Jason Spezza is the elder statesman of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, not one of his current teammates had debuted in the NHL at the time he and the Ottawa Senators advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in his fourth season in the league.
The veteran centre reflected back on that memorable 2006-07 season Wednesday during an appearance on Hockey Central.
“I thought I was playing with a lot of poise at that time in my career,” Spezza said. “A lot of confidence. My game had rounded out where I was getting a lot of important minutes.”
Spezza finished 2006-07 with 34 goals and 87 points in just 67 regular-season games before the Senators made quick work of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils to advance to the Eastern Conference Final against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres.
“It was a big challenge to play against the Danny Brieres and the Chris Drurys,” Spezza explained. “It was something that, you know, I was trying to be one of the best players in the league and it was really motivating. To have a team where you know you have a chance to win, it just makes you that much more focused as a player and it’s unfortunate we lost to [the Anaheim Ducks] in the finals. It still kind of haunts me to this day but as a player when you get that confidence you definitely can ride it through the wave of a playoff.”
Brian Burke, who was general manager of the Ducks at the time, said his team was confident they could beat any team in the East with little issue until they watched Spezza lead the Sens past the Sabres in five games. Spezza was a force in that series, registering a team-high eight points.
Spezza and the Sens were ultimately outmatched by the Ducks and lost the Cup in five games.
“It was an interesting series,” Spezza said. “It was a five-game series but the games were a lot closer. We had two five-on-threes in Games 1 and 2 and didn’t capitalize and it ended up haunting us to lose both games (by scores of 3-2 and 1-0, respectively) in Anaheim to start. Still to this day I think about how we could’ve approached things maybe a little differently. Those are the things as a player that you never forget.”
Spezza led the post-season in scoring alongside teammates Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley with all three finishing with 22 points in 20 playoff games. Since then, Spezza’s teams haven’t been able to make it beyond the second round of the playoffs.
The 36-year-old, who signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs this past off-season, had recorded 25 points while winning 54 per cent of his faceoffs in 58 games played before NHL action was suspended indefinitely in March.