<
>

Jason Spezza says Stars' offense could be 'headache' for foes

9/30/2014

New team, new city, new country, new school, new house, but luckily for Jason Spezza, at least one same linemate who ended the campaign with him in Ottawa last season.

Don't underestimate the importance of having Ales Hemsky on his right side as Spezza adjusts to playing for an NHL team other than the Ottawa Senators for the first time in his career.

"That's probably been the biggest thing so far," Spezza told ESPN.com on Tuesday from Dallas. "When you make such a big change, everything is new, except for the fact I'm playing with Hemmer still. It's really been a blessing to have a guy that I feel familiar with."

Spezza and Hemsky hit up an instant chemistry late last season after the Senators got the Czech winger in a trade from Edmonton. Ironically, it's because of that chemistry that Sens GM Bryan Murray was hoping to bring Hemsky back to play with Spezza. That was before learning that Spezza wanted out.

Hemsky instead followed Spezza to Dallas, giving the Stars a tantalizing one-two punch on their top two lines with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top unit with sophomore Valeri Nichushkin. Erik Cole will likely begin the season complementing Spezza and Hemsky.

Questions remain as far as how this team will defend. But scoring goals? That should not be a problem.

"I think we can be a dynamic offensive team," Spezza said. "The fit is really good for me that way. [Head coach] Lindy [Ruff] wants us to play up-tempo, pressuring the puck, stuff that I'm comfortable doing. I think we're a team that can give other teams headaches nightly if we can take care of the puck in our end. Once we get on the attack, there aren't many teams that might be better than us that way."

For Spezza, it all lines up beautifully. After years of always drawing the toughest matchup from the other team as far as the top defense pair or the top checking line, he'll at least share that chore with Benn-Seguin, if not benefit most nights as other teams pick their poison and likely match up their best with Benn-Seguin.

Plus, the style of play Ruff wants to use suits Spezza just nicely.

"I really like the way Lindy wants us to play," Spezza said. "I think it really suits my game. The way he coaches is something that fits my game naturally. It's a nice starting point for sure."

According to a Western Conference scout, it could turn out to be a good fit, given the strengths of the teams out west.

"He is a big-body center, which helps in the Western Conference against the Getzlafs, Kopitars, Thorntons," the scout wrote in an email to ESPN.com. "He gives them a veteran presence for a young group, allows Ruff the ability to move Seguin's line around, [to] pack more offensive punch, which takes some pressure off Seguin ... . [He] will help balance their lineup and put guys into the right fits [and] is familiar with few players in that lineup, which helps. [He] has been a strong faceoff guy in Ottawa. [The] Stars' power play was just middle of the pack, so he can help that push upward in that category. He might just flourish with less pressure and [on a] non-Canadian team where the focus has been on him since day 1."

All in all, it should mean an increase in offensive productivity from Spezza, who tallied 66 points (23-43) in 75 games last season. Take the over this season on that point total.

And it just so happens he's in a contract year.

He would easily be the headliner next July 1 on what is otherwise a rather thin UFA crop when it comes to high-end talent, but whether or not he actually gets there, well, that remains to be seen.

The Stars intend on having Spezza hang around longer than one season.

"They've expressed that they want to talk [extension]," Spezza said. "And we have all intentions of talking. But it's just I want to get comfortable first, and get started. It's really not a big concern of mine right now. I'm not naive, I know as the season goes on it'll become more of a talking point. But at this point, I'm just worried about playing and getting comfortable. If we start winning games, it's going to be a good fit for both sides. It's just a matter of getting comfortable first. There's no point in rushing into anything."

Getting comfortable means off-ice, too. He's got kids ages 4, 2 and 4 months old. They moved into their house in Dallas in late August to begin their new life away from Canada's capital.

"I say it's been a pretty smooth transition, although it's my wife that's done most of the work," Spezza, 31, said with a chuckle. "We're settled. The kids are in school. Everyone is getting comfortable."

After years in the spotlight in hockey-crazed Ottawa, it's clear that Spezza appreciates the quiet life he's entering.

"It's been nice to come to the rink and work and nobody knows me here," he said. "It's been nice that way. We've enjoyed it."

Don't get him wrong -- he would never take back his years in Ottawa. But the time was right for a move.

"Ottawa is a great place to play, I really enjoyed playing in Canada and the scrutiny that came with it," Spezza said. "But you almost don't realize how much you go through day to day until you get away from it. You realize how much more laid-back it can be in another setting. I wouldn't change it, but I'm welcoming the change right now."

And so are the Stars.