Spezza's hopes take a Turin

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:42 PM ET

Steve Yzerman has closed the door on playing for Team Canada at the Olympics.

Does that put Senators centre Jason Spezza on Team Canada's front step?

Well, if leading the NHL in scoring doesn't warrant a guy getting a serious look, then you have to wonder what does.

"Any news like that is good news for me. I think what I've done so far shows I can play there," the 22-year-old Spezza said yesterday.

Spezza's tied with the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr for the NHL scoring lead with 43 points, though the Senator has four games in hand.

Spezza found out Yzerman had withdrawn his name from Olympic consideration from linemate Dany Heatley as the two were heading to the Senators' gym for an off-ice workout after practice yesterday.

Heatley is almost a sure bet to be in Turin, and the chemistry he's had with Spezza this season -- Heatley is tied for third in league scoring -- is another reason Spezza should get serious consideration to replace Yzerman (at this point, Heatley is penciled in with Joe Thornton and Shane Doan).

''It's a short-term tournament and there's not a lot of time for players to jell," said Spezza. "I think the chemistry we have helps my chances. All you can do is play your best and see what they say when they pick the team."

Realistically, there could be three openings up front if Mario Lemieux is a no-go and Rick Nash's ankle injury rules him out.

One spot will go to a checking centre (Kris Draper or John Madden?) leaving room for two of Spezza, Carolina Hurricanes centre Eric Staal or Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby.

If Senators coach Bryan Murray got a call from Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky asking about Spezza's candidacy, Murray said this is what he would say:

"I don't think right now there is a more skillful, playmaking centre that we have seen in the East, at any rate. Staal is a power centre ice man, individually really takes the puck to the net and scores some great goals.

"I think Jason makes the players around him a lot better,'' Murray added. ''I think he sees the ice and makes plays not many guys in the league right now make. He's getting up and down the ice. I think his skating has improved a fair amount.

"Right now he's tied for the league lead in scoring and that's quite an accomplishment for a young guy and certainly is a basis to talk about him for the team."

Gretzky and the rest of the Team Canada braintrust, including coach Pat Quinn, are going to name the roster two weeks from tomorrow.

Gretzky is going to be in the East scouting for the next few days, starting with last night's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings.

Unfortunately for Spezza, he won't get a chance to personally impress the Great One since the Senators are heading West for three games through Monday.

With Yzerman out of the picture and Lemieux wavering, would Spezza consider, say, offering to pay for a nice cruise for Lemieux in February?

"Sure," laughed Spezza. "Maybe send him a Christmas card? Whatever it takes."

NOTES: Defenceman Wade Redden's knee injury is improving, but he's still not sure he'll be good to go Friday night when the Senators start their three-game Western swing in Vancouver. "It's possible," he said. "There's three days to go and we'll see how it progresses." ... Dominik Hasek will start in net against the Canucks ... In the absence of Redden and the suspended Zdeno Chara in Florida on Monday, the Senators got strong blue-line efforts from Chris Phillips (a team-leading 24:30 of ice time), Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros, who seems to thrive on more work. "I thought Phillips was very good (Monday) night,'' Murray said. ''I think we overlook him at times when he's playing with Chara. You just take for granted that Chara does it all, but Chris was real solid for us." ... Murray on Meszaros: "Why he's so good is obvious -- he's so competitive." ... Sportsnet has picked up the Senators games in Vancouver on Friday and in Colorado on Monday.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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