OTTAWA – For the second straight year the Ottawa Senators have lost their captain on the opening day of NHL free agency.
The Senators traded Jason Spezza, who was coming off his first year as captain, to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday for winger Alex Chiasson along with prospects Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and a second-round pick in 2015.
Ottawa prospect Ludwig Karlsson was also part of the trade.
Last year the Senators bid farewell to longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson after he chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings.
News of Spezza’s departure was much less shocking to Senators fans, as the 31-year-old had requested a trade following the end of the season.
“It was a combination of things and the fact I have one year left on my deal,” said Spezza, when asked for the reasons behind the trade request. “Only having one year left on my contract I thought it was fair talking to Bryan (Murray) now so we don’t get into a situation next year where we’re always talking about if I’m extending or why I’m not extending or what’s going on moving forward.
“I felt like it was best for me to move on and this was the appropriate time to take care of all this through the summer so that I can have a fresh start during the season and move on and the team can move on as well.”
Senators general manager Bryan Murray acknowledged this was a very difficult deal to be made.
“As I said all along you don’t get equal value for a skilled point getter, but with the request being three or four times made to us, and in spite of what everybody else says we didn’t encourage any movement, we were asked if it would happen,” said Murray. “I didn’t want to go through another summer of issues … Dallas was the one option that I had. Jim Nill was very straightforward in what he could offer me.”
Murray told reporters that a contract extension had been offered and refused by Spezza. He said three trade offers had been in play at the NHL draft last weekend, but disappeared as the days went by leaving the Dallas offer as the lone deal on the table.
The Senators would like to add another centre to their lineup and Murray said he’s working on a deal that he hopes to finalize soon.
With Spezza’s departure Murray sees the Senators forging a new identity and believes Chiasson will fit right in.
“We’ve always wanted to shift to a hard working, competitive team that we had two years ago and then last year for some reason we got off the track,” said Murray. “We’re going to try and get that back on track.”
Chiasson, who had 13 goals and 35 points with the Stars last season, is the centrepiece of the trade, but in no way will the 23-year-old replace Spezza.
Love him or hate him, Spezza was a point-per-game player over his 11 seasons with the Senators. In 686 games Spezza scored 251 goals and had 687 points.
Spezza is in the final year of his contract with a $7 million cap hit and $4 million in actual salary.
Over the course of his career Spezza has often been a lightning rod for criticism, and things seemed to come to a head this season for the veteran centre.
When asked whether or not he felt the criticism was fair, Spezza said it came with the responsibility of being a star player.
“I was the highest paid guy on the team and the guy who had been there for a long time so fingers were pointed at me at times, but I also got credit at times,” Spezza said. “When you play in a Canadian market and you play in a city like that and you’re in the same spot for a long time if you expect not to have the finger pointing you have unrealistic expectations. So at times the finger was pointing at me, but it was the reality of the situation that I was in.”
Spezza said his decision didn’t come lightly and that he will miss many things about Ottawa, but in the end he was looking for a team that would give him the best chance at winning a Stanley Cup.
Fans will remember that Alfredsson uttered nearly the exact same words last year after signing with Detroit. With two of its top players bolting from the organization one has to wonder what effect this will have on the Senators’ reputation.
Murray is clearly frustrated by the perception that Ottawa is being viewed as a frugal team that’s not willing to spend.
“I’ve never had one player I’ve called and asked if they would be interested in coming to Ottawa say ‘No I’m worried about the money on your team and I wouldn’t come,'” said Murray. “Perception is what you make it to be and what you really believe to be true. I think players know they come here and are treated well.”
Despite losing Spezza and Alfredsson in the span of two years, Murray said the team won’t be forced to go into a rebuild.
“No, we’re past that,” said Murray. “We’re going to have a good hockey team. We’re going to compete. We lose a little bit at centre ice, we gain a little bit on the wing, we’ve got a couple of young guys coming that are going to be a different brand of player…I think our team is going to be really competitive, hard working group of people.
I think we’re going to be well off going forward.”
Joining Spezza in Dallas is Ales Hemsky, who turned down an offer from the Senators for a contract extension. Hemsky was acquired at the trade deadline and showed chemistry with Spezza, but knowing the captain wanted out left Hemsky with little reason to remain in Ottawa. Both players said they were looking forward to being reunited in Dallas.
The Senators did re-sign left-wing Milan Michalek to a three-year, $12-million contract Tuesday. Murray said Michalek had been offered a five-year offer elsewhere, but chose to remain in Ottawa.