The trade first rumoured on Saturday is now official, and along with Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown, the Leafs are sending the rights to RFA Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators in return for the rights to RFA Cody Ceci as well as Ben Harpur and Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft originally belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Carcone and Luchuk are a swap of minor leaguers, with the Leafs getting the centre back. Luchuk (who is waiver exempt and still on his ELC) spent half of last season in the ECHL while Carcone spent his time on the Marlies impressing people with his play, so this is net gain by Ottawa.

Ben Harpur is tall, on a nearly minimum contract deal, and would not make the NHL roster on most teams. His contract expires as an RFA with arbitration rights next summer.


Why the new deal and not just the qualifying offer? Likely because it’s going to be structured with some signing bonuses paid immediately.

We talked about Cody Ceci’s contract and the choices and options he and the Leafs have here:

Will the Leafs keep Cody Ceci?

What we haven’t discussed yet is what he brings as a player. We’ll dig deeper in the coming days, but for now, the picture is murky.

This look at a GAR (goals above replacement) and the WAR (wins above replacement) ranking derived from it, shows a player just barely over replacement level most of the time.

To dig a little deeper both the EH RAPM chart, and the HockeyViz Threat charts show a player who is treading water or worse.

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Overall, there’s no offensive skill there, but he’s not killing it dead either. He has played with a lot of high-end forwards too. Don’t fall too deep into the trap of thinking Ottawa has always been a sinkhole of despair.

His most frequent forward linemates at five-on-five over the past three years have been:

  • Zack Smith (1121 min.)
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau (1096)
  • Ryan Dzingel (1083)
  • Tom Pyatt (1027)
  • Mark Stone (1002)/

Okay, that starts out with a checking line and then goes downhill before we hit the Stone minutes. No one who plays that much with a player as good as Stone should be given too much sympathy for playing those tough minutes.

But they were tough minutes. That’s not a joke. He has consistently been played in the defensive zone more than the offensive, and against the top lines of other teams. With Stone a lot of the time, I want to emphasize. It’s the defence situation on the Senators that makes you suddenly understand why a guy whose skill seems to be the ability to dog-paddle for hours was playing, well, hours every season, and not producing a very happy looking defensive picture.

His most common defence partners at five-on-five were:

  • Dion Phaneuf (1294 min.)
  • Mark Borowiecki (580)
  • Maxime Lajoie (579)
  • Thomas Chabot (520)/

Now, I’m spoiling our deeper look, but let me tell you, you are not allowed to run down Chabot ever, because his results with Ceci come the closest to what an ordinary person would call success. The man is gifted. Chabot, I mean. The rest are not.

If I want to give the kindest spin on Ceci’s Ottawa years, I’ll just lop off the most recent and, well:

The first impulse is to be repulsed, and I get that, but there is one tiny spark of something there in the difference between the dreadful Corsi Against output and the Expected Goals Against. This is actually a Leafs-typical sort of result, where the gross shots against are gross, but when they’re adjusted for shot quality, you get a slightly brighter picture. Like turning on a nightlight in a smokey room.

I believe that these charts have some team results baked in, and the thing Ottawa excels at generating is shots against. If you combine the last three years, the Ottawa Senators are tops in Score Adjusted Corsi Against per 60 minutes at five-on-five (Natural Stat Trick). If I’m kind and exclude this past season, they are second to the Arizona Coyotes. The Leafs don’t score out great by this reckoning, but they were going in the right direction until this past season and all the injuries to the defence and the late arriving William Nylander. Even so, they were still a whopping 6 CA/60 below the Senators’ league-leading number. The Senators would have been historically bad last year in a league that had never held the Buffalo Sabres.

So Ceci is escaping a hailstorm for a downpour in going from the Senators to the shot-challenged Leafs. How much of that hailstorm really was of his making? On a team like that? (I really have no idea who Maxime Lajoie is.) I’m not sure science can tell us. Not without a tour of a better team for Ceci, which is an argument in favour of the Leafs playing him because they really don’t have anyone else. He’s not signed to term. Not, yet, anyway, so as of now, at worst, the Leafs sold four of Zaitsev’s contract years for his twin, perhaps his less evil twin if we’re lucky.

Are you cheered up? We’ll dig in deeper, but until we actually see him on the ice for a chunk of games, we’ll likely be a bit in the dark on how good his dog-paddle is.

As far as Zaitsev goes, he played a lot of defensively focused minutes last season so players like Morgan Rielly and Travis Dermott didn’t have to. His results look like those of a player who was used that way and was dog-paddling for all he was worth. The same goes for Ron Hainsey, who in a way, Ceci might also be called on to replace in part.

If Ceci can hit the median of those two players, we might be satisfied. If he can’t, well, you aren’t obligated to finish the season with the players you start with. you aren’t even obligated to start the season with the players you acquire in July, so while the trade is final, it’s still fair to say: We’ll see where this goes.

The loss of Connor Brown, whose chief contribution is a tough and effective forecheck with no scoring punch to back it up, can be made up with Trevor Moore, so the only real disappointment here is that Brown on his own might have fetched a meaningful, if small, return. At the end of the day, the Leafs will have created a lot of cap space without sacrificing Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen, so that’s the win.