After a climactic end to yesterday’s team scrimmage in which he assisted on Lassi Thomson’s game-winning goal, the Logan Brown era in Ottawa is over.
After years of development and opportunity were beset by injury, inconsistency and questions about Brown’s commitment and character, the Senators finally pulled the plug and traded the centre after yesterday’s game.
The Senators dealt Brown, the 11th overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft, and a conditional pick to the St. Louis Blues for Zach Sanford. If Brown plays in more than 30 regular-season games for the Blues this season, a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft will be returned to Ottawa.
In Sanford, the Senators added a 26-year old left-winger who has played primarily in the St. Louis Blues’ bottom-six. Set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season, Sanford has some qualities that will endear him to Senators brass. Having some size (6’4”, 207 lbs) and a 2019 Stanley Cup ring on his resume are desirable traits, but Sanford became a bit of a scapegoat for Blues fans with some untimely turnovers and enigmatic play.
His best season was the shortened 2019-20 campaign in which he scored 16 goals and 30 points in 58 games.
Sanford has never been a big volume shooter, but he has been an efficient one. His career shooting percentage of 14.6 in 209 career games is pretty impressive and should allow him to play up the lineup if needed.
Given his production at the NHL level, Sanford feels like the kind of player that St. Louis would prefer to have at this stage of their franchise’s development curve, but given their cap crunch, freeing up Sanford’s relatively modest $2-million contract allowed the Blues to become cap compliant.
In his media availability, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong spoke on the influence of the cap situation that drove yesterday’s deal.
“It was something that was made out of necessity, not out of desire,” Armstrong said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen with (Tyler) Bozak. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to sign a free agent (which they did with Brandon Saad). We didn’t know we were going to be able to trade for (Pavel) Buchnevich.
“So there were all those things, and then at the end of the day, you add it up and the cap was $81 million and we were $83 million. It’s as much having to get cap compliant and in doing that we wanted to bring back a player that we saw upside in.”
According to Hockeyviz.com’s data, Sanford has historically proven himself to be a positive contributor on offence and defence.
Despite a down year last season offensively, the defensive results have been pretty impressive and will be a welcome addition to a team that has struggled in recent years to tilt the ice in its favour. If Sanford can come in and help buoy the third line while offering some secondary scoring, it will be a welcome addition.
What makes Sanford’s addition intriguing is that left-wing is one of the Senators’ strongest positions of talent and depth. If and when Brady Tkachuk re-signs, the roster will feature Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Nick Paul, Alex Formenton and Sanford.
I certainly don’t want to read too much into the addition of Sanford as talks drag on between Tkachuk and the Senators, but inevitably, it’s something that will be pointed out. Given the Senators’ weakness down the middle and on the right side, maybe there is a chance one of the aforementioned wingers could move to centre or their off-side.
At the very least, Sanford’s presence will most likely impact the even-strength ice-time of Alex Formenton or maybe even Nick Paul. But, maybe there is some scenario where Stützle moves over to the right side and Sanford plays up the lineup.
The departure of Logan Brown marks quite the fall from grace for a prospect that was highly sought after in 2016. The Senators believed so confidently in his size and skill that they sent a third-round pick to New Jersey so that they could move just one spot up in the draft to select him.
Since the summer of 2016, however, Brown’s stock has dropped markedly because of his inability to stay on the ice. Whether it was at the junior or AHL level, a series of unrelated injuries have prevented him from taking advantage of whatever opportunities there have been for him to prove that he can reach and perform consistently at the NHL level.
Brown has often been referred to as one of Ottawa’s most skilled prospects, but it has not helped that he has been dogged by questions regarding his compete and effort. Apart from watching Brown play, I cannot speak to how he’s perceived by his teammates or staff, but it certainly never felt like Brown was a beloved asset. It never helped that his representatives portrayed him as a player who was not treated fairly relative to other first-round picks.
This perception of entitlement worked against him, but I believe another thing that unexpectedly worked against him was his imposing figure. Skilled players of Brown’s size who aren’t particularly physical are often judged for what they don’t do when the puck is not going in the net for them.
Laying hits, making it look like you’re exerting yourself while skating on the forecheck or backcheck are all things within a player’s span of control that are easily noticeable to the eye. And when you’re a large player isn’t doing these things often enough, a player gets dogged for what he isn’t contributing rather than the skills he brings to the table.
Looking at Brown’s performance in Ottawa and underlying numbers, I believe that there’s enough evidence to suggest that he can be a decent NHL player.
It was never going to happen here in Ottawa, however.
There has been such a philosophical shift in assembling a roster that emphasizes speed, physicality and compete that Brown became a poor fit for what the organization is trying to do. That prospects like Shane Pinto and Josh Norris emerged and surpassed him on the organizational depth chart only cemented this reality.
Brown is a much better prospect than Curtis Lazar was when the Senators cut bait with the winger and jettisoned him to Calgary. At the same time however, yesterday’s trade was reminiscent of the Lazar deal in the sense that the Senators moved on and secured an asset that they should be able to use — whether the Senators re-sign Sanford or move him for future assets at the deadline.
Perhaps the organization could have arrived at a decision on Brown’s worth earlier on, but there was enough talent there for them to wait as long as they could to see if he could pan here.
He didn’t, but now Brown will have to hope that this opportunity will exist at home in St. Louis.