The Ottawa Options

Ottawa-Edmonton rumours have been the norm this season, although they seem to have intensified the last little while, at least in the Ottawa papers. On the other hand, I haven’t seen much on either of these in the Edmonton papers, which could mean that a) the Edmonton media have missed the boat/are keeping quiet, b) I haven’t been paying close enough attention, or c) this rumour really doesn’t have much in the way of legs just yet. Knowing the Ottawa media, I’d go with option (c), but anything’s possible. In any case, here are the links and excerpts.

Ken Warren, Ottawa Citizen:

There are, however, fresh rumours that Spezza could be traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a package of players that includes centre Shawn Horcoff and perhaps a skilled defenceman.

Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun:

The Edmonton Oilers are eyeing the Ottawa Senators for help at centre, but their No. 1 choice might not be Jason Spezza. While league sources say the Oilers have a mild interest in Ottawa’s top centre, the man Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini really wants is Mike Fisher. Fisher has been struggling this season with only three goals in 35 games going into last night, after scoring 23 last season. But the 28-year-old isn’t one of the players the Senators are looking to move — despite his struggles and contract, an average of $4.2 million US for the next five seasons. The Oilers wouldn’t rule out bringing in Spezza, but his seven-year, $49-million contract is tough to take on. Plus, Edmonton would prefer to add a hard-nosed player such as Fisher, who has a no-movement clause in his contract until the end of the 2009-10 season.

The problem with these rumours is that there should be some real doubts about how much authenticity there is to them (unless Gregor or Brownlee chip in below with verification, of course). Warren doesn’t say where his sources are coming from, and while to my knowledge he isn’t a rumour-monger, he could just be borrowing from somebody like Garrioch.

The problem with trusting Garrioch is that his rumour authenticity threshold is lower than pretty much any other print journalist in Canada. He’s not quite in the Eklund range, but he’s the closest thing you’ll find in a newspaper. So please, consider these caveats before putting much faith in either of the two aforementioned possibilities.

With that in mind, let’s take a statistical look at how these players have performed over the past three seasons. First, the traditional numbers:

Jason Spezza

2006-07: 67GP – 34G – 53A – 87 PTS – 45 PIM – +19

2007-08: 76GP – 34G – 58A – 92 PTS – 66 PIM – +26

2008-09: 40GP – 17G – 16A – 33 PTS – 32 PIM – -7

Mike Fisher

2006-07: 68GP – 22G – 26A – 48 PTS – 41 PIM – +15

2007-08: 79GP – 23G – 24A – 47 PTS – 82 PIM – -10

2008-09: 36GP – 3G – 9A – 12 PTS – 23 PIM – -14

The first thing that I think, looking at those numbers, is that neither of these players is ever likely to do worse than they have this season, statistically. In other words, both guys are at as low a value as they’ll ever be; so if there’s a time to trade for either, now is the time.

Next, let’s look at where each player has ranked among forwards on his team in Quality of Competition:

2006-07: Fisher (4th), Spezza (7th)

2007-08: Spezza (3rd), Fisher (4th)

2008-09: Fisher (2nd), Spezza (6th)

Followed by Quality of Linemates:

2006-07: Spezza (1st), Fisher (11th)

2007-08: Spezza (2nd), Fisher (5th)

2008-09: Spezza (1st), Fisher (7th)

Now, these rankings don’t show everything; for example, in 2007-08 the drop-off from 2nd to 5th in linemate quality was huge. Over the past three seasons, Jason Spezza has consistently played with Heatley and Alfredsson, and the biggest concern with him (outside of his salary) is that he’s riding on coattails. Those are three terrific offensive players, and Spezza’s had the luxury of playing with them against second-tier opposition (save in 2007-08, where they were used in a more power-vs.-power role).

Fisher, in contrast, has been used in a checking role, most often with poorer teammates, and has posted declining numbers as the Senators organization has fallen from prominence. I’d strongly suspect that on a good team, his numbers would rebound tremendously.

Cap hit is an issue for both players. Spezza is signed for 7-million a season until 2014-15, while Fisher will earn 4.2-million a season until 2012-13.

As for what I think, I’ve personally always thought that if a team gets a chance to snag a player with Spezza’s incredible offensive instincts, they take it. I’ve backed away from that recently, for a number of reasons, but the foremost is because I think he’s the third-best player on his own line, and I don’t think he can handle minutes against top competition. Let’s look at some of Spezza’s underlying even-strength numbers this season, with and without Alfredsson and Heatley.

With Both: 18GF/14GA, 305SF/249SA

With One of the Two: 5GF/9GA, 207SF/256SA

With Neither: 3GF/6GA, 41SF/53SA

Of the three players on that line, Daniel Alfredsson is pretty clearly the difference maker; Heatley’s numbers are even worse without Alfredsson than Spezza’s. I really don’t think that Spezza is the solution going forward.

As for Mike Fisher, in my opinion he’s a very similar player to Shawn Horcoff. He’s defensively responsible and plays against top guns, while bringing a better physical game. At the same time, he doesn’t have nearly as good an offensive track record as Horcoff, although that’s off-set to some degree because he hasn’t played with Ales Hemsky either. There’s another concern with Fisher too –- his injury record, which is as follows:

Nov. 19, 2008 – Right knee injury, missed 2 games

Oct. 4, 2008 – Groin injury, missed 2 games

Apr. 4, 2008 – Left knee injury, missed 5 games

Dec. 15, 2007 – Abdominal strain, missed 2 games

Dec. 28, 2006 – Left knee injury, missed 14 games

Mar. 18, 2006 – Right ankle sprain, missed 9 games

Oct. 11, 2005 – Shoulder strain, missed 4 games

Dec. 30, 2003 – Right elbow injury, missed 25 games

Oct. 31, 2003 – Right elbow injury, missed 33 games

Apr. 9, 2003 – Dislocated left shoulder, missed final 5 games of the season

Jan. 3, 2003 – Knee injury, missed 2 games

May 10, 2002 – Back injury, missed 2 games

Mar. 9, 2002 – Shoulder injury, missed final 19 games of the season

Feb. 9, 2002 – Shoulder injury, missed 5 games

Nov. 4, 2000 – Left shoulder injury, missed 22 games

I think (if Garrioch is correct) Tambellini’s right to put a high value on Fisher. Depending on the cost to acquire him (Tom Gilbert, perhaps), he could definitely help this team right now and for some time to come. The question is whether his body can hold up over the long haul, and how he fits in at centre long-term. As it is currently, one of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano or Sam Gagner will either be moved or converted to the wing at some point; if the latter two develop as expected there won’t be enough ice-time or cap space to have all three down the middle. Mike Fisher would cloud the issue further.

Still, as far as short-term solutions go, Fisher is a very good one.

  • Hippy

    I almost wish those 'horcoff+ for Brad Richards' rumours were still swirling around the bowl… at least he was the 2-way, defensively responsible option…

    Its kinda funny because people would argue about Brad Richards contract being too much or discrediting his offensive capacity.. yet now its all about complaining about spezza's contract being too much or discrediting his defensive capacity… So there is all this AND NOW as horcoff will be making 5.5, instead of the 3.6, the 'ditch the 3rd liner' retoric intensifies the appeal of a trade.. (hehe, now horcoff makes too much)

    What does it all equate… who would want a horcoff that makes too much?! Horcoff and his contract, and his 'abilities', are here to stay… Yeaa…

    PS. if trading for spez, also get vermette.. cheers…