor Brown
Brady Tkachuk Shane Pinto Drake Batherson
Zach Sanford Colin White Alex Formenton
Nick Paul Chris Tierney Austin Watson
*Clark Bishop/Tyler Ennis
Thomas Chabot Artyum Zub
Michael Del Zotto Nikita Zaitsev
Victor Mete Erik Brannstrom
Nick Holden Josh Brown/JBD
Matt Murray, Anton Forsberg, Filip Gustavsson
Fans and media put a lot of pressure on younger players who, if properly developed, could be something special. If they taste failure too often too soon, it could set things back. I was personally expecting more from the team in the off season to really make a statement they were committed to making the post season. I understand that the team they're looking at icing to start this season finished very strong last season. I also believe in Fool’s Gold as Pierre McGuire has said several times on TSN1200 radio. The pressure was off from the 15 game mark when the season was all but lost.
Now with Pierre Dorion and DJ Smith both being inked to three year extensions in a rather bizarre order of operations, perhaps the team is willing to be a little more patient in getting to the promised land. The rebuild may be over but the “unprecedented spending to the cap” years have yet to begin.
I remain optimistic about the future. However, I don’t believe this year smells like a playoff year. But I've been wrong before. I also thought DJ Smith and Pierre Dorion were in “prove it” years before getting extensions.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey