Mar 24, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza (19) reacts after he scores the game winning shootout goal during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Ottawa Senators defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What Spezza's Pending Departure Means for the Senators

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By now, every hockey fan has heard the news that longtime Sens centre, and new captain Jason Spezza, has asked to be traded. The reaction to Spezza’s trade request has been diverse, but didn’t catch anyone by surprise.

Spezza, a second overall draft pick by the Sens in 2001, has played in parts of 11 seasons with the Senators. Spezza was given the captaincy role last season after Daniel Alfredsson left the team after 17 seasons in search of a Stanley Cup ring.

Here are four things Spezza’s expected trade means for the Sens and their fan base.

1. The Sens need to start winning more meaningful games if they intend to keep their great players

The Sens have made the playoffs consistently in Spezza’s tenure in Ottawa – eight playoff appearances in eleven seasons proves that, but look closer. The team has only advanced past the second round twice in their history. They have cycled through six different head coaches in the past eleven years and only Bryan Murray – now general manager – could lead them to the Stanley Cup final, although they lost to the Anaheim Ducks in five games.

Spezza may not be leaving Canada’s capital just because he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup here, but that’s apparently why Alfredsson left. Seventeen years is a long time to play for one team without winning a championship.

Erik Karlsson is another great player the Sens drafted and developed. But guys like Karlsson don’t hang around forever, waiting until the team gets good. Sometimes, that time never comes. Think of Mats Sundin in Toronto. Sundin spent 13 seasons as a Maple Leaf before leaving for Vancouver his last season in hopes he would finally win a Cup. Most players aren’t that loyal to a team for that long. Alfredsson and Sundin are exceptions.

Apr 10, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) during a break in action in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Sens can draft all the great players they want, but they have to invest in the whole team if these players are going to stick around.

Management has to be willing to spend more to be able to showcase a team that can go to the next level. They need a consistently good goaltender, which they have never had. And they need consistent scorers. This year was better, in that they had five different players with 20 or more goals, which is the most since the 2007-2008 season, when they had two 40-goal scorers.

Spezza accounted for 10.2 per cent of the Sens’ goals this year and 7.4 per cent of their game-winning goals. Those numbers are replaceable, but I can’t foresee the Sens acquiring a player in the Spezza deal that puts up his kind of numbers.

This leads nicely into my second point.

2. Management should feel pressure to have a big offseason to make the Sens competitive next season

The team has a history of acquiring just enough to make up for what is lost, but not more. Last offseason is an example. Alfredsson left town, so they traded for Bobby Ryan.

After missing the playoffs this season and planning to trade away one of their top scorers over the past decade, it’s already going to be a challenge to make the team at least as good statistically as they were on paper last year. So the Sens brass need to do more than they have in years past. They need to get as good a player as possible in the Spezza deal AND sign another player or make another trade.

Make no mistake – losing Spezza will make the Sens worse and not just statistically. Spezza is a very talented player and brings a lot to the team.

Another reason there is pressure on management to make some moves is because the Sens missed the playoffs. Ottawa hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since they missed four years in a row when they first came back to the NHL.

Murray has been the general manager for seven seasons now without any improvements, so his job could be in jeopardy if the team isn’t improved next year. This will also be coach Paul MacLean‘s fourth season behind the bench, so you’d have to think if the team gets off to a slow start, he might be the first to go. It would seem management has a lot to gain from having a profitable offseason.

3. Other players will be forced to step up

The Sens did a good job of spreading the goals around last season, but some players are going to be forced to step up even more next year.

I’m thinking of Ryan in particular. Ryan was a good pickup for the Sens, but he has to be better. He had a great start to his Ottawa career, but his production dropped way off as the year went on. Ryan had 18 goals in his first 41 games, but only scored 5 times in his next 29 games. He also missed the last 12 games of the year due to sports hernia surgery.

Mar 5, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (6) during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan’s numbers were the worst of his career for a full season with 23 goals and 48 points. Even if he played the last 12 games of the season, he wouldn’t have been able to match his career norms. If Ryan can get back to his regular production, that could go a long way to help replace Spezza’s contributions.

Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur both had better seasons and they need to show it wasn’t a fluke. One thing this team lacked last season was consistency. They had very few players who were consistently producing and helping the team win.

4. Spezza will never reach his full potential with the Sens

There has always been a feeling among Sens fans that Spezza never became what the team envisioned of him. As I said before, he is a very, very talented player. Spezza has magic hands and regularly made the highlight reels.

But for a guy that was averaging more than two points-per-game with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls the year before his first call-up, that kind of production never translated to the NHL. Spezza is just barely a point-per-game player – 687 points in 686 games. Those are good numbers, but they aren’t the numbers scouts believed he could have back in 2001.

Perhaps it is due to his proneness to injury. Spezza has missed 126 games over the past 10 seasons due to injury. He’s only played all 82 games in a season once.

Maybe it was the style of hockey the Sens play or a coach or his linemates or any other reason. Whatever the case was, it didn’t happen and Sens fans can stop wondering if this will finally be the year Spezza proves he is the Jaromir Jagr they thought he’d be.

At age 31, I doubt Spezza will have better seasons than he’s had in Ottawa, but you never know. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

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Tags: Bobby Ryan Erik Karlsson Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators

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