Ottawa Senators name Jason Spezza captain

The Ottawa Senators finally closed the book on the Daniel Alfredsson era Saturday afternoon, naming star centre Jason Spezza as the eighth captain in franchise history.

Ottawa Senators name Jason Spezza captain
The Ottawa Senators announced Chris Neil (left) Jason Spezza (centre) and Chris Phillips (right) will be captain and alternates. (Chris Roussakis/Ottawa Citizen)

The Ottawa Senators finally closed the book on the Daniel Alfredsson era Saturday afternoon, naming star centre Jason Spezza as the eighth captain in franchise history.

The 30-year-old Mississauga native joins Laurie Boschman, Mark Lamb, Brad Shaw, Gord Dineen, Randy Cunneyworth, Alexei Yashin and Alfredsson in the Senators’ ‘C’ club, and he knows he’ll have big skates to fill.

Alfredsson, who’d led the team through highs and lows both on and off the ice since 1999 (becoming the longest-serving NHL captain and a beloved figure in the city of Ottawa in the process), bolted over a financial dispute with the team this summer.

His shocking decision to sign a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings after 17 seasons in the capital meant the Senators’ leadership group needed a new face, a new spokesman.

Although there was some speculation that veteran defenceman Chris Phillips might get the nod, all signs pointed to the playmaking forward the Senators selected second overall at the NHL Draft back in 2001. The team sees Spezza not only as a conduit between management and players, but between youngsters and veterans on the team.

It also sends a clear signal to a player due to hit unrestricted free agency in two years’ time that the Senators values his service.

At a press conference at the Canadian Tire Centre Saturday afternoon, Spezza thanked owner Eugene Melnyk, general manager Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean before donning the ‘C’ for the first time.

“It’s a huge honour for both myself and my family and it’s something that is very important to me,” said Spezza, who’d made it clear in interviews leading up to training camp that he wanted the vacant position. “I’ve been very fortunate to have played my entire career here. Ottawa has become my second home and this city has given me an opportunity to grow not only as a person, but as a player.

“Having the change to be the captain of an NHL team is a dream every Canadian kid has, and today I get that chance, and I’m very excited about it.

“Personally, I’m healthy and could not be more excited to start the season,” he said.

General manager Bryan Murray said the Senators have a long history of strong leadership and he expected Spezza would bring more of the same.

“This year’s team, we believe, will be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, in the NHL, so having a strong leadership core, headed by our captains, is going to be very, very critical if we’re going to be successful,” Murray explained.

Coach Paul MacLean echoed the GM, adding the decision to name a captain Saturday was an important step in the growth of the team.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk also weighed in on the Spezza decision in a statement released by the team a short while after the press conference.

“Jason has been a integral member of this franchise for the duration of my time as owner of the club and his passion for the game, his teammates and, above all, his desire to see this team attain ultimate success makes him a great fit to be our next captain,” he said. “Jason and his family have shown a great commitment to this team and this community and I know that he will be a wonderful representative as captain of our franchise.”

Fans had a love-hate relationship with Spezza earlier in his career, dazzled by his creativity but infuriated by his defensive shortcomings.

It reached its nadir during the 2010 playoffs, when fans booed Spezza on home ice following a playoff loss. It hurt Spezza deeply, and for a time he appeared ready to request a move out of town.

“I think (the adversity) has made me a better person and a better player,” he said when asked about the incident. “I think it helps me to have a career with ups and downs, I think it prepares me for this. I’ve played in the minors, I can relate to some of the guys coming up from the minors … I’ve had the experience of having some good playoffs and some bad playoffs and these are all things that I can draw on now.”

His pure hockey talent was never in doubt, however, as he quickly established himself as a point-per-game player. His productivity in the offensive zone peaked in the 2007-2008, when he scored 34 goals and 92 points, and he also finished fourth in league scoring with 84 points two years ago.

The previous spring, he finished in a three-way tie for the playoff scoring lead (22) with teammates Alfredsson and Dany Heatley.

Over the ensuing years, Spezza worked on rounding out his game while also taking a more prominent role in the leadership group.

Now, he’s at the forefront.

He’ll have strong backup. Phillips, the former No. 1 pick and elder statesman among long-time Sens, along with tough guy Chris Neil, will serve as alternate captains. Neil wore the A for long stretches last season while Spezza recovered from back surgery and Phillips was already firmly entrenched in the leadership core.

But Spezza is the player who will be called upon to speak for the team every day, through thick and thin. It’s something he said he was ready for.

Spezza called Daniel Alfredsson “a great captain to learn from, though he was obviously anxious to put his own stamp on the team as well.

“I think by being able to play here and have Alfie be the captain the whole time, I saw the way he practiced and the way he carried himself in the community,” he said. “It gave me time to grow as a player and as a person and to have the opportunity to have that time as a young player, it was very fortunate.

Spezza said he appreciated that Alfredsson included other players in decisions and he planned to do the same.

“For me, I’ve always dreamt about being a captain, my main goal is to try to win the Stanley Cup, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted,” he said. “I take the game of hockey very seriously and I like being able to help my teammates, I like being able to push myself and become a better player every day and these are things, it’s part of maturing as a person, as a player.

“Now I have that opportunity where the eyes will be on me of the guys all the time and I’ll have to really push myself to make sure that I’m good every day. And that’s a challenge that I want and I’m happy to have.”

Twitter.com/SensReporter

MORE FROM SENATORSEXTRA.COM

Tags: , , ,

What do you think? Leave a comment