Does he have the goods as a player? Probably, although there's no question he's benefitted by playing with world-class talent on the Ottawa Senators' top lines. But calling him a "point per game player," as is popular in his cheering section, is deceiving when he's been under that average in two consecutive seasons.
Mostly, I just don't believe he's made of stern stuff, or at least the stern stuff you'd expect from a top-line center with his salary.
Every few months, it seems, there's another round of armchair psychology over Spezza's attitude or his happiness or, most recently, the thickness of his skin when hit comes to the fans jeering. He's a jovial guy with a goofy laugh; but there's just something intangible missing with him as a "star" player.
That last bit of discontent from Spezza has the rumor mill churning ahead of his no-trade clause kicking in on July 1. If this is the end for Spezza in Ottawa, where could he be headed? And can Ottawa afford another parting of the ways with a top-line player, in the sense that fans have been more stars disappear with the Senators than into the center of a black hole?
Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen provided a buffet of Spezza speculation today, focusing on four teams that could be in the Derby for the Senators star, due to make $7 million against the cap for the next 5 seasons:
Boston Bruins: The second overall pick in a package for Spezza?
Columbus Blue Jackets: The fourth overall pick for Jason Spezza?
Columbus as a Spezza suitor seems to be born from a "get Nash a center" desire, which ignores the team's relative depth at the position (Vermette, Brassard, Umberger) and the fact that any salary the team takes on should be on the blue line.
Boston's only an interesting option if you work past trading the No. 2 pick (they won't) and get to a point where Marc Savard(notes) could move back the other way in a package. Savard's due $7 million in base salary next season, but has that glorious cap hit for the next 7 years.
Still, the notion of Spezza replacing a fan hero is a daunting spot for him. And Savard's NTC would certainly kill the deal.
The Horton deal sounds HF Boardian. Here was Warren on the Oilers speculation:
The first overall pick for Spezza? Forget about it. (See above). Earlier this week, the Edmonton Journal opined that the Oilers should swap Penner, Cogliano and Smid for Spezza because the money is essentially a wash (Penner and Smid will make $5.3 million next season and Cogliano is a restricted free agent). Sure, it makes sense for the Oilers.
And sure, Murray first brought Penner into the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks, signing him as a free agent out of college. Smid is a solid Top 4 NHL defenceman.
But who, exactly, would become the Senators' No. 1 centre? Cogliano is coming off a 10-goal, 28-point season. If the Oilers substituted Sam Gagner(notes) for Cogliano, it might pique Murray's interest, but Gagner also needs to be re-signed as a restricted free agent and he has yet to prove he's a legitimate first-line centre.
Interesting speculation abounds, but is trading Spezza what's best for the Senators and their fans?
This team can't afford to trade away another star player, though. After Spezza, there's little down the middle. Don't fool yourself, this team will be much worse without their top centreman. The Senators would not get a player capable of filling Spezza's shoes. After getting hosed on the Heatley and Martin Havlat(notes) deals and letting Zdeno Chara(notes) walk for nothing, this team needs to retain its stars.
And on a personal level, Spezza is terrific for this team and this community. As much grief as he takes for his laugh, his personality is a positive one to have because it helps keep the spirits of his teammates up, even when the times are down. He contributes to the community, and as his family grows, I'm sure that will only increase. Right now, he's got the closest thing someone of his age has to a career contract with the team, and he has, can, and should become a key member of the leadership core as Alfredsson's career comes to a close.
As that passage referenced: It's getting hard for Senators fans to see this steady leak of talent to other teams because of the "poisonous" nature of the market. The Edmonton East Syndrome, if you will.
Spezza's a talented player and seems like a nice enough fellow. Maybe a change in scenery is in order. Maybe he can tough it out in Ottawa. Either way, we hope he has the last laugh ... even if it sounds like this: