There is a lot of uncertainty around Ottawa Senators forward Alex DeBrincat, specifically whether or not he has a long-term future in Ottawa. In this article I am going to explore the potential options for how the team should handle DeBrincat, and give my opinion on what I believe would be the best case scenario. Please be sure to let me know your thoughts around this polarizing players future in the NHL.
All stats courtesy of Moneypuck.com
Recapping DeBrincat’s Season
The 2022-2023 NHL season was a mixed bag for Alex DeBrincat. While his offensive numbers look solid on paper, with 27 goals and a career-high 39 assists, for a total of 66 points in 82 games; it was still considered a somewhat disappointing season for the talented forward. Despite his efforts, DeBrincat experienced a stroke of bad luck, as it was the first season in which he scored fewer goals than expected. His expected goals stat of 28.3, the second highest of his career, indicated that he was a victim of unfortunate circumstances. While I don’t want to make excuses for the player, I think it is important to look at what the advanced numbers suggest.
A noteworthy aspect of DeBrincat’s season was his improved passing ability, evidenced by his career-high 39 assists. This demonstrated his development as a playmaker and his ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Additionally, DeBrincat achieved the highest Corsi percentage of his career, a solid 59%. This reflected his positive impact on puck possession and offensive zone play. His Corsi was actually tied for fourth on the team along with Tim Stützle.
Several factors could have influenced DeBrincat’s performance this season. The transition to a new team after being traded, along with the challenges of adjusting to a new environment and living outside of the United States for the first time may have played a role. Additionally, becoming a father for the first time likely brought added responsibilities and adjustments to his personal life, potentially impacting his on-ice performance. I think this is all important to consider when reflecting on some of his on-ice struggles this season. People often forget about existential circumstances that could hamper someone’s confidence on the ice, especially as a younger player.
One area that DeBrincat will need to focus on improving is his defensive play. Ending the season with a -31 plus-minus rating suggests that he struggled at defending his net. Additionally, playing with a rookie centre rather than a more established player like Norris or Stutzle might have affected his overall production and chemistry on the ice. Nothing against Shane Pinto, but he was not ready to play top-6 center minutes in the NHL. It is also important to note that the Ottawa Senators as a whole struggle to defend, so it is possible that a change of coaching could impact the net defense from both DeBrincat as well as the rest of the Ottawa Senators.
I have included a chart showing DeBrincat’s advanced statistics from the time of the trade to the Ottawa Senators. As you can see, DeBrincat was in the 97th percentile of players contributing to wins. If DeBrincat returns to form, the Ottawa Senators are getting a truly elite NHL forward.
Signing Alex DeBrincat to a long-term contract comes with both pros and cons for the team. On the downside, if DeBrincat signs in the $8-9 million range, it will create a significant cap crunch, leaving minimal room to address other roster needs (such as acquiring a quality goaltender or adding depth to the bottom six forwards.) Additionally, there is a certain level of risk involved in committing a long-term contract to DeBrincat, as it relies on the hope that he will return to his previous form as a consistent 40-goal scorer.
However, there are compelling pros to consider as well. The first advantage is the potential to sign DeBrincat at a lower cost following a relatively weak season by his standards. This “buy low” opportunity could result in securing a top-tier player at a more favourable contract. Additionally, all indicators point towards DeBrincat bouncing back from his underwhelming season given his previous track record and his advanced statistics.
Another pro is DeBrincat’s fit within the team’s core age group. By signing him long-term, the team ensures continuity and stability within their young core of players. Moreover, it appears as though DeBrincat has solid chemistry in the locker room and appears to be a good fit within the team’s culture. This is a significant intangible benefit.
Lastly, the most obvious advantage is the retention of a highly skilled and productive player. DeBrincat’s offensive contributions, even during a down season, remain valuable.
Trading Alex DeBrincat also comes with its share of benefits and risk. On the downside, one of the cons is that it is unlikely to receive a return that matches his original cost (1st, 2nd, 3rd). Given DeBrincat’s season, it would be challenging to find a trade partner willing to provide equal or greater value than Chicago originally received.
Furthermore, trading for a current established player, rather than picks or prospects, is more difficult. Teams who are in a win now mode are often reluctant to part ways with impactful players, especially those who have consistently produced at a high level like DeBrincat.
However, there are notable intrigues to consider as well. Trading DeBrincat could allow the team to address a pressing need in goaltending, which is a crucial position for long-term success. By acquiring a quality goaltender in a trade, the team can eliminate their biggest weakness and improve their chances of winning.
In addition, trading DeBrincat would free up significant cap space, which could be used to build depth throughout the roster. This newfound financial flexibility could be utilized to sign or acquire players who can bolster either the crease, or the bottom 6. This future cap space could also be put towards potential contract extensions for other key players like Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson.
If you would like to look at some of my proposed DeBrincat trades, check out this article: https://sensnews.ca/2023/05/16/exploring-potential-alex-debrincat-trades/
What Do I Think?
If I were the general manager of the Ottawa Senators, I would prioritize signing Alex DeBrincat to an extension before exploring the trade route. This would be contingent on a couple of factors including signing for less than $9 million, and signing with term. I am not comfortable qualifying DeBrincat and allowing him to play out the entire season. If an extension is not done by the start of this season, I would explore the trade route. Obviously this all depends on what DeBrincat would like to do, but assuming he is willing to stay; that would be my decision. Due to all the advanced stats pointing towards DeBrincat bouncing back, I would be willing to take the risk of offering north of $8 million for the players services.