As we move deeper into the NHL off-season, the Ottawa Senators continue to be hailed as one of the summer’s most active and successful clubs, heavily making over their roster in a push to make the playoffs next season.
So far, the club has added forwards Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, along with veteran goalie Cam Talbot. They’ve traded away goalies Matt Murray (Toronto) and Filip Gustavsson (Minnesota). They’ve bought out Colin White and Michael Del Zotto. And they opted not to re-sign free agents Chris Tierney, Tyler Ennis, Adam Gaudette, and Victor Mete.
GM Pierre Dorion will soon need to get busy re-signing the free agents he does want to keep. That includes Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, Mathieu Joseph and Erik Brannstrom.
But fairly quietly on Wednesday night, on the first day of free agency, Dorion traded away 28-year-old winger Connor Brown to Washington for a 2024 second rounder. The trade itself wasn’t a huge surprise, but for a player like Brown, the Senators’ compensation seemed light.
Capitals’ head coach Peter Laviolette is going to love Connor Brown. What can Brown do for you? He was the Sens’ fifth leading scorer last season with 39 points in 64 games. He led Ottawa in takeaways (51) and averaged 2:46 of shorthanded ice time per game for the past two seasons, which ranks first in the NHL among forwards.
Brown is cursed by his inability to finish on so many of the breakaway chances he creates for himself, which is why so many fans see him as a poor second line option. But his stats tell a different story. Brown finished up his time in Ottawa with a stat line of 117 points in 191 games. Over 82 games, that’s a 50-point pace. Look around the league at most other teams’ second lines. Brown’s offensive production, along with his elite two-way play, slot in very nicely as a second liner. As a third liner (as he would have been here), forget about it. He’d have been a total stud behind Ottawa’s excellent top six.
So why did the Senators trade Connor Brown?
It’s believed that sometime after the season, Brown let the Senators know that he wanted to test free agency next summer no matter what. It’s unclear what prompted that. Courtesy? Trying to encourage a trade? Something else? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed Brown’s status during a playoff game intermission feature last month.
“There’s a feeling that Brown might test the market,” said Friedman. “That’s going to (create) a choice for Ottawa. And the choice is, do they let it play out or decide to make a move? I think that’s going to be in the Senators’ court because I think he’s going to want to see what the market is going to be.”
This probably explains why he was traded. If the Sens were going to lose Brown next summer no matter what, they might as well try and get something for him.
But why not wait for a better deal than just a second rounder? Washington is always pretty good, so the 2024 second round pick Ottawa received in the deal probably won’t even be a very good one. When the Sens traded a comparable player in JG Pageau two years ago, they got a first rounder, a second rounder and a conditional third rounder for him. Ryan Dzingel was dealt away for two second rounders and Anthony Duclair.
If the right deal wasn’t there for Brown now, why not wait until it is?
With Brown basically saying he’d go to the highest bidder next summer, he was no longer part of Ottawa’s Stanley Cup strategy and it’s likely the Sens wanted him out of the way – not later this summer or at the trade deadline – now. Dorion is currently waist-deep in the middle of the NHL free agent frenzy and it’s called a frenzy for a reason. Teams are furiously trying to fill holes in their roster, and as they do, the summer trade market for players like Brown will get smaller and smaller with each passing day.
The Sens could have waited until next year’s trade deadline when they’d surely get more for Brown. But in doing so, Brown would have blocked the roster spot and a season’s worth of NHL development time of a player who is in the long-range plans. The top 6 is now set, of course. The third line will likely be Formenton, Shane Pinto and Joseph. Brown would probably bump Formenton to fourth line status. That would be fine if Brown were staying. But he’s not. So there’s no point in him standing in the way of Formenton’s developmental path this season.
Meanwhile, Dorion also wants to be sure Brown’s salary and cap hit (yes, the Sens may soon have to worry about the salary cap) are definitely off the books and out of the way so he can comfortably go free agent shopping for that elusive top four defenceman in the next week.
And finally, the Senators only want players who actually want to be in Ottawa. Brown’s super early, free agency declaration seems to suggest he’s looking for a change of address.
As a straight up trade, the Sens didn’t get nearly enough for Brown. But you don’t always see a trade’s full value and objectives just by looking at the headline.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine