One of the top questions for the Ottawa Senators this off-season is what happens to winger Alex DeBrincat. Here are four possible options with pros and cons.
The Ottawa Senators made a big splash at the 2022 NHL draft when they traded the Nos. 7 and 39 picks, plus a 2024 third-round pick, to the Chicago Blackhawks for Alex DeBrincat.
The 25-year-old winger was coming off a 40-goal season, and he’s around the same age as Ottawa’s core players, so the trade made perfect sense for the Sens. Mix in the off-season signing of Claude Giroux and the Senators, on paper, had one of the stronger forward groups in the league.
Fast forward to today, and DeBrincat had a subpar season, only scoring 27 goals and 66 points in 82 games. Now, GM Pierre Dorion has a decision to make about the RFA winger – do they re-sign him and hope for a bounce-back season and long-term extension, or do they trade him to recoup some value?
Here are four potential options the Senators may take, with what makes the most sense for the up-and-coming team.
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1. DeBrincat Signs His Qualifying Offer
This is the simplest option but also the riskiest. DeBrincat is one year away from UFA status, and his qualifying offer is $9 million for the year.
Going this route ensures Ottawa keeps the skilled forward for at least one more season as the Sens compete for the playoffs, but it also risks him walking as a free agent at the end of the year. They can always try and work out an extension mid-season, but there is no guarantee that happens.
Sens fans saw a similar situation back in 2019 when Mark Stone was traded after signing a one-year contract.
2. Extend DeBrincat to a Long-Term Deal
Extending DeBrincat should be the preferred option for the Sens. He is entering his prime right now, so keeping a player with two 40-goal seasons before the age of 25 should be a priority. Even with a shooting percentage well below his career average, he was one of Ottawa’s best players and set a career high in assists this season.
Now, how much is he worth on a long-term deal? He certainly didn’t play at a $9-million level this year, but he is still worth north of $8 million.
Some fans may not like the idea of paying him more than Brady Tkachuk or Tim Stutzle, but both those players signed deals coming out of their entry-level deals and didn’t have the track record DeBrincat has now.
A fair deal for both sides would likely be in the $8.5-million AAV range for five years. That would lock him up along the same timeline as the current core, and he would still be able to sign another long-term contract by the end of this deal. The Senators, meanwhile, would maintain some cap space to negotiate contracts with other RFAs and extend D-man Jake Sanderson at the end of next season.
Keep in mind the Senators only have 14 players signed for next season at the moment, and they only have just more than $16 million in projected cap space, according to CapFriendly. It will be tight.
If DeBrincat doesn’t settle for a cap hit of less than $9 million in a longer-term contract, these next two options should be considered.
3. Move DeBrincat in a Hockey Trade
If DeBrincat and the Senators can’t agree on a mid- to long-term deal, Ottawa should consider trading him. They could even settle for a sign-and-trade to maximize his value as an asset.
A traditional “hockey trade” is usually a 1-for-1 deal with an asset or two to even out the value. So, Ottawa would be looking for a player of similar value from another team that may be in a situation like DeBrincat’s.
One team that pops to mind is the New Jersey Devils, and a couple of players in a similar spot are Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt.
Both players are upcoming RFAs who are due for big raises. Meier is in a similar spot to DeBrincat, where he is one year from UFA status and has a large qualifying offer of $10 million. Bratt doesn’t have as big of a qualifying offer as the other two have, but he does have arbitration rights and is likely looking for a big deal this off-season.
The Devils will almost certainly want to keep their two forwards, though, as they took a huge step forward this season and made the playoffs. But with New Jersey only having 12 players signed for next season at the moment with a projected $34.7 million in cap space, perhaps they see DeBrincat as a better fit.
4. Trade for Picks and Prospects, Then Flip Them
If Ottawa cannot find a hockey trade that makes sense for both sides, trading DeBrincat for a package of future assets would be a smart choice as well.
While having more picks is always a good thing, especially in this year’s draft, those future assets could then go to a rebuilding team looking to sell their star players.
For example, let’s say DeBrincat, a Michigan native, gets traded to the Detroit Red Wings. Ottawa would likely get a package around one of Detroit’s first-round picks this year, plus some other assets as well.
Ottawa could then flip those picks to the Philadelphia Flyers for Travis Konecny. The 26-year-old knows the Ottawa area well from his OHL days, notched 31 goals and 61 points in 60 games this season and has a cap hit of only $5.5 million for the next two years.
Detroit gets their local star to help with their offensive issues, Philadelphia gets a package of futures for their upcoming rebuild and Ottawa gets a strong forward for the next few years at a fair cost. Konecny could even slot in beside his former teammate in Giroux, and he’s got a feisty style of play that fits in well with the Senators.
Picks and prospects won’t help Ottawa this next season. If DeBrincat is moved, the team must replace him with another option if they seriously want to make the post-season.
Giroux is only getting older, Josh Norris is coming off shoulder surgery and none of their current prospects project to be in the top-six forward group next season. Those are a lot of question marks for 2023-24.
Dorion will have a tough choice on his hands when it comes to DeBrincat, as there are pros and cons to each option listed above. The suggested contracts or trades are just hypotheticals, but it gives a rough idea of what each option could look like.