Jean-Gabriel Pageau is one of the longest tenured players on the Senators’ roster. Originally drafted by the team in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, the centre spent one year in the QMJHL then parts of three seasons split between the AHL and NHL before becoming an NHL regular in 2015-16. It was in this season that it looked like Pageau had his breakout year, with 43 points in 82 games.
The next three seasons saw Pageau regress in point totals, as well as dealing with injuries, ending with 12 points in 29 games in 2018-19. Offense wasn’t telling the whole story, however, as Pageau developed into an excellent two-way forward who was relied on in defensive situations, penalty killing, and valued for his versatility being able to play all forward positions if required.
But, so far in the 2019-20 season, Jean-Gabriel Pageau has blossomed into one of the star forwards on this Senators’ roster. Through 22 games, Pageau has 17 points (including 13 goals), putting him on pace for a 40-plus-goal season. Even more impressive is his +17 on a team with a -9 goal differential. The next highest player for plus/minus on the roster right now is Mark Borowiecki at +8. Will he maintain this pace over the whole season? I find it unlikely, but the offensive potential that Pageau is showing has rocketed him up the trade bait board and is setting him up for a bit of a raise this summer when his contract expires.
Pierre Dorion and his crew have a huge decision in the lead up to this season’s trade deadline. Do they sell high on Pageau and acquire some valuable assets for their rebuild? Or, do they try to keep Pageau as a valued member of the team and veteran leadership group tasked with helping to develop and teach the young players?
Both sides have a strong argument for and against.
Should they Trade Him?
If the Senators decide to trade Pageau, reports suggest he could fetch a first round pick and a prospect. This is especially notable for the 2020 NHL draft, which is expected to be one of the deepest of the last couple of decades. The Senators already have two first round (potentially lottery) picks, their own and San Jose’s. A trade could bring in a third and raise the chances of landing Alexis Lafrenière or Quinton Byfield. It would also be an amazing boost to their rebuild and would give the team some freedom with their draft strategy as they could take a chance on a longer-term prospect if it is a mid-late first rounder. Or, they could flip one of those first rounders for a developed player to fill a specific role on the team moving forward, as they will need some experienced veterans to lead the new-look Senators in a couple years. For a team that is fully committing to the rebuild plan, you can never have too many options for picks and prospects.
At this point in Ottawa, it is basically a given that longtime and valued members of the team will get traded when their contract expires. The team wants to change that perception and start rebuilding some goodwill among fans and around the players and league, but will they start with Pageau?
The downside of trading Pageau will be the impact it has on the Senators’ dressing room. One incredibly important part of properly rebuilding teams is having the right veteran presence in the locker room. Without being there it is hard to say what type of impact and relationship Pageau has with the team, but at the very least, his playstyle is an excellent role model for young players transitioning into the NHL. He has shown himself to be energetic, gritty, defensively responsible, and hard working. Most teams would love to have a presence like that around their prospects.
The type of team culture a player like Pageau can provide is difficult to acquire from outside sources, and stockpiling free agent veterans is a risky and costly attempt at providing the same thing that homegrown players can provide. As we saw in Edmonton, ‘veterans’ brought in through free agency cost way more and the leadership they provide may not be as impactful (in some cases) as those who have spent time in the organization and been able to grow up with the team’s culture and be a part of developing it themselves. It’s always easier to practice and pass on things you’ve been a part of from the start. In a league where player roles are becoming more fluid with an extra emphasis on being a well-rounded player, the presence of Jean-Gabriel Pageau would be sorely missed in the Senators’ dressing room if he were traded.
Should they Keep Him?
If the Senators kept Pageau, the positive would simply be retaining a reliable, veteran presence. He will be looked to for helping younger players adjust and grow into the NHL, helping forward prospects understand and grow the defensive side of their game, and being a catalyst for the culture shift needed for the team.
For the organization, retaining Pageau could be viewed as the first step in rebuilding their reputation that has been severely damaged by the antics of owner Eugene Melnyk and the handling and subsequent departures of Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone. He is not as high-profile as any of those players, but you have to start somewhere and the earlier on in the rebuild these types of changes can be made, the better.
The primary downside to keeping Pageau is that this hot stretch he is having right now is just an anomaly. By the end of the year or into next season, he will be back to a 25-30 point player and they won’t have gotten anything in return while his value was sky high. Now, that is not to say a 25-30 point producer who is defensively responsible and kills penalties is a bad thing because he would be a highly sought after third line centre on almost any team. But, those types of players do not have as much value relative to other assets as he would fetch right now.
What do we think? The Senators would probably be best served by trading Pageau while his value is high. We also feel that this is the course of action the team will take. Given their history in similar situations and how other teams handle their rebuilds.
Even though they would lose a valuable roster piece and role player in Pageau, the draft pick and/or prospect they would receive would do more good for their rebuild than retaining him. As of right now, there are a few notable vets on the roster, including Craig Anderson, Ron Hainsey, and Mark Borowiecki (though we don’t know how many years Anderson and Hainsey have left) to help acclimate the next generation of Senators. And, an almost complete roster turnover is a symbolic way of turning over a new leaf and starting fresh. This is something the Senators seem to be taking literally, given the amount of former Maple Leaf players on the roster.