Maple Leafs’ Gamble on Spezza Paying Off

After a rather sluggish 2018-19 season as a member of the Dallas Stars, newfound free agent Jason Spezza signed a league minimum contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs worth $700,000.

Admittedly to many, the centerman didn’t hold very high expectations. Coming off a weak 27-point season with the Stars, it was clear that the 36-year-old is definitely past his prime and can no longer skate with the same caliber and intensity he once did as a young Ottawa Senator.

Concerns were immediately voiced by fans and media about where exactly he’d fit in among the young talent of the Maple Leafs and what his role on the ice would be. General manager Kyle Dubas’ actions were again called into question and eyebrows were left raised wondering if this gamble on one of hockey’s great veterans would pay off for the Maple Leafs. 

The Role of Jason Spezza

Spezza’s transition to the Maple Leafs was one that mainly focused to increase the productivity on both their third and fourth lines – a place where the Maple Leafs have struggled to find success in the past. This doesn’t just strictly include offensive production, because there was certainly more to Spezza’s signing than just having him score goals.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

For example, Spezza is a fantastic faceoff man and has maintained over a 50 percent win stat for the entirety of his career. Coming off a remarkable 58.2 percent in 2018-19, this is a quality that is often swept under the rug in light of goals but deserves more recognition. In situations like an icing, or an important offensive-zone draw, having a faceoff man you can rely on is incredibly important to deciding the outcome of the game.

Another area of his play worthy of highlighting is in his playmaking ability. With excellent passing mechanics and phenomenal vision of puck, there’s a good reason why Spezza is on the Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit. His ability to set up linemates is still world-class and obviously the Maple Leafs have recognized that by putting him beside Morgan Rielly on the power play.

Of course, Spezza is not without his faults either. There have been times where he’s slipped up and I recognize that. His speed and stamina are not what it used to be and there have been a couple of hiccups which have resulted in odd-man rushes this season – like this one:

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With that being said, he has lately been setting up some nice plays with crisp passes through the neutral zone and key faceoff wins.

Recent success has even seen Spezza promoted to the third line and now, with six goals and 11 assists in 33 games, he is setting a pace to outdo his previous season record with the Stars which was eight goals and 19 assists.

A Maple Leafs Mentor

Having an older player like Spezza in the Maple Leafs’ lineup can be extremely impactful when it comes to developing the younger core players on the team. There’s a good reason why nearly every NHL team has a veteran on their team. These players are generally ex-greats who’ve still got their place in the league due to their vast knowledge of the game and ability to hold their own against today’s youth. Some of the oldest players in the game of hockey are those who will work the hardest and never give up on a play. They can be beneficial in teaching the up and coming prospects how to more properly utilize their skills on the ice and are overall an important part of how a team is structured.

The Maple Leafs are no exception to following this trend and have seen many veterans come and go throughout the years. When ex-Leafs Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey departed from the team at the end of the 2018-19 season, a void was created in this space and Spezza was ultimately the one who would be chosen to fill the role that those two played. He has some tough shoes to fill, with Marleau likely to become a Hall-of-Famer, but I believe that Spezza has it within him to carry on the same leadership that those two did and help lead his team to glory.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeffrey T. Barnes)

What do you think about Spezza’s signing to the Maple Leafs? Is there still room for the veteran in the game? Let us know in the comment section below.