Can a case be made for trading Jason Spezza?

Let me be clear: I am not a Jason Spezza hater.

Rather, I think he’s a sublime offensive player whose long tenure in Ottawa has led to his skills being taken for granted; a lightning rod for Ottawa’s inconsistent play in a post-Alfie world; and an easy target for the character-and-grit brigade in Ottawa. (Just yesterday The Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan called for Ottawa to claim Zenon Konopka off of waivers. That should give you an idea of the mindset.) With every drop pass to nobody, Spezza earns another round of tongue clucking from a group that thinks that every complex problem can be reduced to common sense and hard work. I am not one of these people.

I am, however, a dork for asset management, and Jason Spezza presents an interesting case study in whether or not the time is right to maximize one’s return on an expensive and elite player. Finding a partner with cap space, cash, and the fact that Spezza has a no trade clause makes all of this highly unlikely. But even considering trading Spezza opens up a number of interesting possibilities, questions about the identity of this team, and the best way to build a winner.

First, Jay-Jay’s Production

Spezza, for all of his highly visible mistakes (which, I maintain, are a byproduct of his being a creative playmaker), is a productive center. His 30 points in 39 games is respectable; his career production is even higher; his possession statistics are positive, if not astounding (and nowhere near the best on the team at even strength); up until this year he drew more penalties than he took. He’s produced despite playing with a rotating cast of wingers, including noted offensive powerhouses Eric Condra and Chris Neil. He’s not entirely sheltered, playing against the opposition’s weaker lines, but being deployed in all three zones by virtue of his ability to win faceoffs.

He’s been playing long enough to get a clear picture of what you can expect: a consistent offensive producer, if one with defensive deficiencies and an injury history. You could argue he’s one of the ten best playmakers in the league, depending on the type of team and how they use him. He is, however, having a bit of a down season. The team scores about 12.2% more of the time without him on the ice.

Put another way: in a down year, Jason Spezza still puts up 30 points in 39 games. He’s only 30 years old.

His Contract Looks Great

Spezza’s production is well established, but he’s also on the kind of contract that GMs drool over. First, he’s not on an expiring deal, meaning that a team wouldn’t need to give up assets for what could turn out to be a rental. Second, the real money on his contract is only $5MM this year and $4MM next—which is insane value put next to other players in his strata. (Ryan Getzlaf’s salary goes up to almost $9MM next year.) There’s not much on the free agent market for those who miss out on Joe Thornton, unless you consider Paul Stastny or David Legwand legit top line centers. And finally, with the salary cap going up next year, there should be a number of teams who can make room for Spezza’s $7MM cap hit.

His Role on This Team

Jason Spezza is a better offensive option for the Ottawa Senators than Kyle Turris or Mika Zibanejad. (Analysis!) And therein lies the question of what kind of team Ottawa wants to be. Right now they’re offensively potent and defensively porous, relying on engines Spezza and Karlsson to outscore the competition. If the team rolled four lines and traded Spezza for a defenseman and/or a well-rounded power forward, does that mean they could provide a more balanced attack?

Interestingly, with Spezza’s injury over the past few games, we’ve had a look at what Ottawa would look like with Turris and Zibanejad as their 1A and 1B centers. While it’s a miniscule sample size, the results have been encouraging. Zibanejad remains Ottawa’s best possession forward, and has clicked well with Cory Conacher and Milan Michalek (neither of whom have seemed to click well with anyone this season), and the Turris-MacArthur-Ryan line has been Ottawa’s best all season long. Zack Smith is an effective 3rd line center with great faceoff skills. I don’t know where you slot Jason Spezza in when he returns from injury.

The Bobby Ryan Conundrum

From the day Bobby Ryan was brought in from Anaheim, there were visions of Spezza and Ryan recreating 2006 / 2007 levels of offense. The approaching Armageddon of negotiating a contract for both your top center and winger was still two years off. In the meantime we were told to sit back and watch the fireworks.

That Ryan hasn’t really meshed with Spezza (not that they’ve played very much together) could be a blessing in disguise. As Bobby Ryan produces on a line with high value / low cost players like Turris and MacArthur, the emphasis might shift from having to absolutely re-sign both players to simply ensuring that Ryan stays in the fold. (Along with Methot, MacArthur, and possibly Anderson.) Ryan has demonstrated an underrated playmaker’s ability to go along with his scoring and possession. Suddenly, Spezza and Ryan no longer come as a unit.

What could you get?

This is always hard to predict, but if Ottawa gave up a young roster player, a good prospect, and a 1st round pick for Bobby Ryan, and if you consider Spezza to be a player on the same level as Ryan—albeit a different kind of player, older, and at a higher cap hit—then you might expect that Ottawa could get a good roster player and a good prospect for Spezza, or perhaps a very good roster player in a one-for-one swap.

So, would you do it?

At the end of the day…I don’t know. Spezza isn’t just a good player; he’s an elite talent, and extremely difficult to replace. You don’t find a player who’s top ten in his category without drafting him in the top five and developing him for years, as Ottawa has done here. I certainly wouldn’t make the trade except for a similarly skilled player with a different set of tools.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Can a case be made for trading Jason Spezza?

  1. Hey great article.
    What a conundrum the team is facing with this upcoming re-signing mess.
    There’s no doubt they’ve never been in so deep with the “who to keep who to jettison?” question. We thought “Chara or Redden?” was rough, that was pre-budget. I have a feeling we haven’t seen anything yet.
    Career-wise, Spezza picked a really bad time to have a down year. Otherwise it would be a no-brainer to re-sign him…now some additional factors have made it…a…”brainer” (sorry).
    I havent given it much thought up til recently as my main focus as a fan has been “re-sign Bobby Ryan at all costs” but then i wonder “is this just because I love when the team scores goals?” Is that why I prioritize that signing as most important? Still, if the team can’t re-up Ryan that’s an insanely hefty price tag for a two season rental for a market like Ottawa. We ain’t the “I’m bored with my Marian Gaborik action figure” New York Rangers. We have to make landing a big fish work.
    Turris is starting to really raise my eyebrow as to his ability to centre a top line but he doesn’t have that decade of proof like #19 has, straight up.
    To make it worse for Spezz, its only been a couple of games but how fucked is it that Ziba gets two of the most stubborn mules on the team, Michalek and Conacher, going just like that? BTW isn’t Zibanejad the highest pick the team has drafted since Spezza? What a world.
    Even more complicated is how Spezza is hurt like Every. Fucking. Year.
    He cant help that but I mean…it’s getting pretty alarming. Is it getting worse? Truthfully he’s only missed a couple of games (One fewer than Methot has!) but it seems like more because we’re all super focused on it due to how much time he missed last season.
    Further, is Turris – Ryan – MacArthur starting to be Ottawa’s top line? Melnyk’s gotta love the price tag if so.
    From another angle I wonder this: Would it look bad on the organization to let their long serving captain walk (though it takes two to tango there) and then trade off his successor barely a season later?
    This is all happening so fast!
    Like you said, Spezz is elite and that’s something rare. Murray shouldn’t lose sight of that because a couple young pups are doing well this season.
    Turris is basically having his first really good year where he’s showing what he can do at a 61 point pace. That’s awesome but like you pointed out let’s remember that Spezza is “struggling” at 2 fewer points than Turris and with 4 fewer games played. A “down” season for Spezza just back in 2008-2009 is 32 goals, 41 assists for 73 points. And that year’s team was fuuuuuuuuuucking terrible.
    Im at a place where I’m definitely entertaining what moving Spezza could mean…probably for the first time but make no bones that it’s trading away an elite player. Teams do it but it’s not always the right move. I hope me asking like 4000 questions has helped. I’m basically shitty even at being an armchair GM.

  2. Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good column as usual.
    I PERSONALLY would entertain trading Spezza. I don’t think we’re getting Edmonton’s first, but maybe we can swing a trade with CALL-GAREE (not Bettman!) for Monohan and something? Maybe we throw in a prospect, they throw in some stampede BBQ sauce?

    Here’s my thing…when this team becomes elite (hopefully 3-5 years), Jay Spezz-tacular is 35. And maybe he’s playing 40-50 games a year. And getting paid…5-6.5 million. And we’re wondering if maybe Turris or MEthot should be captain. So yeah, it’s time to admit that maaaaaaaybe a man will beg, a man will crawl for some Golden Palace egg rolls and that plum sauce on the wall…but it might be time to admit to ourselves that Spezza was never going to be the guy. Turris – Z-Bad – Smitty – 4th line plug isn’t exactly beating down the doors to Lord Stanley’s boudoir, but maybe it gets enough possession going that…we do well?

    Of course, trading our second captain would cause the reactionary idiots in our fan base (lifts GIANT FOAM FINGER WITH #1 on it!!!) to email Team1200 but the fallout from having him leave for free agency (Sure Toronto, take our crippled former capatain for 8 mil a year?) would look much worse.

    I’m fine with it.

    • Hey – thanks for the comment!

      It’s interesting to see Edmonton linked to so many trade rumours. I mean, they have so many tantalizing pieces up front, and they STINK. It’s like they should be falling ass backwards into being decent by now. I thought the addition of Ference and Perron were savvy moves. Turns out I have no idea what I’m talking about.

      It would be interesting to see Spezza centering Hall and Eberle, or Hemsky and Perron. Though Edmonton is a defensively mixed team, and adding a defensively mixed Spezza could be a challenge. I’d certainly look at doing it for Edmonton’s first, though it may take more than a high pick in a weak draft to pry away one of the most productive playmakers in the league. I also think at this point Edmonton is in the same boat as Ottawa: looking at every single available defenseman in the league.

      I, like everyone else, am salivating at the thought that Shea Weber is available and that Nashville is sick of having no offense. Then I go look at capgeek and realize that Weber makes $14MM for the next two seasons and $12MM the two after that and know that Ottawa can’t find enough change in Melnyk’s couch cusions to ever make that happen.

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