Silly Season

If you’re the kind of passionate Senators fan who’s looking for some form of clarity into Ottawa’s hot-button Jason Spezza issue, you’re going to have to keep waiting. In a media scrum this afternoon, Bryan Murray was asked to address the speculated Spezza trade request and had this to say…

“He said he wouldn’t object to it. He didn’t come out and say, “I have to be traded.” He didn’t object to the fact that maybe it’s time “with the way I’ve been received and maybe it’s time I look around.

Considering how sensitive Spezza is, he can’t be too pleased that the fans know that it was he who raised the question of whether or not it’d be best for him to move on. Especially after you consider that Spezza wasn’t appreciative with the GM’s candor when Murray originally confirmed that Jason wasn’t pleased with the treatment that he received from the fans and media during and after the team’s first round playoff exit.

The timing itself is bizarre and it gives Spezza a legitimate reason to be irked. However, if he’s really upset, at least his new sponsorship agreement with Ben & Jerry’s should allow for him to spend the next few nights curled up with a bucket of Caramel Hat Trick on the company’s dime. (Ed. note: If Spezza shows up into camp out of shape in the fall, it’s not going to take a genius to realize what his favorite offseason coping mechanism was.)

Although it’s still early in the offseason and there will be a natural optimism that will come with the onset of Friday night’s NHL Entry Draft and the lead in to start of unrestricted free agency, today’s news that Spezza thought it might be in both parties’ interests to move on and that Anton Volchenkov will test the unrestricted free agent waters should leave fans disheartened. If anything, today’s events will have fans doubting whether or not Spezza actually has his heart set on playing out the rest of his contract in Ottawa. As a polarizing player in this community, it’s the last thing that he needs.

It’s also the latest in a line of events that has me questioning how competitive this Senators team can be next season if they move their first line center.

Consider the following:

  • The Jason Spezza trade market is allegedly non-existent. (Although if you’re one who doesn’t take Doug MacLean’s words seriously, I can’t blame you for that.) Getting fair value that’s NHL ready talent might be impossible.
  • Anton Volchenkov’s departure at this point seems like a foregone conclusion.
  • Two of Ottawa’s predominant secondary scorers, Milan Michalek and Alexei Kovalev, are both trying to successfully come back from reconstructive ACL surgeries.
  • It’s a mediocre free agent class.
  • Last season, Mike Fisher and the third line trio of Chris Kelly/Jarkko Ruutu/Chris Neil all enjoyed career seasons last year. Any drop off in offensive production from these players could put substantial pressure on the primary scorers.
  • If Spezza leaves… where’s the primary scoring? Daniel Alfredsson? The iconic superstar is 37 and has seen his goal totals drop for the second consecutive year to 20 goals. His lowest total since the 1998/99 season.

For what it’s worth, Murray has repeatedly reiterated that he will not move Spezza if the right deal cannot be made…

“Look, unfortunately that just doesn’t happen. You signed a long-term contract. We have committed to you and you have committed to us. We will look at everything that will help us, but we’re not going to make a bad trade.”

However the question of what the right hockey deal is, is up for discussion. Do the Senators move Spezza for a consortium of ready talent or do they roll the dice and try to acquire as many prospects as possible?

It’s no secret that Ottawa has a some financial flexibility coming next summer when Leclaire, Kovalev, Phillips, Cheechoo and Ruutu reach unrestricted free agency.  For years the Senators have tried to cut and paste a lineup that can reach the playoffs and have some success. Now with Spezza possibly on the outs, maybe we’ve reached that point wherein Ottawa builds toward the 2011/12 season. If Ottawa can augment their blueline (Cowen, Wiercioch, Gryba, Karlsson) and goaltending (Lehner) with some decent forward prospects, any rebuild could be a short one.

Then again, like tonight’s Spezza for Columbus’ 4th overall, Derick Brassard and Kristian Huselius rumour, maybe all this trade talk is bunk and Spezza inevitably stays. (Ed. note: Bruce Garrioch’s recent articling how Spezza is owed a Heatley’esque $4-million front-loaded contract payment surely won’t help.)

Until July 1st passes, we’re just going to have to sit back and abstain from judging Bryan Murray until something actually happens.

Enjoy the NHL’s silly season everybody.

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