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Stars center Spezza glad to finally return to Ottawa

by Chris Stevenson / NHL.com

OTTAWA -- For the second time in less than two months, the Ottawa Senators will welcome back a former captain Thursday.

Jason Spezza, who asked to be traded last summer after one season as Senators captain, returns to Canadian Tire Centre with the Dallas Stars.

"It's a date that's been circled on my calendar, so it's kind of nice to have it here and get it over with (Thursday)," Spezza said. "This is a little bit of the closing of the book on the move. That's kind of how I'm looking at it."

Spezza will play Thursday after sustaining a broken nose and a cut that required stitches when he was checked into the boards by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin on Tuesday.

Spezza succeeded Daniel Alfredsson as Senators captain for the 2013-14 season. Alfredsson, who left the Senators as a free agent and played one season with the Detroit Red Wings before retiring in December, skated in the warm-up with the Senators and was honored before the game against the New York Islanders on Dec. 4 in an emotional night.

Whereas Alfredsson, who became the face of the Senators during his 17 seasons in Ottawa, was warmly embraced by fans in December, it remains to be seen what kind of reception Spezza will receive.

Spezza, who said the time had come for a change and a new challenge in his career, asked to be traded and was granted his wish. The 31-year-old was traded to the Stars on July 1 along with forward Ludwig Karlsson for forward Alex Chiasson, prospects Nick Paul and Alex Guptill and a second-round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.

It ended Spezza's 11 polarizing seasons with the Senators. A point-a-game player (687 points in 686 games) with Ottawa, he was often criticized by fans for his high-risk play and his effort in the defensive zone.

It's expected the majority of fans will recognize his prominent role on some outstanding Senators teams. With Spezza playing on the top line between Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, the Senators advanced to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

Ottawa had 113 points in the 2005-06 season, but playing without goaltender Dominik Hasek, who was injured at the Olympics, the Senators lost in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Senators had more than 100 points in each of Spezza's first four seasons.

Spezza isn't sure what kind of reception he'll get from the fans.

Jason Spezza
Center - DAL
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 35
SOG: 100 | +/-: -4
"I don't know. Fans are passionate, so I hope I'm remembered as giving my all and having some success here, but I expect them to support the [Senators] too," he said. "They've always supported the club, but hopefully they appreciate I gave everything when I was here and tried to do all I could to help us win."

When asked to reflect on his time with the Senators, Spezza said: "I think it was mostly positive. There's no doubt there were frustrating times. There were times I left this rink, many times when I was shaking my head, wondering why we can't get over the hump or what we were doing wrong.

"Looking back, there's probably a little bit of regret we didn't win. We were so close for probably a three-, four-year period there where we had as good a team as anybody in the League.

"My one regret is not winning. We got close a couple of times, Conference Finals, Final, it's frustrating when you get that close and lose. It's something that will always sting and something you'll always feel as a player."

Spezza said he understood the nature of the criticism that was directed his way when the Senators failed to realize their potential.

"For me, we came close. If we had won, it would have all been rosy, and we didn't. When you don't win, there's criticism. I bore a lot of it, and that's the nature of being a No. 1 center on a good team that didn't win. I'm not the only guy who went through it a little bit. We had our window and we missed it. Now I'm looking to build something here with Dallas."

Spezza hasn't scored at the same rate with Dallas as he did with Ottawa (35 points in 47 games this season). He said adjusting to a new team and modifying his game have contributed to the production decline.

Playing out of the spotlight that shines bright in a Canadian market has allowed Spezza to try and improve defensively without feeling the pressure of having to score while he makes adjustments.

"I'm trying to play a little bit more responsible game," he said. "At times you feel the pressure to score and to put up points and be consistent that way, and maybe by doing that, I didn't make the necessary adjustments at times in my game."

Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Spezza's game has been a work in progress, but he has seen encouraging signs.

"We've worked hard on trying to eliminate some of the plays that we think have been hurting him and getting comfortable inside our system," Ruff said. "Sometimes that's a simpler game, but his game has really been going in the right direction.

"He's been snakebit when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net because he's had some golden A opportunities that haven't gone for him. I think if he keeps doing the right things … he's been a positive influence on almost every offensive situation for us. That has been a big plus the last six or seven weeks for us."

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