New Trade Partner for Spezza Emerges, Thoughts on Wiercioch

In Bruce Garrioch’s vaunted Sunday column, he identified the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues as two teams that called on the Senators’ Jason Spezza at the NHL’s trade deadline on March 5th.

It has been known for some time that the Ducks were one of the teams that called Bryan Murray to inquire on Spezza’s availability – after rumours abounded that the Senators were listening on offers for their playmaking center – but the inclusion of the St. Louis Blues to the mix is a new wrinkle that certainly adds some intrigue to the possibility that Spezza could be moved this summer.

Like the Ducks, the Blues will enter the postseason in a loaded Western Conference in which very, very good teams will be bounced in the first and second rounds. Despite the small sample size of games, given the nature and increasing pressure to win, teams that disappoint early could be vulnerable to making some kneejerk reaction deals during the summer to overcompensate for their loss.

Inevitably, some team will struggle to score goals in the postseason and as such, it could expand the market for assets like Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan.

To add some more intrigue to the Blues’ situation, Ken Hitchcock once believed that he could transform Spezza into a reliable two-way player.

“A team that would love Spezza is Columbus. The word is Ken Hitchcock believes he can transform the struggling centre into the next Steve Yzerman. Hitchcock worked with Spezza at the world championship in Quebec City last spring.”  ~ Bruce Garrioch, The Ottawa Sun, January 11, 2009

And if you really want to add some more intrigue to the mix, the Blues and Ducks are two teams that Travis Yost notes in today’s analytics column for the Ottawa Citizen aren’t necessarily playing their best hockey down the stretch. Both teams could be ripe for an upset.

Of course there are some who believe that it is in Ottawa’s best interests to retain Spezza.

From the same Garrioch column that I referenced in the first paragraph:

“The Senators have a decision to make on captain Jason Spezza in the off-season. If they can keep right wing Ales Hemsky, he shouldn’t go anywhere.”

There’s no question that Jason Spezza has been en fuego since the NHL’s trade deadline on March 5th. His two goals and nine assists leave him tied for eighth in NHL scoring in this span of games. Albeit, most of this production (eight points) occurred in Ottawa’s first four games following the trade for Ales Hemsky, so that kind of production and an on-ice shooting percentage for Spezza that hovered around 20.0 percent during that time were unsustainable. (Note: Spezza’s on-ice shooting percentage since Hemsky’s arrival has dropped to 11.4 percent. It’s still relatively high, but it’s much closer to his recent norms.)

Nevertheless, after months of languishing with any right winger that the coaching staff threw on his right side, he finally is clicking with Hemsky.

Now with that being said, I certainly don’t think re-signing Hemsky is predicated on having to keep Spezza around.

Hemsky’s hockey IQ and skating ability should make him an asset on any line. And with only a year left on Spezza’s contract beyond this season, his recent production with Hemsky doesn’t change the fact that: 1) the organization should not ignore the risk factors that come with inking a 30+ years of age player who has two major back surgeries on his resume to another extension; and 2) that Spezza does not fit Paul MacLean’s 200’ style.

I certainly expect Spezza to rightfully command the organization invest the term and dollars in any prospective extension negotiations, but I just can’t imagine a situation in which a cash strapped team is willing to make that commitment to a player whose age, style and health could land him on the LTIR or negatively impact his offensive numbers and ability to defend in each of the three zones. I simply can’t imagine the best interests of both parties meshing because the Senators, an organization that has to be diligent because of their internal budget situation, simply cannot afford to paper over its mistake if management is wrong.

Unfortunately for Spezza, the reasonable argument to move him for health and hockey-related reasons is being outweighed by this narrative that calls his leadership into question and is used as an explanation for why this Senators season has gone off the rails.

Ryan Out, Stone Recalled

Following the Olympic break, Bobby Ryan was conspicuously absent from a few of the team’s first few organized practices and since this time, it’s been widely speculated that the Senators’ leading goal scorer has been playing with an undisclosed and nagging injury.

In yesterday’s game versus Dallas, the forward was knocked off his feet by Stars forward Cody Eakin and he awkwardly went into the endboards

When asked for an update on Ryan’s status, head coach Paul MacLean downplayed the seriousness of the injury.

"We're not sure," MacLean said when he was asked by reporters for an injury update. "It's kind of something that's up in the air. It's not something that's definite. It's just a re-aggravation of something, and we'll see how it is Sunday."

Ryan apparently told the coaching staff following the game that he was fine, but the organization took no chances and recalled forward Mark Stone from the Binghamton Senators. Stone has 15 goals and 37 points in 35 games for the Binghamton Senators this season. In his previous go-around with the Ottawa Senators this season that lasted seven games, he added a goal and an assist.

Why Can’t Wiercioch Crack This Lineup?

The quote that got a lot of attention following yesterday’s practice was Paul MacLean’s quip that Wiercioch has not developed this season like a few of his peers.

“In fairness to (Wiercioch), him, Gryba and Cowen as young defencemen in the league were expected to come in the league and we felt they were going to make strides and they didn’t, at the start,” MacLean said.

I think Cowen and Gryba have come a long a little bit better than Patrick has, but the play of Cody Ceci, coming up and being able to play in the league the way he has, is more of a factor with Patrick.”

As bizarre as it is to hear MacLean say that Cowen has made bigger strides this season, Ceci’s game has tailed off slightly as the season has gone on – which isn’t really that surprising given that Ceci’s such a young rookie.

Even though Ottawa’s possession numbers have steadily improved over the past number of weeks, Ceci’s five on five numbers have been trending down since the beginning of February – Ceci has a 48.25 CF% since the start of that month.

From MacLean’s comments, it’s like he believes that the Senators cannot dress Ceci and Wiercioch on defence in the same game, but when the alternative is dressing a struggling “defence-first” player like Cowen or a redundant Chris Phillips, what do the Senators have to lose at this point?

Finally, I feel for Wiercioch considering his possession metrics have been pretty damn good this season despite the fact that he was never really put in a position to have success this season. Not only was he partnered with Jared Cowen to start the season and expected to play second pairing minutes, he wasn’t playing his natural left-side either.

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