Entering the 2019-20 NHL season, Jean-Gabriel Pageau wasn’t expected to garner much attention among the 2020 unrestricted free agent class.
Not that the 27-year-old Ottawa Senators center lacks value. Since his nine-game NHL debut in 2012-13, he’s garnered a reputation as a hardworking, two-way forward. He excels on the penalty kill, can play center or on the wing, and agitates opponents. He’s a spark-plug player that every team wants on their roster.
Now in his contract year, however, Pageau has elevated his play through the opening weeks of this season. With 11 goals and 15 points in 20 games, he’s the Senators’ leading scorer. At his present rate of production, he could finish with a career-high 45 goals and 60 points.
It’s debatable if Pageau, whose best season was a 19-goal, 43-point effort in 2015-16, can maintain his current offensive pace. A more likely finish could see him reach 25 goals and 45 points. Nevertheless, his hot start to this season puts him in line for a nice raise over his current three-year, $9.3-million contract.
Pageau’s asking price will determine if the Ottawa native will continue his NHL career in his hometown or seek greener pastures elsewhere.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie last week reported the Senators are staying quiet regarding Pageau’s contract. That’s because of their recent, messy history with former Senators Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, and Mark Stone.
The Senators made competitive contract offers to those three, but they were reluctant to stick with a rebuilding club facing an uncertain future under cantankerous owner Eugene Melnyk. If Pageau shares the same aversion to committing the remainder of his playing prime with the Senators, he’ll be on the move, too.
Despite Pageau’s strong start, McKenzie considers him a 10-20 goal, 30-40 point player. He estimates the center’s value on the open market is between $3.65 million to $4 million annually. If Pageau wants more than that, he’ll likely price himself out of Ottawa’s market.
Some might scoff at any club paying Pageau over $4 million annually. One should never underestimate how auction fever can grip some NHL general managers when the UFA market opens. Should Pageau exceed 25 goals and 40 points this season, those numbers, along with his defensive skills, will make him an attractive option for clubs seeking two-way forward depth.
The Hockey News‘ Ken Campbell believes Pageau’s attributes also make him enticing in this season’s trade market. If the Senators can’t re-sign Pageau before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, they could shop him in hopes of fetching a quality return from a playoff contender.
Campbell advocates shopping Pageau while his value is at its highest. The Athletic’s Graeme Nichols suggested cashing in by moving him now, pointing to their depth in young centers such as Colin White and Logan Brown. McKenzie’s colleague Frank Seravalli recently cited an NHL GM suggesting Pageau could bring the Senators a first-round pick and a prospect.
Several clubs with playoff aspirations could come calling if Pageau hit the trade block right now.
The Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes are reportedly in the market for a forward. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is always on a lookout for in-season deals to help his club.
The slumping Calgary Flames could look to shake things up, while the Dallas Stars could benefit from a two-way forward with decent scoring ability. The Edmonton Oilers still need a decent third-line center.