Jason Spezza has been a lightning rod for criticism in Ottawa this season, but Senators general manager Bryan Murray has no intention of trading his superstar centre.
“I don’t know that you’d ever not trade anyone, but Jason is not on the trading block,” Murray told Sportsnet prior to Saturday’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens. “He is a guy that you should be able to build a hockey team around.”
With the Senators well outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, some believe Murray’s best option is to trade several of his core players in an effort to clear salary cap room in the future and secure a high draft pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The Senators general manager, however, does not buy into the theory of dealing away his star players like Spezza – whose no-trade clause is not activated until July 1st.
“He’s a good player on this hockey club. I don’t know how you acquire another guy like this if you trade him away,” continued Murray. “My intent is not to do that. I think the core here is a good core. We just have to help them a little bit in a couple areas.”
Murray and head coach Craig Hartsburg have been on the hot seat, with the club winning just 15 of their first 42 games. Ten days ago, a published report out of Montreal stated that owner Eugene Melnyk had already made up his mind to fire both Murray and Hartsburg and replace them with Bob Nicholson and Pat Quinn.
On Saturday, Murray said that the report was totally fabricated and that Melnyk is not leaning towards a total housecleaning in Ottawa.
“First of all, I know the media makes up stories all the time. And they were made up. I’ve talked to Mr. Melnyk and there was no intent on doing that at all,” Murray said. “Sometimes in this city, if you lose a hockey game it’s a life threatening crisis – and it really is not that.”
While his job appears safe for the time being, Murray could not hide his disappointment in his players, who have underachieved up to this point in the season. He held one-on-one meetings with several of his veteran players on Monday, where he expressed his thoughts on their play.
“I think there had to be a challenge levied on the players to get them to do more to help us at least be credible here,” the 65-year-old said. “I have been in the league a long time – I think this is 28 years. I don’t know that I have been as disappointed at times as I have been this year.”
Murray added that he will try to continue his pursuit of a puck-moving defenseman, which has been his priority since the opening of training camp in September. He has not given up hope on a playoff position either, even though the team currently trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by 12 points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
And while he may not sound like a general manager with Stanley Cup expectations, he does believe that his team is strong enough to make a post-season push.
“Not that we have to be the best team in the East or anything like that,” Murray explained, noting that a two-game winning streak this week helped the atmosphere around the team. “I hope we’ve got a better attitude now. I hope we’ve got some confidence back. I’d just like to see the team and this city be entertained by this hockey team in a better fashion.”