I'm not saying anything new by raising the point that fan interest in the NHL trade deadline is at an all-time high. Rumour sites like Hockey Buzz are booming and people are going to be freaking out over 5th round picks being exchanged for fourth liners on Wednesday.
Ottawa fans are no different and their interest will be piqued because this is the first time since 1996 that the Senators are "sellers" at the deadline. People in Ottawa want to see change and no doubt will be disappointed if Bryan Murray doesn't do a complete makeover by Wednesday afternoon.
But there's the potential for this team to be worse off after the deadline, despite the excitement it may bring in the short term.
Take Chris Neil. If you asked 10 fans, at least 8 would tell you that Neil should be traded.
But those same fans will tell you that Neil would be valuable because of his toughness and his ability to play the game, something that teams like San Jose and Detroit are looking for at the deadline.
So if Neil is such a valuable commodity to upper echelon teams, why would Ottawa fans want him traded in the first place? Would you really prefer the 2nd round draft pick or the unproven prospect that Neil would fetch in a trade?
If other teams desire his exclusive skills, why wouldn't Ottawa desire that as well?
They will tell you that Neil isn't worth 2 million, or especially the 2.5 that his agent is rumoured to be asking for.
But at the same time, most will concede that Neil will get just that on the open market.
So if he's worth that much to other teams, why is he not worth that much to Ottawa?
It's a valid question and one that I'm not sure I can answer. Is Ottawa taking a cue from the Buffalo Sabres and the Harry Sinden-era Boston Bruins by refusing to pay market value for their own players? Murray's decision to let Andrej Meszaros go because he did not want to pay market value for him might be the first indicator.
Neil is one of the players who fulfilled his role this season and there are not many players on the roster you can say that about. He's one of the best at what he does and is respected and feared around the league. He adds another dimension to the Senators that a lot of teams don't have. He is worth that much because he is unique and teams will always pay top dollar for those types of players. He is no different than that elusive skilled defenseman or faceoff specialist. Players like Chris Kelly, Cody Bass and Jesse Winchester are a dime a dozen. But players like Neil don't come around very often.
Neil should be a true fan favourite yet the fans in this city haven't embraced him.
This strange phenomenon can't be explained away so easily. In any other city, players like Neil and Jarkko Ruutu would be revered and celebrated. Ruutu was loved in Pittsburgh and Vancouver but Ottawa fans don't seem to like his antics. Same goes for Neil.
My friend disagrees with me and says that the true fans - the ones who simply go to games and don't write blogs or phone call-in shows – love players like Neil and Ruutu. But I don't understand why the passionate ones who do take part in the public discourse could care less about these types of players. I thought Ottawa fans had a distrust of skilled players. But not heart and soul gritty forwards who give you everything they have season by season. What's going on here?
I have a theory about the Ottawa market but it's probably true of a lot of other cities. It's a form of hockey ADD. The fans are more excited about flashy trades than they are about building a club tradition. They tire of players after just one season and want change for change's sake.
People were excited this past summer when Murray added the likes of Jason Smith, Filip Kuba and Alex Picard but now many would drop these players for draft picks if the opportunity arose.
It's easy to get excited about "draft picks" because those players haven't turned the puck over at the blueline or let in a bad overtime goal. They simply represent hope. But those same people won't be preaching the "hope" theme after another brutal Senators loss while they ostensibly rebuild next year with fresh faces.
Those fresh faces will become the next in line to be traded and so on and so on.
What's the point here?
I think that it's perfectly reasonable to pay Chris Neil 2 million because he provides an exclusive skill that you can't get anywhere else very easily.
In my mind, Neil offers more at his specific role than Chris Kelly does at his. It's all relative. Just because you pay Neil 2 million doesn't mean he has to start scoring a lot of goals. You pay him that money because you need that ingredient for a winning team. You need someone to crash the net. You need someone to protect your star players. You need someone to hit the other team consistently.
Neil is one of the best at all of those things and that's why Murray should fork out the money to keep him instead of gambling on a draft pick or a prospect in his stead.
By trading Neil, you just create another need for this team along with a number one goalie and power-play quarterback.
Why the vocal majority of Senators fans don't see that remains a mystery to me.