Sometimes, making the right decision hurts. Especially in the moment.
All things considered, the Ottawa Senators essentially “pulled off the Band-Aid” by trading Matt Duchene on Friday. It stings, but if the team is being honest, it was the best move. (Getting a pretty nice bucket of assets for their troubles is the Neosporin of that analogy.)
While their trade partners the Columbus Blue Jackets feast their eyes on a veritable buffet of additional choices at the deadline, the Senators also eye more moves, but they’re basically cleaning up a mess.
You can tell that the organization is bracing for angst from fans, and understandably so.
“All we’re asking for is our fans to be patient,” Dorion said after the trade, according to TSN’s Ian Mendes.
With Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel healthy-scratched (not just Duchene) during Thursday’s eventual loss to the Devils, many wondered if all three might be gone. Dorion seems to label that as “… To be continued.”
Trading Dzingel would make some sense, but the Stone question is especially tough.
On one hand, Stone would be very much on an island if he was one of the few holdovers from this rebuild. After all, last year’s Senators struggled with Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman still in the fold, and this year’s team was in last place with Duchene and Stone up to this point. A “happy” last-place team can only be so happy.
Considering the haul Duchene landed, and the possibility that Artemi Panarin might be off the market depending on what Columbus chooses to do, Stone would fetch quite the bounty if Ottawa decides they have to trade him. And they pretty much have zero choice if he’s walking to free agency.
But there are some perks to keeping him.
For one thing, while the Senators are amassing some nice assets between picks and prospects, there’s a strong chance that they won’t unearth anyone better than Mark Stone. He’s a legitimately elite two-way winger, and at 26, he could still be useful if Ottawa’s rebuild isn’t too prolonged. (At 28, Duchene had to go, whether the Sens really wanted to let him go or not.)
If reviled Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s plan to eventually spend to the cap actually ends up forecasting a brighter future – instead of being another gaffe, or maybe alongside being another gaffe – then it’s conceivable that Stone could be the veteran shepherding a bevy of young players.
From a sheer PR standpoint, Stone would at least give Senators fans something to glom onto, beyond the speculative mystery of “potential.” They could give Stone the “C,” pay him handsomely, and try to keep that locker room as happy as possible.
A lot of work to do, and more suffering ahead
People become intoxicated by the intangible ideas of potential, but the Senators face a steep uphill battle to actually mold all that clay into something competitive.
With or without a Stone trade, Ottawa’s piled up some picks, especially if certain conditions are met. They’ll have a first-rounder from Columbus in 2019, and could have another in 2020 if CBJ re-signs Duchene. They’re most likely receiving the Sharks 2020 first-rounder, and could receive more depending upon what happens with Karlsson. There are picks in other rounds, too, whether they’re extras or ones that replaced other Sens picks. (They’ve made a lot of moves lately, basically.)
The pain part bubbles up again with picks, of course. By deciding to keep their 2018 first-rounder and drafting Brady Tkachuk, the Senators gifted the Colorado Avalanche this year’s first-rounder. Depending upon how the draft lottery goes, the Avalanche could end up landing Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko from the fruits of the trade that sent Duchene to Ottawa. Yeah, ouch.
Even with all of those picks, the Senators might not land someone as great as Stone, or even as good as Duchene.
That said, there are already some building blocks in place. Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the headliners as far as young players already getting NHL reps go. Ottawa also has some interesting pieces in its system, including Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton.
The Senators have to get a lot of things right, or a few things really right to wade through the darkness: developing those prospects, bringing along Chabot/Tkachuk, and making the right draft calls. Getting more picks means more throws at the dart board, and if Dorion really plays his cards right, he might get the last laugh.
Every indication is that the sounds you hear from Ottawa won’t often be laughs next season, but rather groans of agony. Things might get worse before they get better, which is saying a lot for a team that’s suffered such lows as the Sens have recently.
Look, it could have been worse. The Duchene acquisition didn’t work out, but at least Ottawa landed a nice trade package for him.
Is it best to keep or trade Stone? That’s really tough to say. Barring a major upset, it’s unlikely that they’ll be any good next season even with the elite winger.
In other words, the Senators are going to need their fans to be really patient.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.