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Friday, February 1, 2013
Sens will fill Spezza vacancy by committee

By Pierre LeBrun


Simply put, you don’t replace the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer from last season.

It just doesn’t happen.

Sure, the Ottawa Senators will work the phones and keep an eye on what’s out there in terms of possibilities, but star center Jason Spezza will never be replaced while he’s out six to eight weeks, if not longer, recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc.

"He looked great early on for us," veteran Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com Friday. "I thought for sure he’d have another year like he had for us last year."

Spezza, frankly, warranted more Hart Trophy talk than he got last season. That’s how good he was while putting up 84 points on a young and surprising team.

Now the Senators, 5-1-1 entering the weekend, have to find a way to get by without him. Sheesh.

"How do you ever overcome a top player getting hurt? You can’t replace his impact, but you hope that the rest of the players play well enough every night that you stay at a competitive level," said Murray. "I think we have a strong group. We have to survive it, but we don’t pretend it’s going to be easy."

No. 2 center Kyle Turris will step up to be the No. 1 man. Turris, 23, is off to a solid start with seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in his first seven games this season, so he seems up to the task. It also opens the door over the next few weeks for the likes of Peter Regin, Zack Smith and rookie center Mika Zibanejad to play bigger roles, depending on what coach Paul MacLean ends up doing. Zibanejad scored his first NHL goal against Montreal on Wednesday and looked good.

And, yes, in the meantime Murray will work the phones.

"I don’t think any other general manager is going to call and offer me a replacement that’s going to take Jason’s spot, by any means," Murray said with a chuckle. "But we’ll investigate what’s out there and see what we can do."

But he’s not giving up the farm to get a top-line center. After all, Spezza will be back one day.

"In all likelihood, I’m not going to want to give up 2-3 young kids," said Murray.

So you’re looking more likely at a rental player or a depth center.

"You probably have to look at an expiring deal, a veteran guy," said Murray. "But we also have some kids that we’ll give a chance to first."

That starts with Zibanejad, and Murray also pointed to current AHL players Stephane Da Costa and Derek Grant, promising prospects who should also get a look at some point.

"All those guys can fill in and play games, and that’s what we may have to do for the time being," said Murray.

Thing is, Spezza isn’t the first significant injury the Senators have had to deal with.

Top-four blueliner Jared Cowen is out for the season after undergoing season-ending hip surgery.

"So that’s two big studs for us that are out," said Murray.

Cowen was hurt while playing in the AHL during the lockout, which makes you think about Spezza, who played in Switzerland during the lockout. But that wasn’t the case. Spezza’s back injury didn’t occur until the NHL season was under way.

"He told me he felt great playing in Switzerland, he felt great coming into camp, then he felt something in one of our early games," Murray said. "Then we played Pittsburgh [on Sunday]. Didn’t seem to be much, but [he] woke up the next day with pain down his leg and all that type of thing."

As I wrote about last week, the compacted schedule this season plus the fact there was a short camp and no preseason is having its effect on the injury front. It’s about surviving this season, and the Senators are trying to do just that.