The Ottawa Senators have right winger Mark Stone under contract after avoiding arbitration, but the result portends yet another future exit for a key member of the franchise.
Stone and the Senators agreed on a one-year pact worth $7.3 million, which leaves him eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. And given the state of the organization, it’s hard to see Stone sticking around any longer than he has to.
The same can be said for center Matt Duchene (also eligible for UFA status next summer) and franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson, whose status in trade rumors has only been dulled due to stalemates with potential new teams Dallas and Tampa Bay.
If the Senators were truly serious about keeping Stone, they would have ponied up more money and hoped the key forward would agree to longer term. The right winger is just 26 years old, a consistent 20-goal scorer and one of the better two-way players in the NHL right now. For perspective, he got only slightly more money on a one-year deal than James van Riemsdyk did on a five-year contract with Philadelphia earlier this summer. Though ‘JVR’ had a career-high 36 goals with Toronto this past season, he is three years older than Stone and doesn’t have the same two-way acumen.
What this contract seems to say is that Stone will not be in an Ottawa uniform for 2019-20 and very well may be traded at the deadline before that. In fact, that’s probably the best course of action for GM Pierre Dorion at this point. Clearly there is no present in Ottawa and the Senators are staring at a 31st-place finish in the upcoming season. The most galling part for fans is that the team’s first-rounder was traded to Colorado in the three-way deal with Nashville that landed Ottawa Duchene. So there’s a chance Ottawa finishes last, ‘wins’ the draft lottery and then watches Avalanche GM Joe Sakic saunter up to the stage and welcome Jack Hughes to Colorado. Oh, and then Duchene leaves for sunnier pastures on July 1.
If Dorion is going to get this franchise out of the ditch, he must be nimble with his best assets in 2018-19. The package for Karlsson should be substantial, even though the multiple Norris winner is also a UFA after this season: assuming he’s healthy, Karlsson could put any playoff team over the top in a Stanley Cup race.
Stone may not have the same dramatic impact on a contender, but his ability to play solid possession hockey would definitely come in handy and the Senators shouldn’t let him go for anything less than a first-rounder and something else (either a prospect or more picks). Duchene, who found his stride after a rough start in Ottawa, should elicit a similar package - assuming the organization acquiring either forward is confident it can sign them to a long-term exchange. Heck, the Senators could even do a sign-and-trade to make sure they maximize their return.
Because right now, hope is but a glimmer in Ottawa. The Senators have some nice prospects in Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Logan Brown (to name the top end), but those players will need time and support. Stone would have been a great role model for the well-rounded Tkachuk, but it doesn’t seem like they’ll have enough (or any) time together now.
It feels like Stone could have been retained for longer, but would anyone blame him if he wanted a fresh start elsewhere? This feels like a divorce in the making. The only hope is that Ottawa can get something in return for Stone before he leaves for good in the summer.