Jason Spezza has heard the whispers that maybe being the captain of the Ottawa Senators wasn't the best thing for his career.
That perhaps the added pressure of wearing the "C" made him a bigger target for criticism with the fans and media in this city and ultimately served as the catalyst for his departure from town. But on Friday afternoon – doing his first extensive interview since the trade to Dallas in July – the star centre said the captaincy did not play a role in his decision to ask for a trade.
"I think it's bogus. To me, I think if anything, having the 'C' made me think even harder about wanting to stay, because I didn't want to seem like I was running away from being a captain," Spezza told TSN 1200 on Friday. "I think anybody that's been around the rink, anybody that knows me, anybody that's been on the team, knows that... I think I come by leadership honestly. I think I'm a guy that I've always taken things pretty hard when the team struggles."
"I've looked at myself as being one of and a leader on that team for a long time. So, the 'C', obviously with Alfie leaving and me taking over the 'C' and now me moving on, it's not something that can be ignored. But, the reason for me wanting out isn't because I got named captain and we had a bad season. It's just because I felt like it was time."
Spezza won't be back in Ottawa again until the Dallas Stars pay a visit to Canadian Tire Centre on January 29th. His Ottawa house is up for sale and the family packed up their belongings a few weeks ago – ready for a fresh start in Dallas.
He was only in Ottawa for a few days after the trade was engineered on July 1st and says that it was strange for him to be in the nation's capital and not be a member of the Senators.
"It was eerie going back there a little bit this summer, but I knew what I was getting into," Spezza explained. "I knew that I had asked to be moved, and it's not something that I woke up one day and thought that I needed a change of scenery. It's something that I thought out, and I feel like as tough as it is to move on - it probably would've been the easier thing, just to re-sign and stay there, but I'm ready for a challenge, and I expect a lot from myself and I think I've got a lot of great years left."
After the Senators missed the playoffs in the 2013-14 season, there were rumblings that Spezza was on the trade market.
General manager Bryan Murray confirmed that Spezza and his agent Rick Curran had requested a trade in May, which created a ton of media interest leading up to the NHL Draft weekend at the end up of June.
Spezza declined an opportunity to head to Nashville in a trade and says he wanted to end up in Dallas. He wishes the entire episode was kept quiet, but he harbors no ill feelings towards Murray or the Senators organization for the fact the trade request became public.
"I think obviously the goal of mine was to kind of get traded without the hoopla around it and all the conversation that went around it. The reality of it is, that was never going to happen," Spezza said. "So I just tried to stay quiet, and I talked to Bryan a few times throughout the process. I have a lot of respect for Bryan, I think he has a lot of respect for me, and unfortunately, things get kind of dragged out through the papers and the media and sometimes things get skewed, but that's the nature of the game and it was my decision to ask him to move me and I had to live with the consequences. But, I'm happy with the end result."
Spezza had an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign, recovering from major back surgery in February of 2013 and then dealing with hip and groin issues in the fall. He ended up leading all forwards on the team with 66 points in 75 games – but the writing appeared to be on the wall that Spezza's time in Ottawa was done as the regular season came to a close. The 31-year-old says he wasn't counting down the final games of the regular season as the end of his tenure in Ottawa.
"I don't think I ever looked at those last games as my last game as a Senator. I did have a year left on my contract and I would've been able to play that year out and go from there, but I think that the move was beneficial to both sides," Spezza added. "I just felt that I think it was time for me to move on. I think that the organization was going through a different period, probably a little bit more of a rebuild, and going with a different approach."
"So for me, I felt that at the place of my career where I'm at, that I wanted to move on somewhere else and get a fresh start for myself, and also it allowed the team to grow and be a younger team. So, but I think that I knew it was time to move on, and I think they knew the same thing."
Spezza ended up serving as team captain for only one season, replacing longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson who served in that role for 13 seasons. When asked who would be a logical candidate to assume the captaincy with the Senators next season, Spezza was hesitant to pick a new leader.
"I have to think, I have to be careful how much I weigh into the captaincy of my former team. I have a lot of good friends there. Chris Phillips is definitely the most mature guy - one of the most mature people I've been around I think in my career, and just somebody you can always lean on," Spezza explained. "So, if Erik becomes captain, if Philly becomes captain, if someone else becomes captain, they'll have each other to lean on. And I think that a guy like Erik Karlsson - the confidence he gives and the confidence he portrays is obviously something that shows on the ice and can be a positive for the team."
"But, I don't think it's my position to weigh in on who's going to be captain. But there's a solid group of guys there. They get along well, and they should be able to help each other out."