We were in the middle of writing a piece that asked the question, should the Toronto Maple Leafs bring back Jason Spezza when the man himself made us return to the drawing board by announcing his retirement. However, he’s not done with the Maple Leafs. He’ll be joining management in a job that will be defined over the next few years.
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We’re not sure as Maple Leafs fans what his contributions will be in the future, but he’s already left a legacy with the team on the ice. Most recently, to quickly summarize Spezza’s impact on the play when he was on the ice for the Maple Leafs in the 2021-22 season, he scored 12 goals and added 13 assists (for 25 points) playing exclusively fourth-line minutes with some time on the second power-play unit.
Although He Was Healthy Scratched, Spezza Made a Difference on the Ice
Looking at his underlying stats when he was on the ice at five-on-five, the Maple Leafs had just over half of the shot attempts (598 for 581 against), slightly over half of the shots (332 for and 324 against), 52.5 percent of the goals (21 for to 19 against), 52 percent of the expected goals, 52.7 percent of the scoring chances (322 for, 288 against) and an excellent 55 percent of the high danger scoring chances (133 for, 109 against).
Spezza was also also a positive when it came to face-offs, winning 53 percent of those. In short, he still made a positive impact on the team when he was on the ice.
Spezza also showed up during the playoffs. In this postseason’s first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Spezza only played just over 29 minutes at five-on-five in the whole series the team had 55 percent of the shot attempts, 60 percent of the shots, 53 percent of the expected goals, and 53 percent of the scoring chances.
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The Maple Leafs did get caved on the high-danger scoring chances while Spezza was on the ice, giving up eight and only creating four. However, the Lightning only capitalized on one of those chances while the Maple Leafs scored two goals while he was on the ice. In the face-off dot, Spezza only took ten draws but he won six of them giving him a 60 percent success rate.
Our conclusion was going to be that, while Spezza was only a shadow of the elite player he was ten years ago, at a cap hit of league-minimum $750,000 he was well worth signing for one more season. The fact that he was a net positive when he was on the ice, a team leader in the dressing room, and a mentor to the younger players made it a no-brainer for us.
In addition, Spezza was also only five points away from becoming only the 93rd player in the history of the NHL to score 1,000 points, and one more contract would have meant that he played in the NHL for 20 seasons. That is a feat only 68 players in the history of the league had accomplished. It would have been nice to see Spezza reach both of those milestones.
Spezza’s Accomplishments with the Maple Leafs
Instead of another season, Spezza decided to hang up his skates, which made all our research moot. Instead, here we’ll look at the three seasons he played for the Maple Leafs and what he accomplished during that time.
Spezza played a total of 183 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs, scoring 31 goals, 49 assists, and 80 points. He added three goals and three assists for six points in seventeen playoff games. All in all, that’s not bad for a minimum-wage NHL player.
As we mentioned earlier, Spezza also became a team leader in the dressing room and a mentor for the younger players, be it the star core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, or the more recent call ups from the Toronto Marlies.
The Organization’s Plans for Spezza
Upon the announcement of Spezza’s retirement on Sunday, Kyle Dubas also announced that Spezza would be joining the management team of the Maple Leafs. When asked about what Spezza’s role would be Dubas answered,
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“The goal for the first year in this is that he will be observing, learning, and taking everything in that he possibly can with regard to being a member of the front office. After next season, we will sit down again and find, whether it is player development or scouting or salary cap — all of the different elements of the club — what he is most interested in and begin to carve that path.”
Perhaps There’s a Place in Player Development for Spezza
If the past three seasons are any indication, it would appear to us that player development would be an area in which Spezza would excel. If his post-playing career is anything like his playing career, we’re confident Spezza will put the same dedication and be the same class act as he was during his playing career.
Following the signing of Mark Giordano for the ridiculously low salary of $800,000 a season for two seasons, this move by the Maple Leafs and Spezza could be looked at as another positive going into next season.
We have to add that, if we look at these two moves as somehow connected, as well as Spezza has played for the Maple Leafs, in the end, the team is getting a defenseman that is still capable of putting in twenty solid minutes a game in place of a fourth-line center that averaged half of that for $50,000 a season. That’s a nice trade.
Spezza’s Still Chasing the Stanley Cup
The one thing that Spezza was not able to accomplish in his playing career was to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup. With him now moving into a management position for the Maple Leafs, he’ll be able to still pursue that goal. We, as Maple Leafs’ fans, would like nothing better than to see him accomplish it – sooner rather than later.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]