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Tuesday’s blockbuster trade between the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings was quite odd. The Sens were able to shed the bulk of Dion Phaneuf‘s massive contract, but had to take on Marian Gaborik‘s awful deal in the process.

When you factor in Nate Thompson‘s and Nick Shore‘s salaries as part of the trade, the Sens saved just $1.075 million in immediate cap space. On the surface, that doesn’t seem worth it at all, considering Phaneuf is still a solid top-four defenseman, while Gaborik can’t seem to stay on the ice, playing in just 63 percent of his team’s games over the past six seasons.

That means Tuesday’s trade should simply be the first domino to fall for Ottawa, and should lead to a flurry of moves and key decisions. Here’s what the Senators must do next to justify the Phaneuf-for-Gaborik deal:

1. Give Chabot 20-plus minutes per night

With Phaneuf out of the picture, there’s no reason 21-year-old Thomas Chabot shouldn’t be logging 20-plus minutes every night. Right now he’s averaging less than 16 minutes per game, and that’s not helping his development.

Everything the Senators do from here on out must be geared toward next season, and that begins with giving Chabot valuable in-game experience.

2. Trade Brassard, Smith before deadline

Derick Brassard is a solid player, but he’s not performing to the level of his $5-million cap hit. Still, he has 15 goals and 16 assists, so the Sens could probably get a nice return for one of the few centers available on the open market, especially considering Brassard has another year left on his deal.

Moving him would create more ice time for rookie forward Colin White, who could take on an even larger role next season. The Sens also have another center in Logan Brown – the 11th overall pick in the 2016 draft – coming through the pipeline.

Zack Smith, on the other hand, has a cap hit of $3.25 million through 2020-21 – something the Sens can’t afford. Though he’s struggled this year, Smith scored 41 goals across the previous two seasons, so a team with cap room looking to make a minor deadline splash – perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights – could probably take on the versatile, gritty forward for a late-round pick.

3. Buy out Gaborik, shed Burrows’ contract

Thanks to his signing bonus, buying out Phaneuf would’ve costed a fortune, but with Gaborik, it’s not nearly as bad. Here’s the breakdown, courtesy of Cap Friendly:

Season Buyout cap hit
2018-19 $1.5M
2019-20 $2.9M
2020-21 $3M
2021-22 $1.2M
2022-23 $1.2M
2023-24 $1.2M

While the 2019-20 and 2020-21 numbers aren’t ideal, this buyout would be much more tolerable than getting minimal production out of Gaborik for 50 games a year at an annual cost of $4.875 million.

As for Alex Burrows, he has a $2.5-million cap hit through next season, but buying him out would be pointless. Since the Sens can’t afford to pay that money to a fourth-line player next season, and since they don’t have the financial resources to bury him in the AHL, they’ll have to get creative.

That means finding a wealthy team looking to rebuild, such as the New York Rangers. A club in New York’s situation would likely be willing to take on Burrows’ contract for one year in exchange for a mid-round draft pick or a mid-level prospect.

4. Sign Stone long term

The Sens would then need to use the money saved from the aforementioned moves to lock up Mark Stone long term. Scheduled to be a restricted free agent this offseason, Stone is one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the NHL. He’s been a point-per-game player this season and is annually among the league leaders in takeaways.

A six-year extension in the neighborhood of $6 million to $7 million per season seems realistic for Stone, who will turn 26 on July 1. For comparison, Boston Bruins phenom David Pastrnak, who put up 70 points last season and is only 21 years old, signed for six years at $6.6 million per season. Let’s give Stone a $7-million cap hit just to be safe.

5. Extend Karlsson

Last, but certainly not least, the Sens need to use the freed-up money to ink the face of their franchise, Erik Karlsson, to a long-term deal. They can do so as early as July 1.

Karlsson has been on the record stating he isn’t interested in giving a hometown discount, so Ottawa will have to pony up. P.K. Subban is currently the league’s highest-paid defenseman with a $9-million average annual value, so $10 million for Karlsson at seven or eight years seems realistic.

The end result?

With all the above moves factored in, here’s the projected lineup for the 2018-19 Senators, which still clearly has some holes:

LW C RW
Mike Hoffman ($5.1875M) Matt Duchene ($6M) Mark Stone ($7M)*
Ryan Dzingel ($1.8M) Bobby Ryan ($7.25M)
J.G. Pageau ($3.1M) Colin White ($0.925M)
Tom Pyatt ($1.1M) Logan Brown ($0.895M)
LD RD
Thomas Chabot ($0.863M) Erik Karlsson ($6.5M)
Fredrik Claesson ($0.9M)* Cody Ceci ($3M)*
Mark Borowiecki ($1.2M) Chris Wideman ($1.5M)*
Ben Harpur ($0.725M)
G
Craig Anderson ($4.275M)
Mike Condon ($2.4M)

* Projected 2018-19 cap hit

This projected lineup adds up to $57.8705 million (including buyouts and retained salary), giving Ottawa roughly $20 million in space for the 2018-19 season, assuming the salary cap continues to climb modestly. The Senators would also have to be weary of Karlsson’s projected $3.5-million raise for the 2019-2020 campaign.

Additionally, this lineup doesn’t include any potential return the Senators would receive for Brassard, nor does it include the player they’ll select with their first-round draft pick in the offseason. That player could very well be Rasmus Dahlin if Ottawa wins the lottery, but even if it doesn’t, a top-five pick of a winger – such as Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, or Brady Tkachuk – could make an impact from Day 1.

If the Senators spend their newly found cap room wisely – you could make arguments for needing upgrades up front, on the back end, and in net – they could very well return to the playoffs next year with a little luck. And considering the Colorado Avalanche will likely have Ottawa’s first-round pick in 2019, being competitive next season will be integral.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)