By Neil Becker
It's a sure bet that one day, former beloved Ottawa Senators star Jason Spezza's name will be included in the Senators Ring of Honour.
Spezza, who was embraced by Ottawa fans upon being drafted by the Senators 2nd overall in the 2001 draft, lived up to the hype. During his prime, he emerged on the first line as a dangerous offensive threat.
During his 11 years in the Nation's Capital, Spezza made some Senators history as he played in 687 games, ranking second all-time in franchise history, right behind former linemate and captain Daniel Alfredsson. This Mississauga, Ontario native's name is also in the team's record books, ranking again second behind Alfredsson with 687 points.
Eventually, on July 1, 2014, Spezza's tenure with the Senators ended as he was traded to the Dallas Stars, where he played for five years before playing the last three seasons of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This spring, shortly after the Leafs lost in the playoff's opening round to the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning, Spezza made it official that at 39 years old, he was retiring and accepting a job in the Leafs' front office.
"I don't think I can ever put into words how much it means to me to try to win the Stanley Cup," Spezza told NHL.com upon announcing his retirement. "There is definitely a huge void in my heart and career without having been able to win it. To not win as a player, it's very difficult. It's my life's work, hockey, and to not be a champion In it is hard, but I think that will help me drive towards wanting to stay in the game. It will never feel maybe the same as being a player, but I'm going to try to win a Stanley Cup as an executive and as part of the organization now."
The closest Spezza came to capturing the Stanley Cup was back in 2007. During that magical spring, he scored seven goals and, along with linemates Daniel Alfredsson and Danny Heatley, scored a franchise-best 22 points in helping the Senators make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.
Known for his trademark infectious laugh and strong offensive skills, Spezza's accomplishments include playing in 1,248 career games, where he scored 363 goals and 995 points and accumulated 604 penalty minutes. Proving to be clutch, in 97 playoff games, he produced 28 goals, 76 points, and not to mention 76 penalty minutes.
Best known in Ottawa for centring the ever-popular "CASH" line, Spezza's name is also in the Senators' franchise record book for ranking second all-time with 251 goals and second with 436 assists. He also occupies the second spot for even-strength goals at 159.
Early in the 2005-06 season, Ottawa debuted the "CASH" line, which was later called the "Pizza" line.
This line, which simply dominated, consisted of Spezza and linemates Danny Heatley and captain Daniel Alfredsson. The year this line was formed, Spezza went on to produce 19 goals and a career-high 90 points. A couple of years later, in 2007-08, he played in 76 games where he equalled a career-high of 34 goals while setting a career-best of 92 points.
The 'CASH' Line, which stood for Captain Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley was extremely popular with the Senators fans and was considered one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL.
Back in 2013, Spezza received the ultimate honour of being chosen to replace Alfredsson as the Senators' captain. Alfredsson, who had been captain since 1999, signed with the Detroit Red Wings, which of course left the captaincy vacated.
"Jason's leadership skills, both on and off the ice, have continued to grow and develop throughout his tenure in Ottawa," Senators general manager Bryan Murray told NHL.com. "He has developed into more than just a player with tremendous skill, to a player who can provide direction in all facets of the game."
Naturally, Spezza was excited to embrace the challenge and believed he was ready.
"It's definitely nice to get the recognition to become a captain," Spezza according to NHL.com told back in 2013 the team's website. "I've made a conscious effort to become more of a leader. I think I've come by it more naturally over the last few years and I'm excited. Coming full circle would probably be winning a Stanley Cup and hopefully we have a chance to do that."
Away from the ice, Spezza also had a tremendous impact in the community.
Showing to be an extremely giving person, Spezza got involved by contributing to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Another way he had a monumental impact in the community included what was called "Spelling with Spezza," which was targeted toward Ottawa school-aged kids. The emphasis is to improve and get the kids excited about spelling. He even took the time to personally visit and offer encouragement at the Ottawa-Gatineau schools in the program.
Another way Spezza helps the community is through the Jason Spezza Scholarship Fund, which he started in the 2015-16 season when he personally pledged $50,000 through 2015-16 and 2016-17. This was to assist those families with trouble affording ice-time, academic classes, and hockey equipment for children.
In September 2016, while playing for Dallas, Spezza took the time to organize a hockey clinic at Dr. Pepper Town Center in Frisco aimed for kids who received a grant from the Fund.
Though he never won the Stanley Cup, Spezza did have his share of achievements, including helping Team Canada capture gold at the 2015 World Championships and gold at the 2012 Spangler Cup.
Apparently, prior to signing with the Leafs in 2019-20, Spezza was really close to a return with the Senators.
There is no question that the NHL will miss the talented Spezza, who brought so much entertainment throughout the years to fans.
While hockey players are warriors and thrive in competition, the one thing they can't beat is Father Time. Congratulations to Jason Spezza on a solid NHL career. No question, you will excel in the Leafs front office and, hopefully, one year get to lift the Stanley Cup.