There was an underlying sense of optimism Saturday morning as members of the Ottawa Senators gathered for voluntary medicals.
Along with the excitement was a sense of relief as players could finally revel in the fact that hockey would be played this season.
“I definitely had my doubts at some points,” said Jason Spezza. “I didn’t think it would go as long as it went and there were some days where I was frustrated and wanted to see more action from both sides, but I’m happy it got settled.”
The lockout lasted 113 days before the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association were finally able to come to an agreement on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement came just in time to salvage the season, which will likely see the Senators open the season Jan. 19th against the Winnipeg Jets.
Spezza, who spent much of the lockout playing in the Swiss National League, is excited to get back in action, but admits the shortened season will be gruelling.
“I think it’s going to be more exciting for fans by having games all the time, but a little bit tougher for players,” said Spezza. “You’re really going to have to manage your body and how you’re feeling. For us we just have to make sure to take care of ourselves.
“It’s going to be a tough season.”
Spezza wasted no time picking up where he left off last season during his time in Switzerland. The 29-year-old was a point-per-game player with nine goals and 21 assists in his 28 games.
Last season Spezza led the Senators in scoring and was fourth in league scoring and he’s well aware of this season’s expectations.
“I feel good about where my game was last year and I think I did a good job of trying to keep some of the things I was doing last year in my game this year and hopefully I can get a good start,” said Spezza. “I always have pretty high expectations of myself and the team has high expectations of me which is one of the reason’s I played overseas is to make sure I was ready to go and help our team out.”
MacLean relied heavily on Spezza last season and nothing is expected to change.
“Well we know if (Spezza) has success our team has success,” said MacLean. “I think one thing that’s going to help Jason this year is the depth of our organization. We have more people that can help him with the offensive side of things and that makes it easier for him to create more if you have a lot more people helping you out.”
After numerous disappointments Spezza finally got to experience being part of a championship team as he was part of Team Canada’s gold medal winning team at the Spengler Cup.
“I haven’t won anything since I started playing junior. I’ve been close a few times and it was nice to finally get over that hump and gave me some confidence and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to get the win.”
MacLean is counting on Spezza’s recent experience to serve as motivation for the upcoming season.
“I think anytime you win it’s a big deal because you learn how to win,” said MacLean. “You learn how to win no matter what you’re winning and how hard it is and how hard to do. I think it’s a big thing for his confidence.”
While Spezza will undoubtedly be expected to be the catalyst to the Senators offence, the Senators will need solid goaltending to remain competitive.
Goaltender Craig Anderson comes in as the undisputed starter, but MacLean has made it clear that should the goalie falter he won’t hesitate at making a change.
Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner will Join Anderson in camp this week, both of who have been playing exceptionally well with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.
Anderson spent much of the lockout training in Florida with Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire.
Saturday morning Bishop and Lehner offered the standard comments as to how competition is healthy and they’ll both work hard to prove they deserve to stay, but the reality is Lehner is likely to be sent back to Binghamton at the end of camp.
Even if Lehner stands out as the best goalie in camp financially it makes more sense to send him back to the minors. Bishop is on a guaranteed NHL contract and would have to clear waivers, whereas Lehner remains on a two-way deal.
“It’s not my job to look at numbers and contracts and stuff there’s other people who gets paid for that,” said Lehner. “I have one job and that’s to stop the puck and help the team get two points on any given night and if that’s in Binghamton or here or where ever it is it never changes.”
Camp gets underway Sunday with 27 players, seven of which were called up from Binghamton as well as draft picks Cody Ceci and Stefan Noesen, who both play in the Ontario Hockey League. The Senators will hold a scrimmage Sunday afternoon and in an effort to welcome fans back all training sessions will be open to the public.