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Behind The Numbers

Senators weigh future of top three forwards as Trade Deadline nears

Must decide whether to re-sign or move Stone, Duchene, Dzingel

by Scott Cullen / NHL.com Correspondent

Behind the Numbers is a weekly series in which NHL.com examines both player and team trends with an emphasis placed on advanced statistics. This week, we look at the Ottawa Senators as the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline approaches, particularly as they determine the futures of forwards Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

 

The Ottawa Senators are last in the NHL standings, but they have the potential to be a major player leading up to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline.

Given their place in the standings and the fact that their three highest-scoring forwards have expiring contracts, the Senators (21-30-5) are going to be one of the most compelling teams to watch as we approach the deadline, which is Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET.

When was the last time a team was even in the position to trade its top three scoring forwards at the deadline?

Mark Stone has 57 points (26 goals, 31 assists) in 56 games, Matt Duchene has 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists) in 47 games and Ryan Dzingel has 41 points (21 goals, 20 assists) in 54 games. Each can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The trade deadline provides an opportunity for Ottawa to make an initial decision about the future of each player with the club. If the Senators don't believe that they can sign each of the players to a new contract before July 1, it may make sense to trade them and get some sort of return.

Video: CAR@OTT: Stone bats puck by McElhinney for goal

Stone is an exceptional player capable of producing points and driving play at an elite level, especially relative to his teammates. Since 2015-16, he has a relative SAT percentage of 7.21. Carolina Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter (7.26) and Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (7.25) are the only two players in that span (minimum 100 games played) to have a better SAT percentage relative to his teammates.

The 26-year-old's point production has shot up since the start of last season. With 119 points in 114 games (1.04 points per game), he's one of 25 skaters to average more than a point per game while playing at least 100 games.

Stone's ability to put up points and drive play, improving the production of his linemates, makes him a very appealing addition. As a result, the Senators should be able to get a substantial package in return if they decide they can't Stone to a new contract and opt to trade him. At the same time, it's hard to improve by unloading star players.

Duchene is another top-tier pending free agent who could be traded if he's not signed to a contract.

Since 2013-14, Duchene ranks 30th with 337 points (144 goals, 193 assists) in 435 games. The 28-year-old is not a dominant play driver like Stone, but he's still a valuable commodity. Stanley Cup contenders who want more strength down the middle might like the idea of Duchene as a second-line center.

That means the price for Duchene could be high, whether that means signing a long-term contract with the Senators or the return he'll bring if they put him on the market.

But trading Duchene could be doubly painful because of the price the Senators paid to acquire him last season. In a three-team deal, the Senators traded center Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators and goaltender Andrew Hammond, a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft plus a protected first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft to the Colorado Avalanche. The Senators elected to keep their 2018 first-round pick to select forward Brady Tkachuk at No. 4, thereby surrendering their first-round pick this year to Colorado. That pick holds the best odds to win the NHL Draft Lottery as of today.

When they made the trade, the Senators thought they were acquiring Duchene to put them over the top as a contender after reaching Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But those circumstances have changed, and the price paid for Duchene is a sunk cost, which remains part of the conversation about Duchene's future in Ottawa.

Video: WPG@OTT: Duchene cleans up after scramble in front

While Stone and Duchene are the marquee names, Dzingel will also have value. The 26-year-old scored 23 goals last season and has 21 in 54 games this season. He is tied for 36th with 36 even-strength goals since the start of the 2017-18 season, the same number as Artemi Panarin, Leon Draisaitl, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Scheifele, among others.

Dzingel is not as established or productive as Stone and Duchene, but he's clearly a valuable contributor. Teams might look at Dzingel as a more reasonably priced option if they can't land Stone or Duchene. For that same reason, the Senators might be able to get Dzingel signed to a new contract more easily.

As hard as it may be to imagine, where would dealing all three of these forwards leave the Senators?

Defenseman Thomas Chabot along with forwards Tkachuk and Colin White would form the young nucleus of the Senators. Prospects Drake Batherson and Logan Brown are performing well in the American Hockey League, and trading their soon-to-be free agent forwards would surely net a significant haul of young players, prospects and picks to further accelerate a rebuild.

That said, it would still be a climb if Ottawa unloads all three of its top three forwards before the deadline.

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