Monday, October 03, 2005

Another veteran calls it quits

A real pro called it a career today.

Curtis Leschyshyn, who played 15 years in the NHL including three-and-a-half in Ottawa, announced his retirement from pro hockey this afternoon. He had signed with the Colorado Avalanche, the same franchise he broke in with (back when they were Quebec, of course), in the offseason in hopes of finishing he career where he started.

Leschyshyn came to Ottawa at the 2001 trade deadline in a deal with the Minnesota Wild, with the team was gearing up for a big playoff run, having had their best regular season ever with 109 points, winning the Northeast Division in the process. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out that way, as instead, for the second straight season, the team was eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in what most Sens fans consider to be the most embarrassing period in the short history of the franchise. The hated rivals from down the 401 swept the Senators.

It was thought when Leschyshyn was acquired that it was a rent-a-player situation, due to the veteran’s contract was expiring. However, despite being a part of the sweep, Leschyshyn surprised a lot of people by taking less money and signing a deal to stay in the nation’s capital because he felt like they were a team on the verge of winning a Cup.

Fro the next three seasons, Leschyshyn’s veteran presence in the line-up was a big part for the team’s success. Even though they didn’t achieve the desired goal of a Stanley Cup, Ottawa continued to evolve into one of the NHL’s best teams and Leschyshyn’s contributions cannot be understated.

On a defence that was mostly young and raw, Leschyshyn’s experience provided a steady, reliable force on the back end. After all, he was the only Senator who had a Cup ring. In a room with youngsters, that held a lot of weight, and he became a mentor of sorts to a lot of the young blueliners that came through the organization, from Wade Redden to Chris Phillips to Karel Rachunek to Zdeno Chara. He immediately became an assistant captain with the team, reflecting just how much of a leader he was from the start.

Statistically, he didn’t provide a lot of offense to the Senators, collecting only 26 points in 200 games with Ottawa, however he was someone who would often be on the ice in key moments of play, again, an indication of how important a piece of the puzzle he became.

As with Shaun Van Allen, who I talked about last week when hearing that he had landed a job with the Team 1200 as a member of their post-game show, Leschyshyn’s last season in Ottawa in 2003-04 did not go as well as he likely would’ve wanted. With the team’s young defence core maturing and growing into the players the franchise had hoped, Leschyshyn was often the odd man out and ended up being a healthy scratch more than a couple times. He only suited up for two games in the seven game playoff series against Toronto, yet like Van Allen, did not bitch and whine in the media about how he should be playing, instead being a leader in a new way, serving as a sort of motivator for the guys who were suiting up. In a way, the fact that he was leap frogged by the younger blueliners should've made Leschyshyn proud because he was a major part of them getting to that point, whether directly working with them as they improved or simply serving as an example to follow.

And also like Van Allen, it didn’t come as a surprise to me to see that he was not re-signed by the team when his deal expired. Leschyshyn expressed a desire to come back to Ottawa, but the team informed him they were moving in a different direction. Even then, Leschyshyn was a a class act about it.

"I'm not upset, but it would be fair to say I'm a little disappointed," said Leschyshyn, one of the club's assistant captains. "I really wanted to come back and be part of that because that's a pretty exciting place to be.

He won’t go down as one of the greatest Ottawa Senators, but anyone who’s followed this team’s development knows just what a vital role Curtis Leschyshyn played. Fans of this team will always be grateful.


At 8:59 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I wasn't happy to see Curtis go, although I knew it was coming - he was always a solid and dependable blueliner, willing to give it everything he had every night.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

The writing was sort of on the wall when he was a healthy scratch for so long and especially for five games in the playoffs.

When you factor in that he's 36 and didn't play at all last year, it didn't make much sense to bring him back.


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