Ever since the story that Jason Spezza may not be happy with his treatment at the hands of the Ottawa Senators fans and media broke, everyone and their dog has written their opinions on the situation. Steve Lloyd from the Team 1200 offered a candid interview with Spezza, where he sounded anything but convincing about his happiness with the Senators:
"I don't know, I don't know. I don't have a comment about that kind of stuff. I don't know where all this is coming from but whatever happens, happens. I don't know. I have nothing to....people need stuff to talk about I guess."
First rumblings of Spezza's discontent actually broke a few weeks ago, right after the season when GM Bryan Murray revealed that the first-line centreman was downright pissed about being booed on his home ice during the 2010 playoffs. Hoping that it was just raw emotion right after the loss, Murray let much of the summer pass, and now he's announced he'll have another discussion with the team's highest-paid player to see where he stands with his team. He told the media he'd be "happy" to return to Ottawa next year, but there's not really much else he could say.
Murray obviously wants to know where Spezza stands before July 1 hits, because on that day a no-trade clause kicks in on Spezza's contract.
But really, what does it matter? Spezza is a different person than Dany Heatley. Although he's taken criticism since the day he started with the Senators (originating with head coach Jacques Martin, and continuing from there), he's generally taken it in stride so far. And when the times are good, the fans are great. So Spezza isn't likely demanding, or even requesting, a trade.
But even if he did, it would be a huge mistake for Murray to entertain his demands. Perhaps the biggest mistake in the history of the franchise.
Firstly, Spezza's discontent will fade. Although he takes plenty of criticism, I'm confident that it comes from the vocal minority of Senators fans instead of the representative majority. Mark my words: When the starting lineups are announced for the 2010-11 season and Jason Spezza's name is announced, the ovation that follows his name will be second only to that following captain Daniel Alfredsson--and might surpass it. I have faith that the smart people of Ottawa realize a valuable player when they see one, and will show Spezza that as critical as we can be, we still appreciate all he does for the team.
This team can't afford to trade away another star player, though. After Spezza, there's little down the middle. Don't fool yourself, this team will be much worse without their top centreman. The Senators would not get a player capable of filling Spezza's shoes. After getting hosed on the Heatley and Martin Havlat deals and letting Zdeno Chara walk for nothing, this team needs to retain its stars.
And on a personal level, Spezza is terrific for this team and this community. As much grief as he takes for his laugh, his personality is a positive one to have because it helps keep the spirits of his teammates up, even when the times are down. He contributes to the community, and as his family grows, I'm sure that will only increase. Right now, he's got the closest thing someone of his age has to a career contract with the team, and he has, can, and should become a key member of the leadership core as Alfredsson's career comes to a close.
With the development, rumours are swirling. Wayne Scanlan said that if Spezza's dealt, it would signal a changing of the guard and a completely different roster from the one Murray inherited when he became GM of the team. Jeremy Milks is billing Ottawa as "Edmonton East" as player after player--Joe Corvo, Ray Emery, Wade Redden, Heatley, and now Spezza--appear to be run out of town by overzealous fans and an unforgiving press corps. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal is already wondering if the Oilers will want to trade for Spezza. And article from Bleacher Report (that ever-reliable source) kick-started the unfounded speculation by suggesting Florida and Columbus will be the top candidates for Spezza, if he is shopped.
The Senators organization, in the past, has had a reputation of being one that takes care of its players. Don't downplay the importance of such a reputation when considering which free agents we're looking to sign or re-sign, especially when expecting them to take a 'home-town discount.' To preserve (or perhaps restore) this reputation, Murray needs to step up and defend his players. So does coach Cory Clouston. No player is without shortcomings. The Senators cannot move forward if their best players are continually run out of town, and need to nip the problem in the bud.
Maybe that means controlling the media. As an independent writer, I believe freedom of the press is important, but the Senators also have a brand to control. If media members are unfair to their team, or perceived as unfair, then the team has plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their displeasure. At some point, a line must be drawn.