The 2013-14 season concluded days ago; the last of the players have started retreating to their offseason homes and rituals. But for general managers around the League, the work never stops. While players take their much needed breaks, general managers will remain busy as they pursue different options in hopes of improving their squad for next year. Several general managers have already begun making splashes.
Last week, Ottawa Senators general manager, Bryan Murray, made headlines when he confirmed to the media what was already widely speculated. He was going to try to trade his captain, star center Jason Spezza, this offseason.
"I don't want to trade the guy, really, and I know I won't get the value, in all likelihood that I should get for him," Murray said Wednesday after the NHL general managers meeting.
Spezza, 31, has requested that Murray trade him, the general manager confirmed last week following the general managers meetings in New York. There appears to be a good chance the center is dealt in the coming weeks, perhaps prior to the NHL draft at the end of June. It’s believed one possible destination is St. Louis.
“I think that Jason feels maybe there's a change that he would like to have happen, and if that's the case we'll try to do what we can,” Murray said.
According to the Ottawa Sun, the Blues expressed interest in Spezza at last year’s trade deadline, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong elected to pursue goalie Ryan Miller and count on what he already had at forward rather than pull the trigger on a deal that would improve his team’s offense. However, a first-round series loss to the Chicago Blackhawks has forced Armstrong to turn his focus to improving his team at the forward position, and it appears he is looking at Spezza as an option.
TSN1200 radio confirmed the Blues’ interest in Spezza last Thursday, referencing a source who called the Blues’ interest in Spezza “serious”. It is believed that Spezza, who holds a substantial amount of choice in choosing his next destination, would welcome a trade to St. Louis.
The former second overall pick has a clause embedded in his contract that allows Spezza to list ten teams he cannot be traded to. It was reported a week ago that he has submitted that list to Murray, officially signaling the beginning of the end for the center in Ottawa. The Blues are not believed to be on the list, but rather one of Spezza’s choice destinations. However, with Spezza in high demand, it is likely that the Blues would have to pay a high price for the acquisition, something Armstrong doesn’t typically believe in doing. But he may have little choice if he wants to improve his team.
“It’s a difficult league to acquire players in,” said Armstrong following the Blues’ season. “My job is to find a way to get it done. I look at what happened at the trade deadline, I look at people signing their free agents, I look at last year’s free agent pool that was available, what players are excelling. I’m not sure if free agency is the way to go and then it’s getting a team to move a top-scoring player and I know the cost of doing that.
“I haven’t found the team that really wants to give us the 50-goal guy yet. But I know the two or three names they’re going to ask for and that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are good players out there. As I said, most of them usually stay with the teams that they’re at.”
But Spezza is an exception. The four-time 30-goal scorer wants a fresh start elsewhere and the Blues would like it to be with them. As a pure center, Spezza would be exactly what the Blues have been searching for for many years. But there are other tangibles involved with Spezza.
For starters, the veteran of 11 seasons has a significant injury history, specifically with his back. Spezza has had a couple of back surgeries, one in 2006 and one in 2013, to repair ailments. After the 2006 procedure, the pain returned and Spezza was forced to undergo another surgery to repair a herniated disc.
"I do play hockey for a living and it's not easy on the body, but the goal is to strengthen it and have it fixed and not be an issue moving forward," Spezza told the Associated Press following the surgery. "If there's a doctor out there who can give me that guarantee, or I can give you that guarantee I'd love to have it."
Yet, despite the daunting history, Spezza’s numbers make him an intriguing option for the Blues.
The Toronto native finished last season with 23 goals, 66 points in 75 games, marking his ninth season with 50-plus points. During a three-season stretch between 2004 and 2008, Spezza accumulated 269 points, etching his place amongst the elite players in the League. Spezza’s numbers have declined slightly, but he’s still seen as one of the League’s top centers, which means he won’t come cheap.
It is believed that the asking price for Spezza is an NHL player, a prospect and a draft pick. There’s a good chance the price comes down closer to the draft. Still, the Blues would have to part with good assets to acquire the center. Patrik Berglund, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin are all names that have been thrown around in possible returns for Ottawa. TSN12oo reported that the Blues could be putting together a package this week that would include Berglund.
"Obviously I'd like to win a hockey game next year, so getting a player back that can play in the league, that has played in the league, would be important," Murray told reporters.
Armstrong has already indicated that he would scan the market for help, because he wasn’t sure what would be available in free agency.
“We’re going to search the market and see how we can fix our team but we aren’t going to make a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
With Spezza available and mutual interest between the center and St. Louis the match is near perfect. Spezza is the type of player the Blues need to get over the hump, and he’s within reach, for the right price, that is.