Few expected the small budget Nashville Predators to steal the spotlight at the NHL draft with so many big names and big market teams in play, but that’s just what GM David Poile pulled off.
The problem was, on Saturday, it was for more dubious reasons than Friday night, when he landed James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the single biggest move made during the festivities in Philadelphia.
Anxious to get Neal a high calibre centre to play with, Poile had also attempted to engineer a deal for Jason Spezza, but he ran into a road block when the Ottawa Senators captain wouldn’t waive his no-trade to go to Nashville.
Spezza’s contract has a list of 10 teams he cannot be dealt to, and the Preds were on it.
“We couldn’t go there,” Sens GM Bryan Murray told reporters on Saturday after the draft’s conclusion. “I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but it was on the list of no-go’s.”
“We need a top centre, there’s no question about that,” Poile said. “That’s next on our wish list. Whether that comes in trade or free agency or it takes another year to get it, that’s what we need.”
Poile added that the organization didn’t want Spezza if he wasn’t interested in being there.
“I’m not going to chase somebody if he doesn’t want to play for us,” he said.
Where Spezza lands now is difficult to say. The Anaheim Ducks solved their issues at centre already by acquiring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver, which leaves teams like the Blues and Blackhawks still in play but cautious about giving up too many assets. (Especially given Spezza has only one year remaining on his deal and comes with a cumbersome $7-million cap hit.)
There’s also a complex free agency dance going on with Colorado’s Paul Stastny, who’s the most coveted centre available but wants to remain with the Avs if possible.
His asking price, however, may be too high for that to happen, which is why he’s entertaining offers on the open market.
Once he signs somewhere on July 1, there will be one fewer destination for Spezza.
Murray had been hoping to land a high pick in any deal he made, which became a sticking point with the Ducks given Anaheim owned Ottawa’s first rounder (10th overall) from the Bobby Ryan trade last year and wasn’t willing to give it up.
Now that the draft has passed, the Sens focus will turn to acquiring useful young players instead.
The fact Murray publicized that Spezza wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause for Nashville, meanwhile, signifies both his growing frustration and the deteriorated relationship with his captain, who has spent the last 11 seasons in Ottawa but wants a change of scenery.
If a deal doesn’t get done soon, things could get even uglier between the two sides.