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Spezza: If the Price is Right?

Getting the best value from or for your assets is the principal objective for any business owner. In professional sports, it’s not much different. General Managers are essentially tasked with having to do the same things. Of course there’s the slight wrinkle of constantly having to balance these principles with the ultimate goal trying to win a championship but it all sounds pretty simple, right?

Tell that to Darryl Sutter, Mike Milbury, Doug MacLean, Don Waddell or any other failed GM out there. Not to mention that the legions of fans, over-the-top media personalities (failed GMs are well represented here), condescending bloggers (hey-o!), pundits and hockey publications that are ready to drop trou and dump on every questionable transaction that an organization makes.

For a ‘rebuilding’ organization like Ottawa, there’s an interesting situation phenomenon going on: with perhaps the exception of Nikita Filatov, Craig Anderson or Bobby Butler, every player on the roster is performing at the level of play that everyone was hoping for or expecting. Despite his recent concussion, any questions about the status of Daniel Alfredsson’s surgically repaired back are gone. Jason Spezza is a point-per-game player. Milan Michalek is on pace for 50 goals. Although his mustache growing ability is suspect, Erik Karlsson’s looks poised to break Norm MacIver’s franchise record for points by a defenceman. Colin Greening is the best 25-year-old rookie that this team has ever had. It turns out Filip Kuba’s shittacular play last season can be attributed to offseason back surgery and a broken leg that prevented him from ever getting into proper game shape. (A completely reasonable explanation that seemingly every meatheaded could not wrap their heads around during the offseason. “Cut your losses! He’s garbage!”) Like Kuba, Sergei Gonchar’s improved play will hopefully lead to his departure at the NHL trade deadline. (Nothing personal fellas.) Stephane Da Costa is drawing comparisons to Adam Oates and finally, sometimes, I forget Chris Phillips is even here.

Despite the season being in its infancy, members of the local media are being seduced by what’s transpiring with the Senators and some have even suggested forgoing some success down the road if a push for the playoffs can be made now.

It’s sound logic. With a few exceptions, almost every player on the roster is playing well and the team’s record is 7-8-1. I’d say they’re well positioned for an extended playoff run, wouldn’t you?

Nothing quite gets the heart fluttering like the prospect of a first round matchup with the Washington Capitals or the soon-to-be-returning Sid Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins.

Of course I’m being facetious. Like a few other teams, most notably the Avalanche and the Sharks, Ottawa’s record is distorted thanks to its 3-1 shootout record. Under the old NHL point system, the team would be 14th in the Eastern Conference with a 4-8-4 record.

Management deserves some credit for: usurping John Muckler; overhauling a farm system that was once headlined by Josh Hennessy, Alexander Nikulin, Ilya Zubov and Alexei Kaigorodov; exponentially improving its amateur scouting department; and trimming its fat toward the latter stages of last season. It hasn’t been all roses with this group however. Fans can only hope that management and ownership has learned from its gaffes – under no circumstances should it ever try to sustain a middling position by acquiring expensive veteran players who are on the wrong side of their careers.

No, if anything, the team should continue to build around its nucleus of young players in hopes that it can create a lengthy window of opportunity in which the team can contend and hopefully have everything culminate with a Stanley Cup parade. If that means trading some veteran players at this year’s trade deadline even though the team may be near the playoff picture, so be it. The organization needs to ignore the ‘get in and anything can happen’ attitude and focus on clinching something more significant than an eighth place seed. This is about stockpiling future assets that give the organization the depth and talent to eventually match up with the powerhouses like Pittsburgh and Washington.

I was reading a very thought provocative piece written by Dustin Parkes over at The Score’s excellent Getting Blanked blog that wondered whether it would be smart and in the Toronto Blue Jays’ best interests to listen to offers on Jose Bautista. Regardless of how you feel about it, it’s a fascinating topic of discussion and Dustin raises several logical arguments to support why the Jays should listen.  In fact, it raises some arguments that I believe are also applicable to the Ottawa Senators.

Armed with a 3-year contract to oversee this organization’s rebuild Bryan Murray will eventually be forced to make some difficult decisions.

According to Hockey Prospectus’ Core Age and the Strategic Direction of NHL Teams Essay from their 2011-12 Annual, the overall av­erage of those best ages comes out to 25-years-old or so (depending on whom you include in your sample). Even without going into a more extensive study, you can pretty easily conclude—at least for a superstar for­ward—that their overall peak will likely run from age 21 through age 32, cresting around age 25 or age 26. 

Obviously hockey is much different from baseball. Thanks to the salary cap that helps level the competitive balance, teams cannot just spend their way up the standings. However, the Senators’ youth seems to be improving, but can the Senators young nucleus of players develop well enough and quickly enough to put this team into contention and allow the team to justify holding onto Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek for the duration of their current contracts?

So why would the organization consider moving either player?

If the organization doesn’t believe that it can win the Stanley Cup during this timeframe and allows each player to play out their contract and hit free agency, it could be reminiscent of the manner in which Zdeno Chara left the organization without compensation. Yes, the organization had some short-term success and reached the Cup Finals in 2007 but it was unsustainable.  His absence helped precipitate the free fall of this franchise; we just did not know it at the time.

Getting back to the first paragraph of this post, should the organization consider trading either of these players while their respective trade values are high? Or should it risk moving one or both of them at another point over the remaining lengths of their contracts? Would the team listen to any/all offers regardless of the situation? Or conversely, does management look at extending these two players past their current deals to give itself a bigger window of opportunity with the current core?

To rationalize any trade, whomever the organization could acquire would have to have as much of an impact as a Spezza or Michalek would; otherwise the Senators would lose the deal.  Like the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason, when trading for prospects (Sean Couturier) and younger players (Brayden Schenn), management has to be certain of their developmental paths.

It’s all interesting fodder for debate and I’m curious as to how you readers feel about if/when you would possibly listen or consider any trade offers.

I’ve been such a big Spezza proponent for years and I’ve used this website/blog to defend him on many occasions. Nevertheless, I worry that this organization can surround him with the right talent through free agency or trades to create a team that can challenge for the Stanley Cup by the time that his current deal is done. Personally, were the choice left to me, I would always listen to offers. Primarily because the NHL has historically taught us that there will always be some willing GM who is desperate and stupid enough to overpay.

Sens System Slips in ESPN’s Prospect Rankings

Grant Sonier, a scout and writer for ESPN Insider, has published his first organizational prospect rankings for the first time since the season started. (Note: You have to have a paid for Insider account to read anything beyond the pay wall.)

In them, the Senators have slipped from their third overall preseason ranking to fifth. What accounts for this inconsequential change of opinion? Sonier never says. Here is what the write up for Ottawa though.

Forward Mika Zibanejad (sixth overall, 2011) made a great impression with the NHL club this season, but it elected to send him back to Sweden for more grooming, and he surely will make his impact next season if everything goes as planned. However D-men David Rundblad (17th overall, 2009) and Jared Cowen (ninth overall, 2009) have made the jump, starting their NHL careers. This moves Ottawa down the list but it still has lots of good young players coming via the draft. Forward Stefan Noesen (21st overall, 2011) has battled injuries this season with Plymouth of the OHL but is an excellent prospect who has skill and tenacity, while Matthew Puempel(24th overall, 2011) is back to his scoring ways with the Peterborough Petes with 11 goals and 20 points in 18 games.

Five Senators are Named to 2012 All-Star Game Ballot

Today the NHL released its list of names that will be featured on fan voting ballots for the 2012 All-Star Game. Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza were included.


Remembrance Day

Finally, on behalf of everyone at The 6th Sens, I just wanted to extend our thanks to Canada’s war veterans and anyone else for that matter who has served in the Canadian military. Lest we forget.