Spezza and Alfredsson: Contrasting Departures
Two captains have left two years in a row from the Senators. That train of thought can be misleading, though, as the circumstances surrounding their departures are very different.
This summer, Jason Spezza requested a trade, and the hockey world said, "Not again!" After all, everyone remembered the moment that shocked the Ottawa Senators only a year earlier: Daniel Alfredsson, leaving the only team he'd ever known to play for the Red Wings. People started painting Spezza with that brush, or even the brush of Dany Heatley, the biggest Sens villain since Yashin. The thing is that as a Senators fan, I know this isn't fair. Alfie's departure was sudden, disappointing, and harmful to the team. Spezza's was less rash, more calculated, and will hopefully prove beneficial to both the Sens and Spezza in the future.
Alfie's decision was painful to all Sens fans. The fanbase rejoiced when he announced his intentions of returning for one more year of professional hockey. No one even considered the possibility of the beloved captain going anywhere else. NHL insiders reported that the Bruins and the Red Wings had been in contact with Alfie, but Sens fans knew he wouldn't go anywhere. He couldn't. He had stated over and over his intentions to play in Ottawa until he retired, and then live in Ottawa for the rest of his life.
Then, free agency opened, and Alfie signed with the Wings. The end of his captainship in Ottawa. Alfredsson said he made a selfish decision to chase a Stanley Cup, but everyone knew there had to be more. If he had an offer from the Cup finalist Boston Bruins, why would he choose Detroit? Later press conferences revealed tales of broken trust, failed promises, money disagreements, and wounded pride. Many speculated that Alfredsson was ready to play hockey for fun, not as a mentor. Others said he wanted to play with his Swedish friends in Detroit. Whatever happened, Sens fans felt that they had not been given an adequate explanation, and had even likely been told lies throughout the process. The captain and heart of the team had left abruptly. The Legend of Daniel Alfredsson ended with a bitter twist.
Over the few seasons before, GM Murray had approached Alfredsson about a trade. He was getting older, and was running out of time to win a Cup. Ottawa was not the contender it had once been. But the captain decided to stay, preferring to have a small chance with his team than a bigger chance on a strange team. When he did leave, it was as a UFA. The Sens got nothing in return. His days of contribution were over.
He owed nothing to the team after all he had given. He had every right to make his own decision. It's just worth noting that he had many opportunities to leave, and chose the one that was least helpful to the Sens. Looking at the way the team handled itself early in 2013-14, it looks like his departure may have actually harmed the team.
When Murray announced that Spezza had requested a trade, everyone caught their breath. It looked to be a repeat of the summer before. But as details were revealed, it came out that this was completely incorrect.
Spezza knew he was getting older, and his time to be a champion was shortening. He'd been dying to become the captain of the Sens the year before, as this upstart team had just won a round of the playoffs, and had just added Bobby Ryan. The team was ready to compete, and he wanted to lead them to glory. However, as the season unfolded, it became clear that the Sens were still years away from competing. Some reports say that he asked Murray for a trade unless a commitment could be made to spending enough to build a championship team. Spezza wanted to help his team, but he also wanted to win. He knew the best course of action would be for the Sens to trade him while he still had value.
I firmly believe that if the Sens had made the playoffs and won a round again in 2014, Spezza would've signed a long-term extension. But he knew he couldn't commit long-term to a team whose rise to success would coincide almost exactly with his own decline. Murray recently confirmed that Spezza had turned down an extension with the Senators. He had every intention of exploring the UFA market in the coming summer. However, he also knew what a sudden departure could do to the team. After all, he'd become the captain the last time it happened. He wanted the Sens to get value out of his departure. He didn't want an unexpected leadership void. Throughout the process, Spezza appeared to be a guy who genuinely cared about Ottawa's future as well as his own.
A lot got made of Spezza turning down a trade to the Predators. However, he did have the right to create a ten-team no-trade list, and Nasvhille had always been on that list. He wanted to head to a team he could win a championship with, and didn't see Nashville as a fit with his timeline. And by having given the Sens lots of notice about his intentions, they could still negotiate a different deal with a team that fit for him.
The difference between Spezza and Alfie leaving is reflected in the reactions of Sens fans. Many fans were hoping Detroit would fail miserably, or would squeak into the playoffs so Ottawa could sweep them in the first round, as a way of proving to Alfie that he made the wrong choice. Most people are wishing Spezza the best in his future, and may even become secondary fans of the Dallas Stars. Obviously, some of this is due to Detroit being a division rival while Dallas is in the Western Conference. But I believe some of this is due to the fact that Spezza went out of his way to try to make his departure as beneficial to the Sens as possible. As captain, he recognized when the best thing he could do was leave.
Spezza's tenure as captain will likely fade into memory because it came after the longest-tenured captain in franchise history. However, if Spezza is remembered for one thing as captain, it will likely be his trade. The circumstances say to me that he took his role seriously, even when he knew it was time to leave. He showed his loyalty to the organization in a way that will have me and I'm sure many others cheering him on next season.