OTTAWA - Jason Spezza is headed for the Alps.
The Senators centre decided he wasn’t going to waste any time waiting to play with the NHL lockout shifting into high gear and agreed to a deal with the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers in the Swiss Elite League Wednesday morning.
“I’ve thought long and hard. I’ve talked to the team for awhile,” Spezza, 29, told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “I want to keep playing.”
Spezza, who added he has an out in his contract that allows him to return to Ottawa as soon as the lockout ends, said this doesn’t mean he has given up hope on the season.
“I still hold out hope that maybe something can get done,” said Spezza. “I don’t know, maybe I’m just an optimist.”
Spezza, who told the Sun recently he wasn’t going to “sit around all year”, will head to Raperswil next Wednesday with his family. Judging by club management’s reaction, he’ll be welcomed with open arms.
The press release called Spezza “a living legend” of hockey.
“This is fantastic news,” Lakers GM Roger Sigg told the Sun from his Rapperswil office. “We’ve got one of the top five players in the world. It is great for our team, great for our city and great for fans. We’re very excited.”
Spezza, who, will wear his familiar No. 19, will be a teammate of former Colorado Avalanche goalie David Aebischer.
The Lakers didn’t get contacted by Spezza’s agent until Monday night. The deal came together quickly after they had former Toronto Maple Leafs great Doug Gilmour give Ottawa’s top centre a call on Rapperswil’s behalf.
Gilmour, currently GM of the Kingston Frontenacs, suited up for nine games with Rapperswil-Jona during the 1994 NHL lockout. He finished with two goals and 13 assists in nine games before deciding to join Wayne Gretzky’s tour of Europe.
Gilmour gave a strong enough recommendation during a phone conversation that Spezza decided to take the leap. In the last lockout, Spezza was on his entry-level contract and spent the year with the club’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
“We talked to Doug on Monday night and then he spoke with (Spezza). (Gilmour) told (Spezza) that he had a good time here, it’s a good team and it’s a good league,” said Sigg.
“This is a good place for (Spezza) to play. This is a small town, it’s on Lake Zurich and it’s a very comfortable place. These are all things that are very important to (Spezza).”
According to Sigg, Spezza is being paid enough to “cover his insurance costs,” which means he isn’t doing it for the money or to get richer. The Swiss league is attractive because most of the travel is by bus and there are few hotel nights.
Scheduled to make $8 million this year, an agent estimated Spezza’s costs will be $24,000 per month and that’s only if he insures one of the three years left on his contract. Spezza had to jump at the chance to get a job because few are available.
“It comes down to just wanting to continue to play hockey,” said Spezza last Thursday following NHLPA meetings in New York. “You just want to stay sharp and everybody is going to approach it differently.”
Sigg said it is important to get a player who is committed to having success. Spezza was the fourth-leading scorer in the NHL last season with 84 points in 80 games.
“He wants to play and for such a big star, it’s important that he wants to play,” said Sigg. “For our players, they can learn things from him and for our marketing and fans it’s perfect.
“It’s absolutely fantastic for us. We’re very, very happy that he is coming to our team.”