OTTAWA - Changes are inevitable if you're sitting 29th overall in the NHL, and the Ottawa Senators made their first one Tuesday night.
Veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson were sent to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forwards Marion Gaborik and Nick Shore. The Senators will retain 25 per cent of Phaneuf's contract as part of the deal. He has three years remaining on his seven-year $49-million contract.
Gaborik has seven goals and seven assists through 30 games this season and has three full years remaining on his contract, which comes with a $4.875-million cap hit.
More than anything this deal is about the Senators shedding salary as they look to start their re-tool or rebuild — it remains to be seen which it will be — following what has been an incredibly disappointing season.
Phaneuf, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in Feb. 2016, spent just over two years with the Senators having played 154 games with the club. He registered 13 goals and 41 assists, but his leadership made the most notable impact.
"I haven't really spoken to anyone, but it's an unfortunate part of the business," said Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson Tuesday night following the trade. "He's a good friend of mine and good friend of everybody on this team. He's someone who did really well for us and someone we would have liked to have kept if the circumstances were different."
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said he felt comfortable making the deal as the organization believes it has enough depth on defence and players who can step in as a fourth line centre to accommodate Phaneuf's departure.
Speculation is already rampant that the Senators will either try to move Gaborik, who turned 36 today, again before the Feb. 26th trade deadline or potentially buy him out in the summer.
Dorion had no interest in discussing either scenario other than to say that Gaborik would play for the Senators Thursday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres, as will Shore.
In all likelihood Dorion will do his best to make a few more moves before the trade deadline, but said at this time "nothing is imminent."
"We're going to take it day-by-day, we're going to do what's right for the organization," Dorion said. "We have a plan in place, we know how we're going to go about the plan. I'm excited about the future of this team, I'm excited about the future of this organization and I don't think there's much more to add."
The Senators have not revealed whether or not they're looking at a complete rebuild or just simply moving some parts to strengthen its lineup. Captain Erik Karlsson has one-year remaining on his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent and ideally the goal is to sign him long term, as well as Mark Stone who becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
"Obviously we'd like to compete for the playoffs next year, there's no doubt about that," said Dorion. "At the same time we want to have a team here who will be able to compete every year for the playoffs."
"We're going to be doing a lot of things to make sure that we can field as competitive a team as we can whether it's in the near future or whatever future you want to look at," said Dorion. "This is an exciting time, I think, for our fans because we know we're going to do some good things or the organization will do a lot of good things and we're looking forward to it."