OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators say they have no plans to trade their captain.
Reports surfaced on Monday that the Senators were exploring potential interest in forward Jason Spezza, but shortly afterward Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray refuted those reports.
“The thing that really bothers me, I’ve got all kinds of calls on that now, and texts on that now, is some guy that I don’t know has put it out on Twitter that we’re shopping Jason Spezza. Every media guy grabs that and goes with that,” said Murray to reporters in Vancouver, where the Senators beat the Canucks 4-2 in Sunday’s Heritage Classic outdoor game.
“I had one guy ask if I want to comment to quiet the rumours and I said, ‘No.’ I’m not going to … The more I say about it the more it’s going to be played over and over in the next couple of days. I’ll just say we have not talked, at this point in time, about Jason Spezza.”
Leading up to the trade deadline the Senators had been talking about finding a winger for Spezza, not replacing him.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told the CBC they had no plans to sell off assets on Sunday.
“We’re easily considered a buyer … we’re definitely not sellers,” said Melnyk in an interview prior to the start of the Heritage Classic.
That being said, the Senators may not find anything in their price range.
It’s no secret the Senators would like to find a winger for Spezza, but they want someone for more than 20 games.
“That’s more of what I’m looking at, really,” said Murray last week. “If I can make the right deal to get a guy that’s played in the league, that has a little term in his contract, that we would get a chance to get to know him and he’d get a chance to get to know us, and maybe then keep him around, that’s the ideal thing for me.”
Chris Stewart, who was recently acquired by the Buffalo Sabres in the Ryan Miller trade, is a name that has been mentioned, but at this time it’s believed the price may be too steep for the Senators.
Ottawa also needs to make a decision on some of its unrestricted free agents. Milan Michalek has a no-trade clause and would have to be asked to waive it in order to make any move. While he hasn’t posted great numbers this season he still remains the most consistent winger to play alongside Spezza.
Defenceman Joe Corvo hasn’t played in the past 14 games and likely wouldn’t garner much attention. It’s unlikely he will be re-signed at the end of the season.
The biggest question remains whether defenceman Chris Phillips will come to an agreement on a new contract or be moved. The two sides have held discussions, but it’s believed the term of a new contract could be holding things up. Phillips, 35, is seeking a two-year deal while the Senators are offering one.
“I want to play until I can’t contribute anymore,” said Phillips, who has been dealing with management on his own regarding an extension. “I feel like I still can. The body still feels good.”
Phillips has appeared in 50 games with the Senators this season, scoring one goal and adding 12 assists.
Phillips admitted when the team left for this current four-game road trip he realized he could potentially gone from the Canadian Tire Centre for a lot longer, but he’s hopeful he will stick with the Senators.
“We have a great, young group here that’s on its way up and I would love nothing more to be a part of an Ottawa team that brings a Cup back here,” said Phillips. “If things change between now and then you deal with it and move on. As of right now that’s my focus.”
Murray said Monday that even if the two sides don’t come to an agreement he didn’t feel any pressure to move Phillips, although one scenario could be to move Phillips to a contender at the deadline and discuss re-signing him at the end of the season.
But if the Senators truly believe they are in playoff contention, they would want to rely on one of their veteran defencemen down the stretch.
“That’s the question we’re going through every day now, and I’ve asked the coaches, I’ve asked our staff—are we legitimate to take a run at a playoff spot?” said Murray. “And if we are, why would I do that? I see teams acquiring unrestricted free agents and paying a fairly big price to stay in the race. That’s one of the questions asked of me all the time, so if I have guys we like and they’re unrestricted in the summer time we may well just stick with them and finish the year. And then make the decision at that point.”
The Senators have carried eight defencemen most of the season and it would come as no surprise if one was moved.
“I think I’m naive,” said defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, who has played 40 games. “I don’t think I understand the business of the game just yet.
“You’ve got to understand they’re trying to make the best team and everyone around the league is trying to do the same.”
After 61 games it’s still extremely difficult to discern whether or not the Senators are a playoff contender. Inconsistent play has been their downfall all year long making things that much more difficult for management to get a good feel for this team.
While they struggled early in the season the Senators have gone 12-5-4 since December 27 when they suffered a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, leading many to believe the Senators could make the playoffs.
“If you’re an inconsistent team that has played the way that we’ve played that’s hockey,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “You deserve to be a little bit uneasy you shouldn’t be comfortable with the situation…I’m not comfortable.”