Last week, at the NHL general managers’ meetings in New York, the Ottawa Senators’ Bryan Murray did a smart thing. When reporters asked the obligatory question about Jason Spezza’s status with the organization, Murray freely volunteered that his star centre had asked to be traded – and that the Senators would try to meet his request.
Nice. An honest man. Few general managers are ever so frank about personnel decisions. Fact is, the organizational reins are so tight on some GMs that they are afraid to say even hello in the press boxes for fear of getting caught talking to a reporter, which would get them into hot water with their overlords.
Yes, it really has come down to that for some micromanaging teams. There is internal media and external media. External media is the enemy. External media is granted access grudgingly and with the watchful eyes of the organization hovering close by.
Ottawa isn’t that team. Ottawa still has some soul. For Murray, in order to maximize the value he gets in return for Spezza’s rights, he needs to create an auction-like environment for his services – and he did that by telling the world he was available.
In a world as small as the NHL’s, you’d think that would be a given, but you’d be wrong. Not every GM is tight with every other GM. That’s why you sometimes see trade pipelines – two organizations continually trading with each other. It’s usually because the managers have prior relationships. Philadelphia always talks to Los Angeles. Florida always talks to Chicago. Chicago always calls Winnipeg.
So now you get into an off-season, where there are all kinds of new faces managing the GM’s chairs – five changes already, plus Murray’s nephew Tim went into Buffalo in the middle of the past season – and it’s valuable to let everybody know publicly who might be available.
It isn’t enough just to send a fax around anymore. Saying it publicly takes away any ambiguity and avoids the sort of situation where, for example, a lot of NHL teams didn’t know the Calgary Flames were dangling Dion Phaneuf until they learned he’d been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unbelievably, that does happen.
Contractually, Spezza has the right to list 10 teams where he doesn’t want to land; and the Senators wouldn’t be keen to deal him to an Eastern Conference opponent, in case he has a monster year playing for a team competing with the Senators for a playoff spot.
But even if the destinations for Spezza are somewhat limited, there are at least two teams that fit the bill as perfect trading partners – the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks.
The Blues desperately need the sort of creative playmaking skills that Spezza can bring to the mix. They’ve got plenty of pluggers and support players that can grind it out. Patrick Berglund has been mentioned as the centerpiece of a deal going back to Ottawa and depending upon the reports the Senators pro scouts would file on him, he would be an interesting case to ponder.
Berglund, a late 2006 first-round pick, turned 26 earlier in June and has never scored more than 52 points in a single NHL season (2010-11), his third year. For reasons that are difficult to explain, his development stalled at that point. Could a change of scenery get him back on track? Maybe.
The irony is that the Blues would make Berglund available because of how well Vladimir Tarasenko has developed in a far shorter time – and the Blues drafted Tarasenko with a pick acquired from the Senators back in 2010. The Senators then traded the spoils of that deal, David Rundblad, to the Phoenix Coyotes for Kyle Turris, whose emergence in Ottawa has made it possible for them to consider moving Spezza in the first place. The only way this circle becomes full is if Phoenix gets into the Spezza sweepstakes, but it would only be an option if the Coyotes could find a way of moving Mike Ribeiro’s contract.
The likeliest landing place for Spezza remains Anaheim, just because the Ducks have more young talent with an upside in the pipeline and an intriguing commodity in defenceman Luca Sbisa, who could be a top-four player under the right circumstances.
Now that the Stanley Cup final is over and the annual NHL entry draft is less than two weeks away, trade talks are heating up. What fun!
IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO TODAY: No, not that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, but that Sports Illustrated produced perhaps the most enduring and talked-about hockey cover in their history – Why the NHL’s Hot ... and the NBA’s not.
It came out in June of 1994, soon after the New York Rangers ended a 20-year championship drought and while the star-driven NBA was trying to figure out how to replace Michael Jordan, after he left to try his hand at professional baseball.