OTTAWA – Jason Spezza’s days in Ottawa could be numbered after general manager Bryan Murray admitted Monday that the star centre told the team this spring he “wouldn’t object” to a trade.
And while Murray still expects to have Spezza back in the Senators lineup next season, he also said he’d be open to moving the veteran forward if the right deal could be found.
“He said he wouldn’t object to one,” Murray recounted of his year-end exit meeting with Spezza following the Senators’ first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in April. “He didn’t come in and say, ‘I have to be traded.’ He didn’t object to that fact that, ‘Maybe it’s time. The way I’ve been received now and that maybe it’s time that I look around.’
“I said, ‘Well, unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen. You’ve signed a long-term contract. We’ve committed to you. You’ve committed to us. We will look at everything that’s going to help our hockey team, but I’m not going to make a bad trade.'”
Murray was speaking with the media Monday before departing for the NHL’s entry draft in Los Angeles later this week.
A no-movement clause in Spezza’s contract takes effect July 1 and his future in Ottawa has been the subject of speculation ever since Murray made it public following the season that the 27-year-old Toronto native wasn’t happy with being subjected to jeers from Senators fans during the six-game defeat to Pittsburgh.
Although Spezza has since stated that he’d be happy returning to Ottawa and tried to play down talk of a move, it wasn’t enough to completely extinguish rumours that he wants out. Murray’s comments Monday will only likely reignite them.
“The impression that I got was he wasn’t happy at the end of the year, only because of what happened in the playoffs and the later part: No. 1, that we didn’t win; No. 2, the response to him (from fans and media) wasn’t very positive,” said Murray, who hasn’t directly spoken with Spezza since.
Spezza, who’s coming off an up-and-down season in which he got off to a slow start and faced a long spell out injured but still managed 23 goals and 57 points in 60 games, is signed through the 2013-14 season to a contract that carries a salary-cap hit of US $7 million per season.
That’s enough to make a deal for him tough for many teams, so while a move is unlikely, Murray is open to talking to other teams.
“He’s under contract. He’s a player that we’ve … certainly counted on as being an important part of our hockey team and, like every player, it’s a possibility that I get an offer that I can’t refuse,” Murray said. “In turn, it’s not something that I’m trying to do in a real intense way. I’m certainly going to talk to teams about a variety of things.”
Fear among Senators fans is that the team could soon face another situation like it did a year ago when an unhappy Dany Heatley wanted out.
Heatley’s no-trade clause allowed him to veto a potential deal to the Edmonton Oilers and force Ottawa’s hand into a deal with the San Jose Sharks that many felt wasn’t as good as Edmonton’s offering.
In an attempt to smooth any hard feelings, supporters of Spezza organized a rally on Parliament Hill on Saturday to show their backing for the player to remain in Ottawa. A crowd of only about 20 attended.
Still, Murray said he doesn’t expect the situation to devolve the way Heatley’s did.
“I think it’s a different person,” Murray said. “I think if you remember back last year, when Dany demanded (a move), Jason was one of the guys that stood up and recognized that the organization had to be looked after.”
One player who Murray is resigned to losing, however, is defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who’s soon to be an unrestricted free agent.
Murray has held talks with Volchenkov’s agent Jay Grossman over the 28-year-old Russian, who made $3.2 million this past season.
It’s been widely speculated that he’ll wind up with the Washington Capitals.
“I believe he’s going to go to the market. At this point in time, that’s the impression I got,” said Murray, adding that he’d like to use any money that would have gone toward Volchenkov to adding a more mobile blue-liner and re-signing potential unrestricted free agents Andy Sutton on defence and Matt Cullen at forward.
The Senators still could attempt to deal Volchenkov’s rights before July 1 so they don’t lose him without getting something in return.
“If there’s any interest,” Murray said. “Nobody’s indicated to me they want that privilege at this time, but that may be a possibility.”
Meanwhile, the Senators hold the 16th overall pick for Friday’s first round of the draft, then, having traded away their second-round picks to obtain Cullen and Sutton in separate deals, aren’t scheduled to select again until the third round, 76th overall.
“We’re not planning anything specific,” said director of player personnel Pierre Dorion. “We’re going to take the best-available player.”