OTTAWA - If all had gone as planned, Jason Spezza would be lining up across from the likes of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place.
Yep, the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry would be ratcheted up a notch with the Maple Leafs in town for a pre-season game against the Senators.
Instead, Spezza, with his wife Jennifer and daughters Sophia and Nicola, will be on a flight to Switzerland after the Senators star centre agreed to join the Swiss Elite League’s Rapperswil-Jona Lakers last Wednesday.
“We have a long day ahead of us, but it’s going to be an adventure for the family,” said Spezza. “(Jennifer’s) excited. It’s a challenge for her. It’s taking us out of our comfort zone. When you’re a hockey wife, with the kinds of things that you live with –- there are obstacles that come along.
“I’m fortunate to get a chance to keep playing hockey.”
He said even though more and more players are committing to teams overseas, they’re still together in their battle to secure a deal with the NHL, which locked out its players nine days ago.
“If anything, it makes us stronger. We can be patient,” said Spezza. “(NHLPA executive director) Don (Fehr) has done such a good job of just keeping us together. I’ll be on the phone calls still. My plan is still to have a voice.”
In a press release announcing the signing, the Swiss team called the 29-year-old Spezza a “living legend of hockey.”
It’s certainly not for the money. While the team will cover Spezza’s expenses, a reported $50,000 per month in insurance fees will wipe out pretty well all of the salary he’ll earn.
While exhibition games have already been wiped out, Spezza hopes to return to Ottawa soon if the warring sides can strike a deal.
“I still hold out hope,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where we have to cancel regular-season games and hopefully that’s a pressure point (to put together the framework of a deal between the NHL and NHLPA).”
Spezza said while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has a muzzle on the owners, hitting Jimmy Devellano with a fine after the Detroit Red Wings senior VP referred to players as “cattle,” the players plan to keep the lines of communication open.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Spezza. “The ‘PA is not scared that we’re going to slip up and say something we shouldn’t say.
“It would be nice to hear from a few owners. I’m sure they have an opinion on what’s going on.”