Off Season Check-In: Is Everybody Ok? Not you Jason.

*Varada emerges from gigantic cocoon, dripping with amniotic fluids, gasping for air, and pulls iPod charger from the socket installed in the back of his skull. Inserts Kurig coffee pod into dispenser and waits* 

Hey there. Been a while.

There hasn’t been much to talk about in Sens-land lately, what with all of the exciting hockey being played by other teams and the Binghamton Senators bowing out of their first round series against the Wilkes-Barrie Penguins after their first three games went to OT. (Which: WHAT THE F.) But now, things are downright HEATING UP on the Sens beat. Which is to say we received confirmation that the team is doing what they’ve been rumoured to be doing for the last three months.

Which is, of course, trade Jason Spezza.

Now, let me say right up front that it’s impossible to say whether it would be a mistake to trade a player before you have any idea what you’re going to get for him. I’m tugging my collar and gulping at the thought of a player of Spezza’s caliber leaving town, but I’m going to stop complaining instantly if, like, Shea Weber is coming back our way or something. (Please note that this will never, ever happen. Please happen.)

But am I anxious? Hoo boy. Let’s review the facts:

  • In an off year, in which he was injury plagued (again) and played much of the year with one or a combination of a declining Milan Michalek, Mike Zibanejad playing out of his natural position, Colin Greening, or Chris Neil, he put up 66 points in 75 games. The instant he started playing with someone skilled, namely Ales Hemsky, they became one of the hottest lines in the NHL. Even Michalek’s numbers picked up.
  • He makes $4MM next year, which is unbelievable value for a guy who puts up 0.88 PPG playing with nobodies. (And is one point over exactly a PPG in his career.) Anybody you trade for is unlikely to provide similar value (albeit they might be under contract longer).
  • Players who are big on skill but lacking in their two-way game don’t seem to be much in vogue among GMs right now. Marian Gaborik was picked up at the deadline for Matt Frattin and a couple of conditional picks. Ales Hemsky cost Ottawa a 3rd and 5th round pick, and Edmonton had to retain half his salary to get even that. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but anyone hoping Ottawa is going to get Shea Weber in return (ahem) is probably going to be disappointed.

So there you have it. Jason Spezza, who you’ll be lucky to get a player, a prospect and a pick for, will be on his way out of town, along with Ales Hemsky (probably) and Milan Michalek (hopefully), leaving Ottawa without a second line.

So how do I feel about this? Well, Ottawa was five points out of a playoff spot after a belly flop of a season from Craig Anderson, after Chris Neil took more minor penalties than anyone in the league not named Zac Rinaldo, and after the team lost 14 times in overtime or a shootout. So I’m decidedly on the “status quo” side of things over the “major shake up” side. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that this team, as comprised, can get to the right side of the bubble. Now, if your goal is to win a cup, then it’s going to take a lot more than handing first-line-center duties to Kyle Turris to do it.

Just as Toronto re-signed Dion Phaneuf not because he was the best player available, but because they didn’t have anyone else lying around who could play 30 minutes a night (and hey, look…they’re trying to trade him already), Ottawa doesn’t have another player lying around who can score almost a point-per-game during a bum season.

Would retaining Spezza be the best thing to do from a resource management perspective? Probably not. But is the return more likely to make up those five points in the standings than winning a couple more shootout games, giving a few more games to Lehner, and telling Chris Neil to take a hike? I don’t think so.

Keep in mind also that because offensive-minded players express their value on the score sheet more explicitly, any defensive-minded player brought in in exchange for Spezza is likely to be seen as a bust by people who think grit translates directly into statistics. Dallas was vilified for trading James Neal for Goligoski, who’s been bedrock for them.

Given the apparent lack of interest around the league in signing skilled players, I think it would be far better for the team to look at picking up some of those guys at a bargain, if they can, than to try and grit their way to success.

Alas, I think we’re probably on our way to another of our trademarked “If Only We Had Gary Roberts” moments. When you go to Capgeek’s Armchair GM page and take a look at what many Ottawa fans want, it’s the same old story of hard work v. skill – as if the two are mutually exclusive. (One guy actually wants Zenon Konopka and Steve Ott on this team…as second line players.) When times are tough, you throw the skilled guys overboard for not single-handedly carrying the team. But I maintain that trying to assemble a team that just works harder than everyone else is unlikely to give you an appreciable edge. Everybody works hard. This is the NHL. It’s having those skilled players under control at a reasonable price so you can get more skilled guys who complement them that’ll do it.

At the very least, the trade of Jason Spezza will be entertaining and interesting, but Ottawa has clearly entered their Throwing Spaghetti Against the Wall phase of the rebuild-on-the-fly. How else do you explain shipping out a 12 year veteran of your team who scores the way Spezza scores and only makes $4MM a year? By every conceivable, reasonable metric–except the ones old-school hockey GMs use, all touchy-feeley qualifiers and staring into chicken guts to predict the future–it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Unless we get Shea Weber.

10 thoughts on “Off Season Check-In: Is Everybody Ok? Not you Jason.

  1. OK, I’mma just direct anyone who wants to trade Spezza to this piece because I’m still stuck on “WHY CAN NO ONE SEE HOW TALENTED HE IS. SPEZZA NEVER LEAVE US NOOOO”. In addition to the arguments you make here, other compounding factors that are in play like ~leadership~ make this situation seem farcical (…Neil? …Phillips?). The fact that we might ship out our entire first line (don’t talk to me about my Hemsky feelings they cannot be contained) over the summer is all kinds of #craughing ridic and makes me wonder just how our org is going to get better. I mean… Shea Weber would help??? But as you point out, the market for offensive dahlings like Captain Jason isn’t exactly hot. Which maybe means that we should just keep him.

  2. What makes this concept so stupid is that I can’t even think what the team would realistically want for spezza if not someone to fill the hole left by trading spezza….in which case, spezza could fill that hole!

  3. I advocated trading Spezza before it was cool, but I’m not so sure it’s a good idea at this point. The biggest issue for the Senators is that they’ll have 8 defensemen under contract coming into next season, assuming Gryba is re-signed. Moving Spezza–especially for a defenseman–doesn’t help improve a group of Karlsson + guys who are either still developing or past their primes. The team needs to address its defensive makeup before it thinks about moving its top center.

    Unless the trade is something like Spezza + Wiercioch + Gryba + Borowiecki, it’s not a move that will address the weaknessess the team showed this past season.

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