The Toronto Maple Leafs got an incredible bargain when Jason Spezza signed a one-year deal for the league minimum, $700,000. Sure, his numbers aren’t where they were when he was beating up on the Leafs as part of the Ottawa Senators, but his knowledge, leadership and respect for the game far exceed his pay.
The 37-year-old was the latest player to do a video conference call with some of the Toronto media. The 15-minute interview was a reminder of how lucky the Leafs were to have a player like Spezza sign with a significant hometown discount.
When he was asked about leaving his four daughters for up to three months, he responded, “they understand that daddy’s got a dream of trying to win a Stanley Cup and there are not too many more years left here.”
Due to these strange times, he stands as good a chance as any to make that dream come true.
Columbus vs Toronto Matchup
The Leafs were in trouble at the beginning of March, underperforming against teams that statistically they should’ve beat, but outperforming better teams. Now, they’ll take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the play-in round. When you take a look at Pete Bauer’s breakdown of the series, you know it’s a problematic matchup – and that’s a good thing, according to Spezza. Clearly, he has been around long enough to see players underperform against lesser opponents, which shouldn’t be a problem against Columbus.
“It’s a good match-up because we won’t take them for granted.” says Spezza, “It’s a team we have a lot of respect for with some of the studs in the back end – it poses for a lot of problems. I think that is good, though, it keeps you honest and it gives you something to really work towards.
You can hear his knowledge, but it gets better as Spezza gives us just a glimpse of his scouting report of Columbus: “A team that has hard work as part of their hallmark. Torts has a history of having teams that are very good defensively. It’s a team that was battling some injuries somebody that we have a lot of respect for. We know they are going to come in ready they had goaltenders that were hot when the stoppage happened.”
Returning to Hockey
However, as much as the Leafs can draw on Spezza’s knowledge, no one is really familiar with what is going on. Spezza was asked about coming back to basically a new season.
“It’s a restart, I don’t think it feels like a completely new season because we are hopping into playoffs,” Spezza says after such a long break, you come back to the ice, and you feel your way around to figure out combinations and what tweaks will need to be made – but not this time. “I think here we know what our team looks like – we know what our strengths are; we are going to ramp up in training camp to get ready to make sure we hit the ground running in a short period-of-time. So, it’s high stakes right away. It’s something we have never experienced. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been around, it’s very unique.”
Unique indeed, just like Spezza himself. He has always been a special person. He spent his child acting and modelling. In his teen years, he was racking up nearly two points per game in the Ontario Hockey League. He became just the third 16-year-old player to ever be selected to Canada’s World Junior Team. In his 20s and early 30s, he was a star in the NHL. As he gets a little closer to his 40s, he continues to chase his childhood dream of winning a Cup with the Maple Leafs. That will be difficult enough, but he also has the challenge of being away from his family for, quite possibly, months.
“It’s not going to be easy, especially after having three months of really probably the best quality family time I’ve ever had with my kids and my wife,” said Spezza. “It’s going to be a big adjustment, there’ll be some tears involved, I’m sure, along the way.”
Hopefully, for the Spezza family and Leafs Nation, several tears will be involved because “Daddy” will finally win a Stanley Cup.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.