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Bryan Murray Speaks: Spezza Trade, Bringing Michalek Back, Blergh

For the second consecutive season, Senators general manager Bryan Murray addressed the media following the departure of a Senators captain on the first day of NHL free agency.

Listening to Murray speak, it’s the most frustrated that I can recall hearing him over the past few years, so with that in mind, I highly recommend giving the full availability a listen using this link or by streaming the embedded audio at the bottom of this post.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On his thoughts of the Spezza trade…

“Well, as I’ve said all along, you don’t get equal value for a skilled point-getter, but with the request being three or four times made to us and in spite of what everybody else says, we didn’t encourage any movement. We were asked if it would happen. I didn’t want to go through another summer of issues – every day articles on what we were going to do, what we were going to get. We, at the draft, had I thought three legitimate offers that disappeared as the weekend went on. I had one, again yesterday,from one team that ended up signing a big player today, so that offer disappeared. So Dallas was the one option that I had and I thought Jim Nill was very straightforward in what he suggested he could offer me. (Alex) Chiasson is a young, big, strong guy that has big potential, we think. Our scouts, as a whole group, like him a lot. We got two young prospects that are without a doubt, NHL-calibre candidates. It’s a time thing (as to when they’ll crack the NHL). We got another second round pick in the (2015) draft that is supposed to be a good draft. Does that help us today? Of course not. Of course, with Jason Spezza leaving, we have to fill a void now, we know that. The other thing that happens with this however is that there’s a $3 million difference in money paid out that allows me to try to make another deal which I’m in the process of trying to do now to get an NHL-ready player that when, if it happens, we think we’ll be very satisfied with the overall package.”

I don’t blame Murray for wanting to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible. The team could ill afford to drag this out like the Heatley situation and risk trade partners exploring other avenues and depreciating Jason Spezza’s worth even more than it already was. Furthermore, it’s not like the organization could drag trade negotiations into the season. The risk of injury or the possibility that the team could be in contention, but not in a position to sign him to an extension was real. The team simply could not afford to get anything of substance for him in the long-term.

I made my thoughts on the trade known in an earlier blog today, but the Senators received a lot of quantity but not a lot of quality. The fact that the Senators were unable to secure one of the Stars’ top five prospects or a first round draft selection is inexcusable and should be regarded as an organizational failure. The decision to accept lesser prospects and a lesser pick either speaks volumes about Spezza’s trade value or the fact that the Senators held onto an asset that they never had any business holding onto in the first place.

When the organization made the decision to rebuild, it had to have known that Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson weren’t legitimate long-term options to be part of the rise to contention. Alfie was rapidly approaching 40 years of age and Spezza portfolio carried some red flags and with a contract that ended when he was 31 years of age, it never made sense from a hockey standpoint to extend a player at that age when he had a history of back problems.

Although it made sense to retain Alfie for as long as possible because of his legacy status, the same could not be said for Spezza. With a few years left on his deal, the organization simply had to wait and hope that he could put together one last impressive season before they could strike and capitalize on a trade market by selling high. Instead, they waited until he had a year left and another back surgery on his medical record, before pulling the trigger at the player’s own request.

On whether that next deal would happen today…

“I don’t think so. I just talked to the team and it looks like they’re stalling to pick one of our prospects that I’ve included in the package.”

I don’t know what this alleged deal involves, but as of 12:15 am, the deal has not transpired yet. Should the Senators be packaging Patrick Wiercioch and a prospect for this center, I may become catatonic.

On whether it’s a veteran player that he’s looking at adding in this deal…

“No, not necessarily.”

On whether he’s likely done for the day…

“It appears (so), the fact that we signed Milan Michalek – which we wanted to do. We had brought in another potential unrestricted free agent, but he disappeared today at much more money than we ever envisioned we’d have to pay for him, so that was okay.”

On the day before free agency, the Senators reportedly brought Benoit Pouliot into town to speak with management, but at five-years and $20 million, I can hardly blame the Senators for balking at those terms. He’s a nice player with some modest production and great underlying numbers, but I don’t know if Pouliot is worth that kind of term if he can’t produce more than he has in his past.

On Chiasson’s potential…

“Well, he’s a real competitive guy to start off with. He’s a good sized body. He’s a big kid who comes off the wing. He goes to the net and he can be a net front presence on things like the power play and net drives. It looks like he has an ability to score points and goals and he’s a hardworking kid. I know last year, he kind of dropped off in the middle (of the season). He had an illness that didn’t allow him to have the year that he thought or Dallas thought he could have, but at the end of the day, after looking at the whole package that he brings, we just think that he’s a guy who can fit in here and be part of the team that we’re now going to have to build – and that is: more determined; harder working; more than one or two individuals that get points here. We’re going to have to work for our points, there’s no doubt about that, but we think he fits here.”

As I pointed out in today’s review of the trade, Chiasson had some mediocre possession numbers and his even strength production rates were unimpressive.

In fact of the 260 NHL forwards who played 750 or more minutes at even strength (5v5) last season, Chiasson ranked tied for the 213th most goals with six – the same total that vaunted snipers like Shawn Thornton, Patrick Dwyer and Cal Clutterbuck had. (As an aside, of this same group of 260 forwards, only five players – Steve Downie, Shawn Horcoff, Martin Erat, Marcus Johansson and Steve Bernier – scored fewer goals than Colin Greening’s three.)

On the whole organization’s identity shifting…

“Well, we’ve always wanted to shift to a hardworking, competitive team that we had two years ago and last year, for some reason, we got off the track. We’re going to try to get that back on track.”

On the other two young prospects – Alex Guptill and Nicholas Paul…

“I’d have to put it down here- Nicholas Paul played in North Bay. He’s 6’3”. The observations we have are: hockey sense; good skill; first line center that led the team to the OHL Final this year. They lost, but he was there. Alex Guptill (pronounced his name incorrectly, called him Goopla) played at Michigan. (He’s) 6’3”, size, speed, big shot. Those are the evaluations that I got from our staff and obviously I take their word for a lot of the information in things I do, but it’s like as I said to Mr. Melnyk earlier today, I said, ‘I remember when I traded (Antoine) Vermette.’ It was a tough day. We got back Pascal (Leclair). He didn’t play a lot of games for us, but our second round pick is Robin Lehner who’s going to be a starting goaltender in the NHL for we think a long time. It is a waiting game and nobody wants to wait and you can see that by the free agents that were signed today and the money. We all want to win today, but sometimes you have to plan to make sure your organization is in great shape going forward as well.”

You know what won’t calm the nerves of a fan base that’s already pissed off, a reference to the Pascal Leclaire trade – which essentially is an admission of “Hey, we know the return is junk, but hey, maybe we can turn that second round pick into a gem three to five years from now.”

If there’s a better reference point however, maybe it’s John Muckler’s deal that sent Martin Havlat to in a three-way deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks that netted the Senators Josh Hennessey, Michal Barinka, one season of Tom Preissing and a 2008 second round pick that wound up being Patrick Wiercioch.

On team’s ability to spend and what kind of money the team can spend on a budget…

“Well, I’m not even going to give you a number. I heard the panel discussion. Everybody has an opinion on everything. We’ve got other teams that have spent to the limit buying out guys, sending guys home after three years of a seven-year contract – there’s all kinds of issues on how you do it. If you do it right, you don’t always have to be up against the cap (ceiling). It’s nice once in a while to be able to splurge on a particular player, I suppose. I think, and I’ve said this all along, whatever the cap, whatever the budget is, whether it be in Ottawa or any other team, you have to manage the type of player that you bring in because of that and what your expectations are of those people. Example, if we’re a contending team in the East at all during the year, we have the extra second (round pick). Right now, we have enough money in our budget to go find a good player or trade for a good player later in the season. That’s one type of strategy that you can employ. I’m not saying it’s the right one. I don’t care what other teams spend. My job is to manage what I have and we try very hard to do that. Sometimes it doesn’t suit some players and they have to move on and that’s life in the NHL today.”

Murray, like Melnyk before him, was incredibly defensive on the subject of the budget. In fairness to him however, I think the Senators are completely capable of competing without having an upper echelon payroll. That’s not to say that it won’t be difficult or anyone can do it, but to be successful, the Senators have to make shrewd moves that necessitate moving likeable and talented players at peak values (ie. Spezza or Michalek) or simply telling Chris Phillips go off in the sunset so that he can be the next Sam Malone.

To this point however, the Senators have had a mixed bag of success. For every Kyle Turris trade or Ben Bishop deal, there are confusing moves made to keep the team competitive at the expense of the larger picture.

And seriously, the only thing Murray should be doing with next year’s second round pick is use it himself or parlay it as part of a package so that the Senators can move up in the draft.

On whether he’s concerned about the team’s depth down the middle…

“I think that we could sure use one more NHL center iceman, there’s no doubt about that. We have a couple of young guys that we think are going to be players in the league. We know that Zibanejad, Turris and Smith are very definitely legitimate, good NHL players. We can peg them into certain spots, but at the end of the day, we’ll keep looking if we have to do that. As I’ve said at the beginning, we can’t replace what we gave up today, but we have to find a way to get a little different type of player, but a proven player who can play games.”

I’ll come back to this in my next thought.

On whether there’s anything left of interest on the free agent market…

“We have not talked further about free agency at this point. There are a couple of guys though that maybe we come to tomorrow or the next day that we’ll look at if we have to, but for the moment, we’re more inclined to trade than do anything.”

There’s still a perfectly capable Mikhail Grabovski out there in free agency and the Senators are more inclined to move prospects and picks to acquire a center who is probably marginally different than whomever it would be that the Senators are acquiring? Smart.

On his concerns about the team’s reputation following the loss of two captains…

“That’s an opinion of a player and I hear the comments that we don’t spend. Just so you know, I offered Jason an extension and they said they weren’t interested. Whether it’s because he thought we didn’t have enough around him or what, umm… (sigh)… there are different stories in each case. The problem is I tell my version of it and then they go to somebody else and tell a different version and that’s the (story) that’s believed. That’s been frustrating to me. I tell it the way it is. I don’t usually fib anybody, but somebody makes a comment that we tried to trade Jason or we asked Jason to take a trade, that never came up. Daniel Alfredsson, they said we were too slow doing it. I made an offer to Daniel Alfredsson well, well before anything happened with Detroit. They told me they’d come back to me, but I’ve told this story before, but the other version seems to be more real and more exciting and reported more often.”

*Cue the violin.

I’m actually more disappointed in the organization trying to extend Jason Spezza than I am with the fact that he’s been traded at ten cents on the dollar. It does not make any sense for this organization to even consider making that extension a reality, so it tells me all I need to know about the thought process of ownership and the mandate being fed to management.

On whether he worries about the perception of players coming to Ottawa…

“I’ve never had one player that I’ve called and asked if they’d be interested in coming to Ottawa say, ‘No, I’m worried about the money on your team and I wouldn’t come.’ Perception is what you make it to be and what you really believe to be true. I think players know they come here and they’re treated well. Milan Michalek’s an example, he had a deal at much more money and two years longer than he took in Ottawa. I called him today. We talked. We negotiated. He loves it here. He thinks we have a really competitive team. I told him that (Jason Spezza) was moving on and he said, ‘That’s fine, there’s another center here who I can play with for sure,’ and he signed the contract. He took a deal, that as I say, it was a hometown discount. I guess in the eyes of some players, it’s not the place to be. In the eyes of a lot of players, it is the place to be and players that find out about Ottawa and how we operate, usually respect it a great deal.”

I’m glad I wasn’t reading that a three-year, $4 million per annum contract for Milan Michalek was a hometown discount. I would have choked. Michalek’s a 29-year old forward with the knees of a 75-year old, even if another team was offering him more money, that doesn’t immediately mean that what you signed him for was a bargain.

On today’s impact on the team’s long-term plans and the contracts of impending 2015 UFAs…

“I don’t think so. We’ve prepared offers and we’ve gone through a few people already. I don’t think it’s a day that other agents are able to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll do that deal.’ They’re not interested now. They’re trying to get the money for their client that’s up this year, but that will be looked after. I’m not saying we’ll get everybody done, that usually doesn’t happen. Somebody wants to go to free agency as Jason wanted to go. He wouldn’t sign (an extension), so we either made the deal today or at the trading deadline or we got nothing for him (when he hits UFA in 2015). So we went ahead and made a deal that will benefit us long-term and the same thing will happen if we talk to players that don’t want to be in Ottawa or don’t think the offer is fair enough or we’re not building a strong enough team, then they will have to make that decision.”

If you’re Bobby Ryan and this organization has had two captains leave in consecutive seasons because the organization isn’t committed to building a winner, why would you stay?

I get that Ryan has been here for a year and that the honeymoon probably hasn’t worn off. But should he command the kind of big figure offer I think the Senators will throw at him and use him to satiate the fan base for the second consecutive offseason, how long before he tires of the expectations and criticisms that naturally come from playing in a hockey market like Ottawa?

Conversely, if you’re the Ottawa Senators, does it make sense from a hockey perspective to re-sign Ryan knowing full well that it does not have the ability to surround him with talent? I’m not inclined to think so. I mean, the first few years of his deal might be fair, but my expectations for Ryan’s goal scoring prowess that is predicated on a high shooting percentage once he hits 30 is that the Senators will start to get diminishing returns on that contract.

At his age and with where this franchise is, I just don’t feel comfortable thinking that he’s a building block for the organization. He’s more of a complimentary piece that you add when you’re trying to contend and put your team over the top.

On whether the organization is past the rebuild…

“No, we’re past that. We’re going to have a good hockey team here. We’re going to compete. We lose a little bit at center ice. We gain a little bit on the wing. We’ve got a couple young guys coming that are going to be a different brand of player in (Mark) Borowiecki and (Curtis) Lazar – guys like that, they bring real character to the team. I think our team is going to be a real competitive, hardworking group of people. I think the leadership, I’ve talked to Erik Karlsson in the last day or two and all that type of thing, I think we’re going to be well off going forward.”

The Senators replaced Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza with what looks to be Curtis Lazar and Alex Chiasson and we’re supposed to believe that the Senators are going to be more competitive than they were last season when they stayed impossibly healthy and still missed the playoffs?

Okay, then.

Leadership was always somewhat of a problem, but it’s tough to stomach hearing Murray glorify Lazar and Borowiecki’s character. If they’re highly motived and work hard, great, just don’t hang more pressure on two rookies than there needs to be.

The Ottawa Senators just lost two thirds of its most productive line to Dallas

On whether Karlsson is the next captain going forward…

“I don’t know that. I haven’t talked to Erik about that at all. I talked about totally different things.”

On saying that he wants to fill four spots at forward…

“The option then is one of the young people in all likelihood at this point. If something else came along and I could use a pick to do that, or if I was wise enough to go out and get another NHL center iceman or NHL-guy, that would help us too. So we’ll continue to pursue it, but I’m trying to do this one thing first and then we’ll see what happens afterwards. But, we felt going in that one of our kids had to be NHL-ready and really ready to play or we’d have to acquire someone to fill that spot.”

On the uniqueness of having two captains in consecutive seasons want to leave…

“We obviously put the ‘C’ on the wrong people. No, I don’t know. It’s disappointing when you lose good people and you lose people and it’s perceived as something that is negative to the team and town. I think Alfie and maybe it was totally that, he wanted to go try another team and maybe for Jason, it’s totally that. All he said to me today when I talked to him was, ‘You know after eleven years Bryan, I think it’s good for the team and I think it’s good for me to try something different.’ As I’ve said, I didn’t want to fight it this time. We held onto Dany Heatley because we didn’t like the term of the return. This time, I felt, ‘Let’s not go through a whole summer not doing things right.’ We did it. We accommodated Jason’s request and we got some return for it.”

Good on Spezza for letting the organization know he had no interest in re-signing, so that the organization could move him and get something for him. I respect the hell out of that.

On how he would rate him as a captain in his one-year…

“That’s not my judgement to make. I think our team didn’t do very well. Is that related to why? There was a whole group of things that happened and being a one-year captain is very hard to judge.”

And honestly, who the fuck cares how Spezza was as a captain? It matters about as much as one Sam Bennett pull-up. I’m always taken aback by how much people care about the letters that players where when it only should really matter to the guys in that dressing room (since they’re the only ones who can evaluate it) anyways.

On looking at Lazar as a center or winger…

“Again, training camp will really determine that. He played center in junior, but we thought in the beginning, it would probably be easier for him to play right wing, but now that we’ve acquired Alex (Chiasson) and there might be another situation that he might have to play center – which is not a bad thing and he probably prefers, but that was sort of our initial thinking.”

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