Jason Spezza proved could still contribute these playoffs, but it won’t be with the Dallas Stars next season. Both Spezza and the Stars are moving on from one another once his contract expires this summer and it’s a decision that’s for the best on both parts.
For the Stars, once Spezza hits the open market they’ll be freeing up a roster spot for someone younger and faster. For Spezza, he will presumably sign with a team that will give him more ice time, after he gradually dropped from 17:13 per game in his debut season with the Stars in 2014-15 to about 13 minutes in each of the last two. Where to though?
Looking at a variety of factors, like which contending teams have a need for a power-play specialist, here are the top possibilities that could make for a perfect fit for Spezza:
5. Ottawa Senators
Let’s be honest: One of the few reasons people are talking about Spezza coming back to the Senators is because it worked out so great the last time, with him making a hypothetical trade request.
Joking aside, even though he would end up being a leader on a young team and they have cap space, at this stage of his career neither factor should really concern Spezza. He may have said all the polite things in the media when asked whether or not he would return given the chance, but he’s on his last legs and is probably looking for a chance to win a Stanley Cup before he retires. Plus, he wouldn’t necessarily command that big of a salary.
Two consecutive seasons of less than 30 points and you had better hope he doesn’t make more than half his current $7.5 million salary. Anything more and it will likely turn from a happy homecoming to (more of) a fan uprising pretty quick.
Senators fans know it will take more than the final few throwaway seasons of Spezza’s career to turn this franchise around, feel-good story or not. They likely won’t be satisfied with the return of a pretty polarizing player in franchise history, regardless of the success he’s had, especially when it likely won’t result in any success of the future variety. So, consider the Senators a token entry on this list. If the option is there, he may decide to come back, but he probably won’t.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
Kudos to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winning their first-ever playoff series. In the process they delivered a veritable scrapbook of lasting memories this spring, but it likely won’t keep the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky or Artemi Panarin in the fold. So, with specific regard to the latter, reinforcements up front will be required, doubly so with Ryzan Dzingel and Matt Duchene also set to become unrestricted free agents.
Of course, a 36-year-old Spezza won’t replace all the offense from those three (or likely even any one of those guys) on his own. However, Spezza is one of the biggest names on the free-agent market and at this stage of the game signing him may be a good way to temporarily at least keep up fan interest until the younger prospects pick up the offensive slack.
3. New York Islanders
Similar to the Blue Jackets, the New York Islanders are coming off an unexpectedly successful season after years of disappointment. Also like the Blue Jackets, they have several big names set to become UFAs: Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle (not to mention Robin Lehner in net).
The one-round playoff run might be enough to re-sign some of those players. However, it’s realistic to assume at least one or two of them will be headed elsewhere, in which case signing Spezza might be a palatable option, especially for an old-school general manager like Lou Lamoriello.
After all, he did technically bring aging star Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs a few seasons ago (even if he was a part of a brain trust and didn’t necessarily act alone in the matter). It would be much the same recipe for (moderate) success here. Plus, it would be a reunion of sorts, with the Islanders once trading away the rights to draft Spezza in the Alexei Yashin deal. Signing him now wouldn’t necessarily right that wrong, but it would make for a headline-worthy way for Spezza to wind down his career.
2. Las Vegas Golden Knights
It’s become abundantly clear the Las Vegas Golden Knights are no longer content to be patient when it comes to building a winner. They’re in it right now, as evidenced by how they effectively added an entire top line (Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone) in a single calendar year.
While Spezza wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit in a now-crowded top six, he could add depth to the bottom half of the lineup. All the while, he could help quarterback a power play that just barely finished out of the bottom five in the entire league (16.8%). One of the only hold-ups would be the Golden Knights’ cap-space situation, which is precarious at best and already hovering over the projected $83 million ceiling.
It just goes to show how much the Golden Knights want to win now, much like Spezza likely does as he nears the end of his career. If they can unload a few contracts and Spezza takes a massive paycut, it could be a match made in heaven.
1. Nashville Predators
In many ways, it’s five years too late for the Nashville Predators to acquire Jason Spezza. However, right now they could arguably use the role player Spezza has become instead of the star he was (and technically the Star he is now).
Even if Spezza once nixed a trade to the Predators, circumstances are obviously different. The Preds are loaded with talent up front with a league-worst power play that arguably cost them their first-round series against the Stars. It would almost be ironic were they to turn to a player that helped to eliminate them.
Of course, Spezza was a healthy scratch to start the series and only ended up tallying a single assist in the four games against the Predators that he actually played. Why let mere technicalities get in the way, though? The point did come on the power play for what it’s worth. And, of note, Spezza went on to score a significantly more impressive four points (two on the man advantage) the following series against the St. Louis Blues.
If the Predators are searching for a boon to their power play at a reasonable cost, Spezza could be the answer. He may even be the missing piece to a championship victory during what is a rapidly closing window for one of the league’s legitimate top contenders.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.