OTTAWA – The first two trades since Pierre Dorion’s three-year contract extension are commendable.
First off, who actually thought the Senators could move Dion Phaneuf?
While he was a leader in the dressing room, his on-ice struggles and $7.5 million-dollar cap hit couldn’t be suppressed for much longer. He needed to go, but the problem was finder a club that was interesting in the 32-year-old who is playing out the last years of his NHL career.
In the four-player deal that sent Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for 36-year-old Marian Gaborik and 25-year-old Nick Shore, it was all about funds. Ottawa will continue to pay 25 per cent of Phaneuf’s salary through the 2020-21 season, but that still saves up change for them to continue making moves in attempt to re-tool their organization to a position of strength in a reasonable amount of time.
And while much was made of retaining that salary and trading an aging veteran for an even older player whose struggles on the ice are comparable, it was the perfect first step for Dorion in this trying team for his organization and their fans. Especially after some of them weren’t so happy to hear about his contract extension.
It was clear from the onset that this deal was the start of changes to come, after a season that most would rather forget.
DiDomenico Shipped Off
Just before their home game against their fellow eastern conference basement-dwellers, the Buffalo Sabres, Thursday night, the Senators continued their trading trend, dealing forward Chris DiDomenico to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 28-year-old played his first consistent career NHL games with Ottawa this year, recording 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in 24 games. He spent part of the year in Belleville, and also bounced around earlier this season when he was waived by Ottawa and claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, only to come back to the nation’s capital in reverse of those events just days later.
He cleared waivers Thursday and was dealt in exchange for minor league D-man Ville Pokka. The 23-year-old Finland native brings some offensive promise on the back end, with 22 points (4 goals, 18 assists) in 46 games in the AHL this season. He has yet to suit up for his first NHL game though, despite playing for Chicago’s affiliate for the past four seasons.
While this is a trade with very little initial impact, it’s another small step forward in bringing in younger talent to help bolster a struggling organization. DiDomenico may have been well liked by several Senators fans, but the risk Ottawa took on him is equal to the one they’re taking on Pokka, with even slightly more upside due to his young age.
Depending on where Ottawa stands heading into next season, he may vie for a spot on the roster in training camp.
A sign of what’s to come
These deals continue to elevate the nerves for the rest of Ottawa’s lineup, who are certainly aware that more changes are imminent ahead of February 28.
The latest reports suggest that calls are still hot on Mike Hoffman and Derrick Brassard, who remain Dorion’s most valuable pieces to move ahead of the deadline. But, he may have to tone it down on the asking price.
He’s rumored to be asking for a top pick and top prospect for Hoffman, and is looking for three pieces if a team is to acquire Brassard. Those pieces range somewhere around a top pick, prospect, with something else added on.
For someone who’s only scored 20 goals in one season in his 10-year NHL career, it’s hard to argue Brassard’s playoff experience can bring that much extra value to a deadline deal.
Other names still getting some talk include Zack Smith, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Johnny Oduya. The Senators have also given Magnus Paajarvi some extra playing time as of late, which could indicate they’re trying to showcase his talents for another possible move.
At the end of the day, it’s about selling a delicate fan base on a plan to move things forward and past a tough year towards a better future that includes an exciting downtown arena down the road.
And while that plan can still use some more framework, it’s starting to take shape with these deals executed by Dorion, who’s attention has shifted to the future.
Stuart McGinn is a reporter/anchor with 1310 NEWS, covering the Ottawa Senators. Follow him on twitter here.