Jason Spezza is not happy he was not among the 47 players invited to the Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team camp, starting in a couple of weeks.
There is still a chance, albeit a small one, he could play his way to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, although it looks like he will have to content himself with another honour up for grabs.
Daniel Alfredsson’s shocking exit from the Ottawa Senators last month, after 17 seasons with the NHL club, means the team needs a new captain. Spezza, who turned 30 in June, is the logical choice for Sens general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean.
The Senators are the only NHL team Spezza has played for and he is one of their longest-serving veterans, with 10 seasons under his belt. Along with being one of the teams’ top scorers in that period, Spezza grew from an offence-only teenager to one of the team’s leaders in that period. But he gives the impression he has not spent the summer lobbying for the gig.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think it will change much,” Spezza said between practice sessions Friday at the NHL Players’ Association’s All-Canadians Mentorship Camp for teenage players at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga.
“I’ve been a leader in our room for a few years now,” the centre added. “If I become captain, I’ll be excited and it’s a great honour. If I don’t, I’ll continue leading, so we’ll wait and see what happens.”
The Olympic snub from Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman, head coach Mike Babcock and their staff appears to be the more burning issue for Spezza. But he had to contend both with Canada’s depth at centre – a dozen men who play the position most of the time were invited to the Calgary camp – and the fact he missed 43 of last season’s lockout-shortened schedule of 48 games with a back injury.
“I was upset, definitely,” Spezza said. “I knew I missed the year last year, but I was hoping they would look at my whole body of work. It just gives me a little more motivation to prove them wrong.”
A team official called Spezza before the invite list was made public to explain the decision. He was told he remains in consideration for a spot come February, but does not sound like he is counting on it.
“It was a pretty short conversation,” Spezza said. “Who knows? I’m not going to lose sleep over it. They will bring the best players [in February]. It may not be me but you can’t control it.”
The sleepless nights were saved for the effects of Alfredsson’s departure. Spezza spoke to Alfredsson shortly before and after his decision to sign a free-agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings and was as shocked as anyone else. He declined to speculate about what may or may not have transpired between his friend and Senators management.
“I wasn’t involved enough to know the reasons why it wasn’t saveable,” Spezza said. “Other than the call from Alfie, I had no idea what was going on.”
But that pain, too, has a flip side, as Murray recovered from Alfredsson’s departure by pulling off a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for winger Bobby Ryan. He is 14 years younger than Alfredsson, who is 40, and has hit his stride as a big, mobile 30-goal scorer.
Spezza has spoken to Ryan several times and says he is excited about getting a more prominent role with the Senators after playing third fiddle to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim.
“[Ryan] may have felt the odd man out at times,” Spezza said. “That’s not going to be the way with our team. He’ll be the go-to guy.”
Spezza says he has no lingering effects from his back injury. The lingering-effects department will mostly concern the loss of Alfredsson, the franchise’s most important leader since it joined the NHL 21 years ago.
“He was an icon in the city,” Spezza said. “The off-ice effect will be the greatest [on the team]. You lose that but you bring in some youthful legs that can score some goals, so on the ice I believe we’ve improved.
“We’ll have to talk about the Alfie stuff at the beginning of the year and not have it be a distraction.”