A Jason Spezza trade would put an end to any idea of a three-year rebuild.
And though there's mass hysteria over how the team getting younger is somehow "destruction," it's important to remember that the goal of a rebuild is just that: get younger. So a trade just extends that timeline by a few years.
This presents a new problem for Senators GM Bryan Murray, however, because in starting a rebuild three years ago, the one thing the team doesn't lack is good, young talent. In fact, what should be giving fans nightmares is not the changing of the guard, but the question: What if Murray's asking price for Spezza is all wrong?
Right now, we know Murray is looking for a good, young roster player, a top prospect, and a 1st round pick in exchange for Spezza. That's not terribly surprising in and of itself--it's generally the market rate for a top player, and we just saw the Senators pay it to acquire forward Bobby Ryan last summer. But does that actually address Ottawa's needs?
After all, what does Ottawa need?
We know what the top line is next year. Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Ryan were the team's most consistent line. No problems there. On defense, Erik Karlsson is pretty much the best defenseman in the league, depending on what flavor you like. In net, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner form a quality tandem, and everyone expects Lehner to take the reigns sooner rather than later--and to distinguish himself as a franchise player.
So, with the top line, top defense, and starting goalie positions filled, what Ottawa actually needs is the rest of a team. Thanks to shrewd drafting--whatever else we think about Murray's tenure as GM, it's undeniable that he's done a strong job of rebuilding the team's shriveled up pipeline--the organization has too many bodies and not enough spots, even with the departure of forwards Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen last summer.
Assuming the team does not re-sign any pending unrestricted free agents and does re-sign RFAs with some NHL experience or those projected to do so in the near future, there are only nine forward spots and five defense spots left. Here's the pool from which they can choose to fill the forwards:
That's 12 names!
Here's the pool from which they can choose to fill the defensemen:
That's 7 names!
After subtracting Spezza and adding no one, the team has five more players than they currently have available spots. Trading Spezza for that asking price will add three more players to that list.
Of course, two of those players (the prospect and 1st round pick) can't be expected to contribute right away. But this is a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Even including the lost 3rd and 5th round picks for this upcoming draft, the Senators are gaining bodies faster than they can shed them.
In theory, this is a good thing. It's important to keep the pipeline filled, as the team painfully learned these past few years--the failure to do so is a large part in the painful transition we're experiencing now--but it's also not practical to simply hoard assets and never actually use them. In general, the goal is to draft players capable of making the NHL, and then play them in the NHL.
Could the team simply add three young players, ignore the unrestricted free agent period, and continue to develop from within? Sure, but that's unlikely. The team is, at least, rumored to be negotiating with forward Milan Michalek, which would mean one fewer spot available for someone else.
It's also important to note that despite the mass hysteria over Ottawa's position as a budget team, many people, including myself, believed that last year's $56M budget team had a legitimate chance to improve upon the previous year's group. Of course, that belief turns out to be based on multiple assumptions: That Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch were ready for second-pairing minutes, that Anderson and Lehner would continue to perform at a high level if facing a similar number of shots, that Spezza would find chemistry with Ryan, etc. With the benefit of hindsight, we know those assumptions were asking too much--and it is that, more than anything that gives us a clue that a player, pick, and prospect might not be what Murray should be asking for.
The Senators don't lack prospects. They lack roster players to help shepherd those prospects through their growing pains. And since the team was comfortably 11th in goals scored last year, we know where they need help is not among a forward group with more talent than open roster spots, but on defense, where Karlsson and Marc Methot are the only two players who don't have question marks due to age (be it inexperienced or too experienced, in the case of Chris Phillips.) It's a group that needs a stabilizing force in the worst way.
It's not a player like Patrik Berglund (who is extremely talented) that Murray should be asking for in return from a Spezza trade, it's a player like Seth Jones or Keith Yandle--and if that means he has to take less in return (e.g. lesser round pick, no prospect) then so be it. Prospects aren't a need for the team. An impact defenseman is. Find someone who can play 30 minutes a night alongside Karlsson, let Methot play on the second pairing with whichever of the big men you prefer, and watch your possession metrics rise and your shots against drop.
That's not to say that a return of Berglund, Yannick Veilleux, and a 1st for Spezza wouldn't be a great haul--it would. It just wouldn't be ideal. The good news, of course, is that Murray is free to make other trades. He's not locked in to the players he gets in any Spezza deal. Whether that deal lands the defenseman the team needs or merely lands the ammunition to acquire him, the best case for a Spezza trade is one that ends with the team finding a top-pairing partner for Karlsson come opening night. Otherwise, the team will have to continue to develop its own, which is a process that will be longer and more painful for everyone.