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Dorion: ‘We feel we maximized our return’ on DeBrincat

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The Ottawa Senators traded forward Alex DeBrincat to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday in exchange for forward Dominik Kubalik, prospect Donovan Sebrango, and a conditional first-round pick and fourth-pick in 2024.

The trade came one year after Ottawa acquired DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for three draft picks, including the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, which was used to select defenceman Kevin Korchinski.

As the team attempts to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17, Sens general manager Pierre Dorion says the team found the best return it could for the 27-goal-scorer under difficult circumstances.

“I don’t look at it as the price we paid versus what we got in return because the situations are totally different,” Dorion said on TSN1200 Tuesday morning. “One guy was two years out from UFA, when we acquired him, and he gave us a good year of hockey.

“A lot of things could have gone a bit differently for us, a bit better luck with injuries. Maybe we make the playoffs and people don’t look at it that way. We got a pretty good player for a year and we feel we maximized our return. Let’s look in 3-5 years if that player we take in the first round is better than the player we would’ve taken at No. 7.”

DeBrincat, 25, scored 27 goals and 66 points in his only season with the Senators, finishing fourth on the team in both categories. Despite the solid season from DeBrincat, the Senators missed the playoffs by six points. 

Dorion added that it was always the goal to re-sign the forward to a long-term contract but Debrincat and his team made it clear that he wished to play elsewhere.

“It was always our goal to sign Alex long term. We talked to him at training camp and [his team] said ‘let’s see how he likes it’,” said Dorion. “About halfway through the year we reached out to them and they said ‘We thought your team would be a bit better from the start of the year.’

“Alex’s body language in the exit interview told me enough. Being around a long time, I told [head coach D.J. Smith] ‘he doesn’t want to be here’. When I got back from the World Championships his agent called me and said ‘we’re not going to sign long-term with you guys.”

Dorion said he reached out to a list of nine teams provided by DeBrincat and gave several teams permission to negotiate a long-term contract with the two-time 40-goal scorer. However, Dorion found finding a trade partner difficult, as DeBrincat did not wish to sign a long-term deal with certain teams and believes he found the best deal he could for the organization.

“At the end of the day, Detroit kept calling and you’re almost just negotiating with one team. And you have to get the best return and do what’s best for the organization,” said Dorion. “What made it a bit more difficult is that if you had a deal close with teams and Alex said he wouldn’t sign there, it made it difficult for us. We were pretty much negotiating with one team.”

Debrincat has one season left on his current contract and Dorion acknowledged that he could have kept the winger on the team with the intent of trading him at the deadline. However, he said the risk outweighed the possible reward in regard to both a trade return and the possible ramifications of trading an important piece of the team at a crucial time of the season.

“We can wait for the trade deadline but is it worth taking the risk? What if he gets hurt? I have an obligation to the organization and I just couldn’t take that chance, then you lose a player and you get nothing if an injury happens,” said Dorion.

"Then you have to look at the optics. I didn’t want to get to the trade deadline and we’re two points out, we can get the same return and you tell your fans we’re pretty much quitting by trading someone who’s on pace for 40 goals. Let’s say we’re in the top-eight and you trade a pretty important player for picks, people will ask ‘what are you doing?’"

Dorion added that the team’s main goal was to get a first-rounder back in the trade and that the club is very excited about Kubalik and Sebrango moving forward as the team hopes to improve on its 39-35-8 record and make its first postseason appearance in six years. 

"To me, it was always about getting a first back. We also got a player we like in Kubalik. He only had seven less goals[last season]. It's not like we're getting a bad player back. It's a really good contract," said Dorion. "We really like Sebrango. He's got leadership qualities. It just made sense."