Lowered Expectations: Spezza Requests Trade, Murray Doesn’t Think He’ll “Get the Value”

The headline in the Ottawa Sun said it all: “Ottawa Senators’ Jason Spezza says he wants out”.

After rumours about Spezza’s availability surfaced shortly before the NHL’s trade deadline, speaking from the NHL GM’s meeting in New York City, Senators general manager Bryan Murray commented on the unrelenting rumours and confirmed the worst kept secret in Ottawa: Jason Spezza believes it would be best for everyone involved if he and the team parted ways.

Even though Spezza has not commented publicly on the matter, it did not stop Murray from openly discussing Spezza’s request with reporters yesterday.

Per NHL.com:

“I don’t want to trade the guy, really, and I know I won’t get the value, in all likelihood, that I should get for him,” Murray said. “But I think that Jason feels maybe there’s a change that he would like to have happen, and if that’s the case we’ll try to do what we can.”

Perhaps it would have been more apropos for the Ottawa Sun to run a headline that read: “Ottawa Senators tell everyone that Jason Spezza wants out”.

Worst of all, Spezza reportedly wants out because he is tired of being a victim of blame.

Murray told me Spezza wants out because he’s blamed too often when the club doesn’t win. #Sens

— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) June 11, 2014

Under ordinary circumstances, it would be shocking to hear a NHL general manager come out before a trade is made and readily admit that he’s not expecting to get full value for his captain, but these are the Ottawa Senators – an organization that is incapable of having amicable breakups with players or coaches.

So why would Murray come out and lay his cards on the table like this?

Murray probably envisioned yesterday’s media availability as an opportunity to present his situation to the Senators fan base as difficult, knowing full well that by publicly revealing Spezza’s trade request, it makes it easier for him to use it as an excuse should he make a bad trade. He can simply say after the fact, “It’s not my fault, I was cornered and had to make this deal to accommodate the player.”

The prevailing suspicion is that it’s because he’s simply not getting the kind of offers he anticipated by establishing an asking price that was similar to what the organization gave up to acquire Bobby Ryan: a first round pick, a prospect and a young player. And by making these public comments, Murray’s trying to solicit more and better offers by stating that a few have made serious offers.

Unfortunately for Murray, the market does sounds pretty limited.

“There’s a couple of teams serious but I haven’t really gone to them to say this is exactly what I need.

“That’s partly my doing because in a couple of cases I’m not absolutely sure where the best fit would be for me. Also, I think to be fair to Jason, I’d like to put him in a place where I don’t have to face him every night.”

Let me help you Bryan: send him to the city that isn’t amongst the ten teams on Spezza’s list of teams that he cannot be dealt to and accept the offer that has the best return. If you’re hesitant that moving him to a Division rival could be unpalatable, just pretend Spezza is Ben Bishop.

For a team lacking some true leverage with an already small market for Spezza’s services, it’s disappointing to hear that Murray may elect to limit his return further by ignoring trade partners within either the Atlantic Division or possibly the Eastern Conference. It’d be one thing if the Senators were a Stanley Cup contender and had to fret about bolstering one of their competitors, but they’re not.

They’re firmly entrenched in a situation in which they should be taking the best available offer, irrespective of what team makes it. Hell, they could even get creative and try to expand the market themselves by offering to eat half of Spezza’s salary ($2 million) and cap hit ($3.5 million) to ensure that teams that are tighter against the cap can enter the market for his services.

Wait though, it gets better.

“Obviously I’d like to win some hockey games next year so getting a player back that can play in the league, and has played in the league, would be important.”

Considering that Murray’s about to enter the first year of the two-year extension that he signed with the Senators during the 2013/14 season, I can understand him wanting to win and try to exit the game on a winning note.

Believing the Senators are poised to be a contender within that two-year time frame is incredibly unrealistic, especially when the team is set to lose its entire line of Ales Hemsky, Milan Michalek and Spezza.

As a fan of this franchise and as someone who will live to see the seasons beyond the Bryan Murray era (knock on wood), I want this franchise to position itself and create an extended opportunity for it to win a Stanley Cup. I couldn’t care less whether Bryan Murray is around when it happens. I want a front office that makes moves with the franchise’s best interests at heart, not their own.

For the second time in two years, a Senators’ captain will leave the organization because they want to. Murray can talk about how much he wishes Spezza would stay, but Spezza’s trade request raises questions about why he would want out in the first place?

“I think there’s a couple of things: Certainly the fact that he’s been in Ottawa for 11 years now and he thinks that he’s been pointed out more often than a lot as far as what’s happened with the team.

“He’s the star and that happens. Maybe he listens to the people too often and he’s kind of the mind that ‘if I go elsewhere I won’t be that guy’ and won’t be quite as evident.”

Rumours also allege that Spezza and Paul MacLean were not necessarily on the same page.

Re: Spezza. The tea leaves are easily read. On top of being the fans’ whipping boy, here’s Murray on garbage bag day. pic.twitter.com/2qkbkFhdAJ

— Steve Lloyd (@TSNSteveLloyd) June 12, 2014

As much as management can say it wants Spezza to stay, they’re complicit. Whether it was ownership’s criticisms of leadership and accountability, management’s inability to insulate Spezza by finding him quality linemates or by putting a moratorium on the team’s captaincy in the wake of Alfie’s departure, and even the decision to retain Paul MacLean as coach, they did not do themselves any favours.

And if you believe that Spezza’s trade request came at a time when his name first surfaced in rumours, you have to wonder why a team would flip future assets, make a desperate attempt against long odds at reaching the postseason (and satiating Spezza’s need for a winger) knowing full well that the team would likely be poised to take a step back (at least in the short-term) when it finally moved its captain.

Making matters worse, anyone with any kind of foresight could have foreseen the Senators having to make a  decision on trading Jason Spezza. Granted, I don’t think anyone would have expected this decision to be influenced principally by a conflict between Spezza and the Senators’ head coach.

Like there were back then, there are still very legitimate hockey-related reasons for moving Jason Spezza, so with that in mind, hearing Bryan Murray say that he wishes he could keep Spezza is alarming, even if it was intended as a compliment to prop up his value.

The Senators do in fact have a history of holding onto Spezza as Ian Mendes’ described in his latest.

“A trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 didn’t cement his status in this town, even though Spezza tied for the league lead in playoff scoring. Just a couple of years later, he was booed on home ice during a Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 playoffs.  That was almost enough to drive him out of town, with general manager Bryan Murray hinting that Spezza told him he was amenable to a trade if one could be executed.  And yet three years later he was still here, now wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey – which only seemed to make the target on his back even bigger.”

Put in context with the Alfredsson departure, the retention of Phillips, the acquisition of Hemsky and unwillingness to move UFAs at the deadline, it was all counter-productive. Hell, even the Bobby Ryan trade was even based largely on getting some positive PR and given what’s already happened this summer, the organization has painted itself into a corner and has to overpay to ensure that he sticks around.

Everything about the Eugene Melnyk and Bryan Murray era has been characterized by desperation and a penchant for preferring short-term success at the expense of orchestrating a patient plan to turn the Senators into a contender.

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