The NHL Trade Deadline is right around the corner and no team is under more pressure to figure out what their position will be than the Ottawa Senators. The Senators are in the unenviable position of having to both work on extensions and field trade offers for three of the most prolific unrestricted free agents of the 2019 market. Forwards Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel are currently ranked No. 2, No. 3, and No. 8 respectively among all impending free agents in scoring and have all established themselves as elite players and core pieces. While Ottawa would prefer to keep the trio, the rebuilding team cannot afford to let any of them walk as a free agent because they were unable to come to terms on a new contract and too indecisive to make a move before the deadline.
During last night’s “Headlines” segment of Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman reported that it was his understanding that the Senators would have a decision made on the availability of Stone, Duchene, and Dzingel by “about 10 days out before the deadline hits” on February 25th. This hypothetically gives the Senators one more week to discuss new contracts, followed by one weeks to talk through trade scenarios. In other words, Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion should either be announcing extensions or reaching out to teams with asking prices by the end of the week.
It has long been expected that the Senators would talk through contracts with Stone and Duchene first and then work on Dzingel once they have more clarity on their long-term future. As the Sportsnet team expanded on the topic, Chris Johnston added that he feels Duchene could be the linchpin of the whole situation. Johnston believes that Duchene enjoys living and playing in Ottawa, near family and friends, and is open to staying with the Senators. In fact, Johnston even threw out the possibility that Duchene could be traded at the deadline, the return on which would help the Sens in the rebuilding process, and then re-sign with the team this summer. Colleague Nick Kypreos also notes that many expect Ottawa’s initial extension offer, rumored to be in the ballpark of eight years and $64MM, to be the largest total amount Duchene will receive in a contract offer. As the top free agent center, he may get an offer with an AAV higher than Ottawa’s $8MM per year, but it will be limited to seven years maximum, if that. Kypreos believes this could also point to Duchene staying with the Senators.
If Duchene really is committed to Ottawa long-term, and has bought in to the promises made by owner Eugene Melnyk earlier this week, it would help to convince Stone and Dzingel to stay as well. However, some are not as optimistic about the odds of the trio sticking around as the Sportsnet crew. The venerable Bob McKenzie stated on the latest episode of “The TSN Hockey Bobcast” that he does not expect Duchene or Stone to re-sign with Ottawa and believes they will both be dealt at the deadline. McKenzie notes that the promise of the open market is likely too much for the star forwards to ignore and that neither is convinced that Ottawa’s offers are the best they will get. While McKenzie doesn’t doubt that Dorion and company will continue to work on contract negotiations, he thinks that decisions are already close to being made, possibly even by tomorrow, which marks two weeks out from the deadline. If there’s a silver lining for Senators fans in McKenzie’s forecast, it’s that he admits the Senators will land substantial returns for both players and he did not speak to a Dzingel departure. That may have to do for the Senators faithful as their team navigates this tricky situation.