A cluster of media encircled the only coach ever to take the Ottawa Senators to a Stanley Cup final.
Bryan Murray isn’t a coach now, of course. Seven years after that 2007 Cup final loss to Anaheim, Murray is seven years on the job as the Senators general manager and trying to return to the Promised Land.
In 2007, Murray’s Senators were carried by the NHL’s top line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, a trio that seemed capable of scoring at will – at least until it ran into a wall of prickly Ducks. Today, two are gone, Heatley demanding a trade in 2009, Alfredsson, the beloved captain, leaving via free agency to Detroit last summer.
Now, here was Murray explaining why it is that his latest captain, Spezza, also wants out, despite having another year left on his contract. To Murray, each situation was different: Heatley facing almost a compulsion to escape a team coached by Cory Clouston, marching into Murray’s office to say, “I’m out of here.”
Alfredsson “was an exceptional thing,” Murray says, an elite player based in the same Canadian city for more than a decade, wanting to experience something different, joining his Swedish pals with the Red Wings for a last hurrah. Murray tried to tell Alfredsson that the odds of winning in Detroit weren’t so different from Ottawa, and he was right on that point as the Red Wings were bounced in the first playoff round.
From Alfredsson’s perspective, he wanted to re-up long before Ottawa made its late pitch – too little, too late.
In Spezza, Murray sees a genuinely good and sensitive person, a keen hockey fan perhaps too plugged in to what is said and reported in the media, grown weary of being the lightning rod for fan criticism when times are lean. And the 2013-14 season was a very lean time.
“The only explanation I have is that he would like to try something different,” Murray said of Spezza, in the GM’s final media appearance prior to the June 27-28 entry draft.
“He thinks that the fingers are pointed at him quite often in Ottawa. Winning or losing, he gets credit or gets blamed. I think he feels it’s time to do something else.”
A popular theory is that there was a ‘coach-or-me’ flavour to Spezza wanting out, but Murray claims Spezza told the GM he understood what head coach Paul MacLean was trying to do.
“That’s not the reason,” Murray says, citing the trend of good players from many clubs seeking exciting new destinations.
And so Murray will try to entertain a deal. There have been inquires, from a couple of teams in particular (believed to be Anaheim and St. Louis, and the Tampa Bay Lightning is an interesting possibility), but get this – Murray wouldn’t completely discount the possibility of Spezza returning to Ottawa.
“I think we try to get the best return we can,” Murray says. “If it’s not satisfactory, we can’t do it. And he has a year left on his contract.”
Could you imagine Spezza returning after all this? Snowballs in hell come to mind. Far more likely a deal gets done at the draft or shortly thereafter, once clubs sort out their needs via free agency. Murray doesn’t discount a trade within the Eastern Conference, though he’d prefer to ship Spezza west. Nor does he foresee a quick deal.
This isn’t one of those simple transactions that can be handled in a single phone call to a rival GM.
“It appears there will be many” calls before a deal is done, Murray said. “I have to be somewhat satisfied. I don’t think, when you trade a player of Jason’s calibre, that you ever win. I know that.”
The Senators are hoping to at least get, in Murray’s words, “a real good player and then something for the future.”
Worth nothing: Spezza turned 31 this week, with a history of back problems (though he only missed seven games last season). At the time he asked out of Ottawa, Heatley was 28, pushing 29.
In exchange for Heatley and a fifth round pick, Murray got a package (Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo – more of a salary dump – and a second rounder). Kudos to Murray if he can get something close to that this time around. At least, he doesn’t have to get Spezza’s approval on every potential trade as he did for Heatley. Spezza has his 10-team no-fly zone, and he wisely didn’t put Montreal or Toronto in that group, daring Murray to put him just down the road in a Canadiens or Maple Leafs uniform.
Forget about the notion of a team getting permission from Ottawa to negotiate a contract extension. Murray won’t allow such talk before a Spezza trade is in place. God help us, let it happen soon.
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