Since its inception into the National Hockey League during the 1992-93 season, many greats have donned the famous black, red, white, and gold of the Ottawa Senators. The past 28 seasons have seen like likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Dany Heatley, Erik Karlsson, and Alexei Yashin all make significant names for themselves in Canada’s capital city. Another name that can be added to the aforementioned list of all-time Senators greats is Mississauga, Ontario-native, Jason Spezza.
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As a player, Spezza is the consummate professional with a deep love for the game of hockey. His vision, fundamentals, and offensive ability paved the way for a long and storied NHL career. Let’s take a closer look at how Spezza’s playing style, skillset, and consistency place him in elite company as a Senators legend.
Paving his Own Path
There are various (winding) roads to the NHL. For Spezza, like so many other hopeful Canadiens, his went through the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). At just 15 years of age, he joined the Brampton Battalion for the 1998-99 season. At the time, the OHL had a rule that stipulated that an underage player (like Spezza) could only play for his hometown team.
Spezza’s first season saw him tally 71 points in 67 games as an OHL All-Star… at 15 years old. He would go on to have a successful major junior career with both the Mississauga Ice Dogs and Windsor Spitfires. During his final season in “The O” with the “Spits,” Spezza scored 116 points in just 66 games, an OHL career-high at the time.
Next up for Spezza was the NHL Entry Draft. After being named the top prospect in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), Spezza was a shoo-in, top-3 selection during the 2001 NHL Draft. The Atlanta Thrashers selected talented Russian Ilya Kovalchuk with the first-overall pick, while Spezza was taken at the number two slot. A childhood dream had officially come true. Although it would take him a few seasons before he became a mainstay in the NHL, once he found a permanent home in Ottawa, the rest as they say for Senators fans, is history.
The 2002-03 NHL campaign saw Spezza bounce between the Senators and their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate club, the Binghamton Senators. Whenever an injury took place on the Sens, his name was the first to be called up. By season’s end, he tallied 7 goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 33 games played with the big club. He also made appearances in three playoff games during the postseason, which saw the Senators come within a game of the Stanley Cup Final. By the fall, both Spezza and the Senators knew that he was primed and ready for superstardom at the NHL level on a full-time basis.
The 2003-04 season brought Spezza’s game to the forefront and solidified the 6-foot-3, 215-pound playmaker as an absolute force to be reckoned with. His size, intelligence, long strides, distribution skills, power play presence, and heavy shot became trademarks of his game. With Spezza down the middle, the Senators had a bona fide number-one centerman who could compete and match-up with anyone in the league.
Spezza’s time in Ottawa changed the entire landscape and trajectory of the franchise. What was once deemed an organization in limbo, became one of the most feared in the NHL, spanning the course of 11 seasons. That period saw the Senators qualify for the playoffs eight times, including a “lost” season due to the NHL lockout in 2004-05. Spezza gave the Senators an identity and helped provide stability and legitimacy to one of the NHL’s smaller market teams. He was a player that the passionate “Sens Army” had never before seen, but were extremely proud to call their own.
From a statistical standpoint, Spezza was straight as an arrow. His rookie season notwithstanding and the injury-riddled — and lockout-shortened — 2012-13 season, he hit the 50-point plateau nine times in a Senators uniform. He also had eight 20-plus goal campaigns. The franchise and his teammates alike always knew exactly what they were always getting out of Spezza. Speaking of teammates (and linemates), his partnership with fellow forwards Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson helped form one of the most dynamic, lethal, and consistent lines in the NHL during the mid-2000s.
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The Senators also made an appearance in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. After cruising through the first three rounds, led in large part by the superior trifecta of Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza, the team had its sights on the Stanley Cup. Sadly, that triumph wasn’t to be, and Ottawa succumbed to the eventual winners, the Anaheim Ducks, in five games. Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson each finished the spring with 22 points in 20 games. Spezza, himself, finished the playoffs with an astounding 7 goals and 15 assists, the very best of his illustrious career.
Legendary in Every Sense of the Word
At 36 years old, Spezza’s “fire” and love for hockey remains his driving force. It was this drive and hunger that prompted Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, Kyle Dubas to sign the aging centerman to a one-year deal last July. Spezza admitted at the time of the contract, that he was “playing for the love of it” (hence his $700,000 deal). Despite his salary, he has been a welcome addition to the Maple Leafs.
In 58 games played this season, “Spezz” notched 9 goals and 25 points while fulfilling a childhood dream of playing for the blue and white. His experience in big games should help complement the talented and youthful exuberance of the Maple Leafs in the expanded 24-team playoffs if/when the NHL resumes play.
Spezza’s tenure in Ottawa, which accounted for 686 games, will certainly be remembered for all the right reasons deep in the hearts of Senators fans. Like any prestigious player, he let his play do the talking. A team mired in mediocrity and uncertainty became a viable franchise with his presence, consistency, and leadership. Although he was unfortunately never able to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa, Spezza will go down in history as a legend of his time for the Senators.