ST. LOUIS — Could Jason Spezza be the answer to solving the Blues’ offensive woes during the playoffs next season?
The veteran Ottawa Senators center has asked to be traded and has been linked to St. Louis as a possible destination.
Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray confirmed to reporters at the GM meetings Wednesday in New York that the Senators’ captain is seeking a trade and a few teams have asked about what it would take to acquire him.
"I think Jason feels this is a change he would like to have happen," Murray told USA TODAY. "And if that is the case, we will try to do what we can."
The Ottawa Sun reported this week that the Senators are seeking a top-six forward, No. 1 draft pick and a top prospect in return for Spezza and that the Blues, Ducks, Predators and Canucks have all inquired about the veteran center. The Blues and Ducks could be the most likely destinations.
Spezza, who turned 31 on Friday, doesn’t fit the mold for the Blues as a two-way center like David Backes — he had a plus-minus rating of minus-26 this past season — but could provide the offensive firepower that St. Louis has lacked in its back-to-back first-round playoff exits.
He’s scored 32 or more goals four times in his career — he scored a career-high 34 goals three times, most recently in 2011-12 — and last season totaled 66 points (23 goals, 43 assists), which tied for 28th in the NHL in scoring.
Alexander Steen led the Blues with 62 points in 68 games.
Spezza also scored nine power-play goals, which would have ranked second on the Blues behind Backes’ 10.
The Ontario native averaged 18:13 of ice time per game and won 54 percent of his faceoffs, which exceeded Backes’ 51.7 percent, and for his career Spezza has won 52.4 percent of draws.
This isn’t to say that Spezza would replace Backes as the Blues’ top-line center, but that duo could serve as a strong tandem leading St. Louis’ top two lines.
General manager Doug Armstrong’s club currently has Backes and Maxim Lapierre as the only centers under contract unless the Blues plan to use Steen in the middle and move Backes to the wing, as they did at times this past season. St. Louis’ other two centers, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, are both restricted free agents and remain unsigned.
At his end-of-the-season meeting with reporters, Armstrong was asked whether he viewed a second-line center as a position of need this offseason, and he pointed to Berglund and Sobotka as possible fits at that spot.
"I think we have to see where Berglund’s going to get to," Armstrong said. "He’s one player that I think played with a dislocated shoulder. He dislocated it in Dallas. Probably a three-week injury and he came back in a week. He wasn’t the player that he normally is. I think he can potentially grab some of those minutes.
"Sobotka’s the guy that you always push out that always pushes his way back in. … Here’s a guy that just comes and says, ‘Where’s the competition? All right, I’ll take it.’ When we traded for him, did we think he was going to be a second-line center? Is (Jaden) Schwartz, Sobotka, (Vladimir) Tarasenko one of our two best lines on a nightly basis? Yes. Maybe that’s just where he fits in."
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A player like Spezza could push Sobotka and Berglund into third or fourth line roles, or slot further down the lineup to deepen the Blues’ lines and provide more of an offensive punch.
Spezza is set to make $4 million during the upcoming season in the final season of a seven-year, $49 million deal. That means he’s due to make as much as Derek Roy did last season with the Blues on a one-year deal.
Now, what would it take for the Blues to acquire Spezza?
That’s a difficult proposition after the Blues traded away Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and draft picks to Buffalo at the trading deadline for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.
If Murray, the Senators’ GM, is really seeking a top-six forward, No. 1 pick and top prospect like The Sun reported, then the Blues could have a match with Berglund, their No. 1 pick (No. 21 in the first round in the June 27 draft) as well as a prospect, though the Blues would surely like to hang on to promising forwards Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Would that be enough to get a deal done?
The Senators should be motivated to move Spezza, because if he leaves as an unrestricted free agent following the 2014-15 season they’d get nothing in return.
Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen wrote Thursday that the Blues and Ducks are the clear favorites to land Spezza, and that the Senators could be interested in Berglund as well as defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Ian Cole, because of the Blues’ depth on the blue line.
The Blues might be hesitant to deal Shattenkirk, who is under contract for the next three years at $4.25 million annually, but a package of Berglund, Cole and a No. 1 pick could work for them because they wouldn’t have to subtract from their core group.
It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for St. Louis so far, with Swedish winger Joakim Lindstrom as the only player signed from outside the organization. But if all this Spezza talk is accurate, things will start to heat up for the Blues very soon.