Jason Spezza may be on the final year of his contract, but in no way do the Dallas Stars view their newest centreman as a rental player.
General manager Jim Nill tells Sportsnet he will commence contract talks with Spezza’s agent, Rick Curran, as training camp opens Friday in Fort Worth. Nill said he is “pretty confident” the 31-year-old star will be inked to a multi-year extension before the 2014-15 trade deadline.
“We wanted Jason to get to Dallas, get settled in, get him playing with the team, and then we’re going to open up negotiations,” Nill says. “As long as Jason’s comfortable in Dallas, we’ve got a good young team that he’s a big part of. We’re going to build this team around him. Along with [Tyler] Seguin and [Jamie] Benn, he’s a big part of our future over the next four or five years. I think he’s going to love this city. I think his family’s going to love it. And I think it’s going to be a good fresh start for him.”
The former Ottawa Senators captain, who holds a no-trade clause, nixed a deal to the Nashville Predators this spring but approved the July 1 deal that sent him and Ludwig Karlsson to Dallas in exchange for wingers Alex Chaisson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and a second-round pick in 2015 just hours before NHL’s free agency opened up.
Nill first spoke with Curran immediately after the trade, touched base again in mid-July and will begin discussing an extension for Spezza in earnest before the puck drops on Oct. 8.
The Mississauga, Ont., native is entering the final year of a seven-year, $49-million deal and will “only” make $4 million in actual salary during his Lone Star debut. Still, his $7-million cap hit is $1.25 million more than that of Seguin, the younger player ahead of him on the depth chart.
Consistent when healthy, Spezza has scored at least 21 goals and 57 points in each of his last seven seasons playing a minimum of 60 games; he finished 29th overall in points in 2013-14 with 66. Seguin, 22, set the league afire last year, finishing fourth in NHL scoring with 84 points.
On the heels of the Spezza trade, Nill also went out and signed his Ottawa linemate, Ales Hemsky, in free agency to a three-year, $12-million pact, though Hemsky could be slotted on the dangerous top unit alongside Benn and Seguin.
“They’re trying to grow a lot of their young guys. It’s a fairly young team with a bit of a veteran presence. They have a strong farm team in [Calder Cup-winning] Texas, and I think they plan on using those guys,” Spezza says. “It’s definitely a team that’s on the ups [and] something I’m happy to be a part of.”
Nill called Spezza right after the trade was processed and flew his new centre—already a Dallas Cowboys junkie who took time to tour Cowboys Stadium on a 2011 road trip—to Big D shortly afterward.
When acquiring an elite player, Nill says it’s imperative to make him feel at ease with his new surroundings as soon as possible.
“The No. 1 priority is family,” the GM explains. “It’s important to get them acquainted and comfortable. It can be a culture shock sometimes. Any time we have change in our lives, it can be uncomfortable.”
Spezza says the two got to know each other during that visit. The GM spoke about his philosophy, how he values stability and honesty, how he sees several young players in the AHL developing into big-league Stars that will help this roster grow together into a contender over the next half-decade or so.
“I was overwhelmed by how nice the neighbourhoods were. I didn’t expect the neighbourhoods to be as family-friendly as they are,” Spezza says. “It’s not a hockey town, but it’s a sports town. And if we can produce a good team, I’m sure there will be lots of support.”
The next step in producing that good team, for Nill, must be locking up Spezza. If not, he’ll easily become the most attractive free-agent centre on the 2015 market.
“We’re excited about a lot of the things that have happened [this summer], but it has to happen on the ice now. That’s going to be the big challenge,” Nill says. “Everybody knows who we are now. We think we got better, but I know the rest of the league got better too.”