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Why Trading Jason Spezza Might Not Be So Great After All

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It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Senators will trade their captain, but it may not be for the best

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Justin K. Aller

Since the season ended and Eugene Melnyk effectively threw the Senators' captain under the bus by directly criticizing the team's leadership, it's become increasingly obvious that a trade was going to have to take place this summer. It's too bad that it has to end this way because, for all of his warts, Jason Spezza is by far and away the best centre to ever don the Sens' jersey. As a franchise, it's a bit worrying that the last two captains of the team will have left on such unfavourable terms. That being said, I've come here not to dwell on the mess surrounding his departure, but rather to look at how this might impact the team going forward. I'm aware that I'm taking something of a contrarian position here; lots of smart people have already written fairly compelling articles arguing the team would be better off without the captain.The pro-trade crowd aren't necessarily wrong about the long term, but I do think they're wrong about what would happen to the team in the short term. I also think planning for the future misses the point a bit about today, but we'll get to that later.

There's very little doubt that trading Spezza today for young talent, prospects and picks will be beneficial in, let's say,  2017 when it almost certainly won't be advisable to be paying an aging centre with a long history of back injuries a big salary. By that point, any blue chippers the team might acquire should be playing with the team as well.  In 2014-15, I don't know that the type of return the Senators would get for Spezza will help. It's a bit hard to know since we haven't even seen any rumoured packages, but if the media is to be believed, St. Louis could be a possible destination. I would consider the Blues a reasonable case study, so let's take a deeper look there.

There's no way St. Louis is ever parting with Pietrangelo, and to be honest I'm just not sold that Bouwmeester would be all that helpful. He looks pretty pedestrian away from Pietrangelo, and he didn't exactly light it up in Calgary. Add that to the fact that Bouwmeester is entering his age 31 season, and while he'd undoubtedly be an upgrade on the flaming wreckage that was Jared Cowen, I don't see him pushing the needle far enough to compensate for the loss of Spezza up front.

Consider at 5v5 (min 50 GP):

Player

GP

ES PTS/60

Bobby Ryan

70

2.23

Jason Spezza

75

2.21

Clarke MacArthur

79

2.14

Kyle Turris

82

2.10

Mika Zibanejad

69

1.76

Cory Conacher

60

1.75

Milan Michalek

82

1.48

Erik Karlsson

82

1.37

Erik Condra

76

1.05

Patrick Wiercioch

53

0.98

You'll notice Ales Hemsky is missing from this list -- his 2.82 ES PTS/60 would have been by far and away the best on the team but I've left him out for small sample reasons. You'll also notice Cory Conacher's prominent position on the list, but that's a whole other story.

Even in what was a down year offensively, Spezza still produced at 5v5. 5v4 he looks even better:

Player

GP

P.P PTS/60

Jason Spezza

75

6.12

Erik Karlsson

82

5.62

Chris Phillips

70

5.10

Patrick Wiercioch

53

5.03

Clarke MacArthur

79

4.5

Kyle Turris

82

4.30

Mika Zibanejad

69

3.60

Mike Hoffman

25

3.15

Bobby Ryan

70

3.10

Milan Michalek

82

3.08

Here I limited eligibility to those that played at least 50 minutes on the Power Play for the season. He's leaps and bounds ahead of any other forward on the Senators. We all knew Spezza scores a lot, but it's worth re-stating becauseafter Spezza there just isn't that much scoring punch up front, especially if Hemsky walks. I love Kyle Turris, but I don't think he's ever scoring 85-90 points in a season. Likewise for Mika Zibanejad. All those points have real value in helping your team win.

But the defensive miscues you say. Ah, yes, those. It's true that Spezza is the kind of player that needs to be sheltered at this point in his career, but he's also a plus possession player in those sheltered minutes. In fact, after a horrendous 20 or so game stretch to start the year, Spezza's possession numbers never dipped below 50% on a 10 game rolling average despite deployment that fluctuated wildly:

Spezza_10_game_rolling_medium

It's strange how much MacLean varies in his usage of Spezza, but I don't see a guy whose possession numbers are driven solely by zone starts. They're a factor, as they are with everyone, but it's not the be all end-all here. Hell, put the numbers aside for a second and remember the top shelf skill he brings to the table:


Goodness.

If you want to talk about why he was -25 this year, Ottawa Senators goalies posting a .889 save percentage behind him at 5v5 might go a long way to explaining it. In fact, if Spezza has received the same goaltending golden boy du jour Kyle Turris had this year, .940, he'd have come out a +5 all else being equal. This is not to absolve Spezza of his defensive shortcomings, because they are many, but he was still ridiculously unlucky this year.

Back to the original point of all this: short of the Blues giving up a stud like Kevin Shattenkirk, or some equivalent player from whoever the Senators are trading with, it's hard for me to believe the team will make up the difference from losing their best scoring forward. The internal budget also does the Senators no favours here: Spezza's contract is a 7 million dollar hit, but he is owed only 4  million "real" dollars this season. They won't go beneath the floor, but a budget conscious team like the Senators might be loathe to take back more than the 4 that's walking out the door.  Would a contending team like St. Louis really want to give up their 2nd best D-man for Spezza? Especially since Spezza will be going for close to rental prices? I just don't see it (though I'd love to hear your best trade suggestions in the comments section!). The best bet is prospects and picks, and that means a worse team for the next couple of years.

I'm more worried about this than most because I believe the window for a budget team like the Senators to compete is now: Turris, Zibanejad and Karlsson are cost-controlled and cheap.MacArthur and Ryan are on reasonable deals. These guys won't get any cheaper or any younger; very soon this team will be too expensive to keep together if the internal budget continues. So management will end up rolling the dice to some degree on young guys, and that's always a risky proposition. Trading Spezza is pretty well inevitable at this point, I'm just not sure that it'll help in the short term and by the the time the return really bears fruit, it might be too late.