Ottawa Senators fans should be happy for the All-Star bye week because it offers Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the team’s second-leading scorer (19 goals, 12 assists, 31 points in 46 games), a chance to heal. Pageau’s having a solid season and follows only surprising Anthony Duclair in points this season.
However, Pageau hasn’t played in a game since January 14. At first, the team gave no details about why Pageau wasn’t starting. And, it was interesting when he was held out of the Vegas Golden Knights game how cynical Senators fans have become. They immediately began to hit the social media suggesting that the team was going to – yet again – trade one of its best players.
Fortunately for fans, but perhaps not so fortunate for Pageau himself, it didn’t take the organization too long to announce the reason he was held out of the game was that he had what was called “an upper-body injury.” Later, the injury was more specifically called a “sore neck,” although that still says little. Fortunately, the sore neck that has sidelined the Senators’ center for the last two games doesn’t seem to be that serious.
As Senators’ head coach D.J. Smith said prior to last week’s Calgary Flames game, “He kind of tweaked his neck and it hasn’t really gotten better. He’s tried everything to loosen it up and he’s just unable to go.”
The good news is that Pageau will likely return to game-action immediately after the All-Star break when the team plays at home on January 27th against the New Jersey Devils. The time off afforded by the bye week also helps give him a chance to return to game shape.
Pageau scored seven points in 11 games just prior to the injury and has averaged a whopping (for a forward) 21:01 of ice time. The 27-year-old Pageau is a pending UFA (unrestricted free agent) and has been the subject of trade chatter ahead of the February 24th trade deadline. For as good as he’s playing, he’s a bargain at a $3.1 million cap hit per season.
Will Pageau Stay with the Team?
It’s hard to say what Pageau’s future is with the Senators. He’s exactly the kind of player a team like the Senators would want to rebuild around – and Ottawa’s a rebuilding team. The team already has both a number of prospects with potential and a large number of draft picks. They need NHL players who can contribute, and Pageau has done that in spades this season.
I’m wondering if the Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has approached Pageau or his agent to ask the straightforward question: Do you want to stay in Ottawa? And, if so, do you want to stay for the long-term?
Given the fact that Pageau is a hometown player (as is Anthony Duclair), who played junior hockey in Gatineau, he might want to stay close to home. In fact, his wife is also from Gatineau – and that can’t hurt the team’s chances of keeping him. I just hope that feeling is mutual.
As The Hockey News Ken Campbell wrote in November 2019, Pageau is a “low-maintenance player who can play anywhere in the lineup and kills penalties, checks and chips in with timely offense. Even though the Senators are years away from seriously contending again, Pageau is only 27 and still has time to be around when the good times begin to materialize again. And there aren’t many better people to have in your organization if you’re going through the process of rebuilding and need someone to be in the leadership group and help show the way.”
I would expect that Pageau would like to stay close to home. But, does he want to be part of a rebuilding team and stay with that team into his 30s?
Obviously, a large number of Senators fans would hope so, given the social media response to what seemed like he would be dealt. If the team hopes to sell tickets during its rebuild, it would be helpful for Senators fans to catch a glimpse of the future even if that future still might be years away. Pageau is a versatile player who can do lots of different things for a team: he can score, kill penalties, and play a number of positions throughout the lineup. He’s, as Campbell called him, a “Swiss Army-type of a player.”
Certainly, he would be a valuable trade chip at the February 24th deadline, but I’d love to see him stay with the team for the long haul. I can see a nucleus of young players already building towards something that could be quite special. And, that’s something Senators’ fans deserve.