There is some irony in the fact that Jason Spezza was finally traded on Canada Day.
After all, there had been weeks of speculation that the star centre wasn't enamoured with the idea of playing in a Canadian market. But a few hours after the trade, Spezza wanted to make it clear that he wasn't leaving Ottawa because he couldn't stand the pressure and scrutiny that came with playing in the nation's capital.
“I don't think that's accurate," Spezza told TSN.ca. "My biggest motivator for a trade was to win. It will be portrayed however they want it to be portrayed, but the last thing I was worried about was coming out and doing interviews in front of my stall.”
During the past month, it was widely reported that Spezza put the other Canadian teams on his no-trade list and that his desire was to go south of the border, where he would face less scrutiny. However, Spezza said the fact that most Canadian teams are struggling right now was the biggest reason why he put them on his no-trade list. He is never one to shy away from microphones and says he would welcome playing in a Canadian market again down the road if the opportunity arose.
“It was more circumstance than anything of why those (Canadian) teams were on my list. I have one year left on my deal and I wanted to go someplace where I could win a Cup,” Spezza said.
The troubling trend for Senators fans, however, is that Spezza is the latest superstar to have a somewhat messy departure from their city.
In the summer of 2009, Dany Heatley demanded a trade and ultimately forced the club's hand into trading him to San Jose. Last summer, Daniel Alfredsson and the organization had a sudden and bitter divorce, prompting the long-time captain to sign with Detroit as a free agent. Now that Spezza has been shipped to Dallas, it only adds to the growing perception that superstars have a short shelf life in Ottawa. But Spezza says the fans in Ottawa aren't to blame for a number of players wanting to leave in a short window of time.
“It's a fine market for stars, but just like any hockey market, it's tough when you're not winning. All three situations are unique. I didn't make my decision because of Alfie and Alfie didn't make his decision because of Heater,” Spezza explained. “We all had our own reasons. There were some similarities, but in the end, each was a unique case.”
In some ways, this does appear to be different than the Alfredsson saga from last summer, when the captain abruptly ended his tenure with the club. Spezza appeared to have a more calculated, long-term approach – far less emotional than the course Alfredsson seemed to take.
But there is a striking similarity between Alfredsson's comments last summer and the ones made by Spezza today. In each case, the captain felt like he had a better chance to win a Stanley Cup with a different organization.
“All I can say is my goal is to win a Cup. I think Ottawa has a good chance. They have a good core of young players and a good nucleus. But for me right now, I just felt like Dallas was a great fit,” Spezza added.
Spezza said he had discussions with Bryan Murray towards the end of the season and alerted the front office that he likely wasn't going to re-sign a contract extension beyond 2015. And rather than make it awkward for everyone during the 2014-15 season – constantly answering questions about his future – he felt it was best for all parties involved to make a preemptive move this summer.
“I didn't have any interest in signing an extension and that kind of hinted to them that maybe it was time to move on. I met with Bryan and had some really good and frank discussions. And I was being honest with them when I said it was best for me and best for them if I moved on,” Spezza explained.
Spezza was asked if he knew the regular season finale in Pittsburgh on April 13 would be his last game in a Senators jersey. He scored a brilliant goal in the shootout to secure a Senators 3-2 victory and he admitted, “It wasn't lost on me that it could have been my last goal with Ottawa.”
Spezza said he stayed quiet for the past few weeks out of respect for the process, but once Murray told reporters at the NHL GM meetings last month that Spezza had indeed requested a trade, he knew the writing was on the wall.
“Once Bryan went public, I knew it was probably done for me there,” he said. (Spezza also went out of his way to point out that he still has a terrific relationship with Murray and holds the Senators general manager in the highest regard).
Spezza isn't sure how the crowd at Canadian Tire Centre would react to his appearance when he makes his return to Ottawa on January 29, 2015 in a Dallas Stars jersey, but he does want Senators fans to know that he does not hold a grudge against them – even though he was often seen as a lightning rod for criticism by the fan base.
“My time in Ottawa was fond and I know a lot of people are upset," Spezza said. "I would have loved to have the storybook career, where you spend your whole life in one city and play for one team, but that's part of the hard decision we had to make. This didn't just happen overnight and I woke up one morning and said ‘I want to leave'. There was a lot of thought put into this.”