SOME SENS FANS HAVE BEEN A LITTLE TOO HAPPY ABOUT THE IMPENDING DEPARTURE OF JASON SPEZZA, BUT THEY COULD SOON BE PINING FOR THEIR FORMER CAPTAIN AND FAVOURITE WHIPPING BOY
That sound you heard resonating across the National Capital region last week was a collective chorus of rejoicing by many members of the Sens Army, raising their voices in celebration at the news that after thirteen years and eleven seasons, current Ottawa Senators captain and fan whipping boy Jason Spezza’s tenure as a member of the Sens will be coming to an end. When Sens GM Brian Murray claimed that Spezza had demanded a trade and said he’ll try to move Ottawa’s much maligned star this summer, legions of loyal Sens fans tripped over themselves smearing their joy across social media. The news had plenty of Sens fans giddier than a fan boy after his first kiss (these were typically the same trolls that you could see during or following a Sens game, win or lose, jumping on the “We hate Jason Spezza and he never should have been born” cyber bandwagon). But in the midst of all their glee and self-congratulation, notoriously fickle Sens fans should heed that all too often quoted Chinese proverb-be careful what you wish for because you just might get it-because barring divine intervention, trading Jason Spezza is not going to end well for the Ottawa Senators.
First things first; Spezza is not Danny Heatley. Following the conclusion of the 2009 season, superstar left winger Heatley demanded a trade out of Ottawa and later leveraged his no trade clause to reject an offer from the Edmonton Oilers (despite Edmonton’s extensive groveling), and it quickly became obvious that Heatley would only accept a trade where either San Jose or the New York Rangers was his ultimate destination (after a frustrating summer, Murray sent Heatley to the Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round draft pick). And despite Bryan Murray’s initial claims, it doesn’t look like Spezza made a black and white trade request/demand. According to people close to Spezza, the All-Star center felt that if management believed the Sens were only a few players short of returning to serious contention, then Jason, who loves living in Ottawa, wanted to remain a member of the team. But if the Sens were planning on going the rebuilding route then perhaps it was better if the two parties respectfully shook hands and parted ways. As an aside, Sens fans should also start wondering what’s going on with their GM, after last season’s double talk regarding the free agent departure of long time captain and face of the franchise Daniel Alfredsson and this year’s unfolding Spezza fiasco (even if Spezza did make a trade request, why would Murray make it public and hurt his bargaining posture?). But make no mistake, if Murray can’t deal him this summer Spezza won’t hesitate to report to training camp.
Now that being said, here’s why the Sens fans who are happier than a four-year old on Christmas morning need to think this through. After being drafted second overall in 2001 with the pick the Sens got from the New York Islanders (along with towering D-man Zdeno Chara) in return for the despised Alexei Yashin, Spezza has been Ottawa’s number one center virtually from the time he donned a Sens jersey, scoring 687 points in 686 regular season games (and an additional 52 points in 56 playoff games). No one’s claiming he’s perfect (his penchant for blind passes and turnovers made even the most ardent Sens fan cringe) but the question is who will replace his offence? Sens fans have to accept the fact that Ottawa isn’t going to get a number one center back to replace him (though some of the fantasies I’ve seen online have been pretty amusing, my favourite was one guy who said Ottawa should trade Spezza to San Jose straight up for Joe Thornton) and even Murray has admitted that he isn’t going to get value for Spezza. Nor is there anyone currently on the roster or in the system who can fill his skates. Kyle Turris has played the best hockey of his young career since coming to Ottawa a few seasons ago, but he has yet to break the 60-point barrier (something Spezza did six times). Mika Zibanejad? 2011’s sixth overall pick oozes potential but isn’t ready for that kind of pressure or responsibility yet. And while prospect Curtis Lazar had an awesome season in the WHL-winning the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings-he’s at least another season away from joining the Senators on a regular basis. Sure, it’s all well and good to hope that any of the aforementioned players will be able to step up given increased ice time and responsibility, but that’s a pretty bold assumption and is it one you really want to stake your entire season on? And Spezza isn’t the only player the Sens are cutting ties with, as both Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek will probably be let go as free agents. That’s half of the Sens top six, with dubious returns coming back (Eugene Melnyk’s closed purse will prevent the Sens from pursuing any big name free agents for the time being). The ugly truth for Sens Army is that the Sens will be a worse team on July 2nd then the one that missed the playoffs in April.
The trading of big names, shedding veterans via free agency, an internal budget, all of these signs point to a possibly lengthy rebuild for the Ottawa Senators, and if that’s the case, Sens fans need to ask themselves if Bryan Murray is the guy to manage it (look no further than the Edmonton Oilers to see how badly a rebuild can be botched, and how a team can remain desperately bad even after nearly a decade of high draft picks). If that’s the case Sens fans, just remember, during the January-February grind, if the Sens are struggling to score and the playoffs are looking more and more unlikely (again), that many of you got what you wished for when Jason Spezza was unceremoniously exiled. And remember how happy you were when he was shown the exit because sympathy is something you won’t deserve.