Don’t rule out Jason Spezza-to-Nashville deal just yet

Ken Campbell
Jason Spezza

PHILADELPHIA – The best chance for Jason Spezza to get the trade out of Ottawa that he supposedly wants might be for him to change his mind about going to the Nashville Predators. And while the Predators are one of the 10 teams that Spezza had on his no-trade list, that doesn’t mean that won’t change.

Senators GM Bryan Murray said after the NHL draft that he had a deal to send Spezza to the Predators Friday night, but the deal was scuttled because the Predators are on one of the 10 teams to which Spezza listed on his no-trade list. When asked whether his client would change his mind about going to Nashville, Spezza’s agent Rick Curran said, “I really can’t say one way or another. Nashville was on Jason’s list that we put together a while ago and without the benefit of a crystal ball, I can’t say. Call me in three or four days and we might have a better answer.”

There’s little doubt the best-case scenario would have had Spezza dealt at the draft. There was much speculation that the package of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling the Predators dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins for James Neal would have been part of the package for Spezza, along with the 11th overall pick. That ship has obviously sailed and there is far less urgency to do a deal now. But there still might be a fit in the next couple of days, if Spezza changes his mind.

Predators GM David Poile, though, isn’t about to go to Spezza with cap in hand begging for him to come to his team. “I’m not going to chase somebody if he doesn’t want to play for us,” Poile said. “This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

There is speculation Nashville was on Spezza’s list because he’s weary of playing for a budget conscious team that is not considered a Stanley Cup contender. Of course, Poile doesn’t exactly see it that way. With the hiring of Peter Laviolette as coach and the acquisition of Neal, along with the emergence of prospects Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg, the Predators have set about to change their identity. They already have a world-class goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a formidable defense corps led by Shea Weber, they just need the forwards to contribute more offense. With Neal there and, possibly Spezza, offense would certainly come more easily.

“Nashville is a great spot. I don’t get it,” Poile said. “Everybody says, ‘I’d like to go to a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.’ Well, we’re trying just as hard as everybody else to win the Cup and who knows, maybe we’re closer than anybody thinks.”

It’s hard to get through all the posturing, but Murray indicated there probably isn’t a deal with the Predators now and the prospects of one happening in the immediate future are not great. “Not now,” Murray said. “(Nashville has) done the James Neal deal so that’s gone away. Anaheim has gone away with (Ryan) Kesler. The field narrows a little bit. (Spezza) may have to have a little change in approach as well as I do.”

To say that Poile is frustrated that players such as Spezza don’t see Nashville as a desired destination might be a stretch, but he’s a little perplexed that it seems to have that stigma attached to it. He sees the Predators as a team on the rise and one where players who have played there have a good experience. It also helps financially that there is no state tax in Tennessee.

“You can ask Paul Kariya what he thought of playing in Nashville. You can ask Peter Forsberg what he thought of playing in Nashville,” Poile said. “But I get it. This is how the world is right now. There’s a lot of entitlement.”

There were some trades of note at the draft, but there certainly wasn’t as much action as most people expected. There were a number of factors at work in that, notably that teams are focused on speaking with prospective free agents during the one-week “courting period” and that the teams found out only Friday a definitive salary cap number. With everything so uncertain, it made it difficult to make deals at the draft.

“Not everything is going to happen in the next two days,” said Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving, “but I think we’re still going to see some deals getting done leading up to July 1. There’s just so much going on here.”

Even Murray acknowledged he’ll have to come off his stated price of a player, prospect and a draft pick. Obviously, the draft pick is now out of the picture and fewer teams will be willing to give up a first-round pick for 2015 when the draft is supposed to provide a bumper crop. “I’m hoping we can get a fair return so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there,” Murray said. “It’s disappointing for him and disappointing for me because I’d like to accommodate him.”