When you think of NHL veteran Jason Spezza, teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, and Ottawa Senators immediately come to mind. However, before his journey through the NHL, the long-time producer was involved in one of the most high-profile trades in Windsor Spitfires’ history.
After nearly 20 seasons in the NHL, it’s easy to forget that Spezza was a young phenom in the OHL. From 1998 to 2002, he dazzled fans with his quick shot and slick passing. It was one of the reasons the Spitfires pulled off the deal with the Mississauga IceDogs in late 2000.
Let’s take a look back at the surprising trade and how it played out for the Spitfires, IceDogs, and a third team down the road.
Breaking Down the Pieces
Back in 2000, there was no Twitter, Facebook, or even MySpace. When news broke, it was often on TV or through media websites. On Nov. 16, when the trade between the Spitfires and IceDogs went down, the shock value was clear.
The Spitfires were in the CHL Top 10 and looking to make a run in the OHL’s Western Conference. On the flip side, the IceDogs were struggling to find a single win among the pile of losses.
Their misfortunes forced Spezza to ask for a trade to one of six OHL teams, including the Spitfires.
After negotiations, the teams came to an agreement. Here’s how the deal played out:
To Spitfires: forward Jason Spezza
To IceDogs: forwards Ryan Courtney, Tyler Eady, and Mike James, defenceman Steven Rawski, a second-round and a sixth-round pick in 2001, and $2,000 in cash.
What did each player bring to the table?
Simply put, one of the best young talents in the OHL.
In 1998-99, Spezza, 15, entered the OHL with his hometown Brampton Battalion. He was too young to be drafted into the league, but, at the time, the league allowed certain exceptional talents to play for their local team prior to being drafted.
Once he was drafted by the IceDogs, he played a season-and-a-half before requesting a deal. The team was really struggling and, as a top prospect, he knew he wouldn’t be in the league for very long.
The IceDogs traded him to the Spitfires and he promptly put up 131 points in 68 games from 2000-02. He could do it all and instantly became a fan favourite.
In 2001, Spezza was drafted second overall by the Ottawa Senators and, luckily for the Spitfires, he was sent back to the OHL for 2001-02.
However, the team traded him to the Belleville Bulls at the deadline for 18-year-old local playmaker Kyle Wellwood, who had an extra year in the league.
In return for Spezza, the IceDogs picked up six pieces that were expected to help the club both in the present and in the future. With Rick Vaive behind their bench, they had a shot at improving.
Courtney and James, both 18, provided respectable offence and physical play. The club expected them to be a big part of the new puzzle. Unfortunately, James left the IceDogs the following summer and returned to the Spitfires. He has since moved on to other hockey opportunities.
Rawski, 18, wasn’t a flashy defenceman but brought a bit of everything to the table. He gave the club a stable presence and that’s all they could ask from him.
Eady was the young one in the trade at just 17, but he had plenty of size and potential. Similar to Courtney, he was a jack-of-all-trades kid who stayed with the club for two seasons before moving to the North Bay Skyhawks (NOJHL).
The team kept their second-round pick in 2001, selecting defenceman Ian Maracle. He played just over 50 games with the club before moving on. The sixth-round pick was defenceman Thomas McKinnon, who didn’t play in the OHL.
Verdict: Spitfires Steal Spezza
Normally when you acquire a star talent, you’re going to give up several young pieces, including multiple high picks. Somehow, the Spitfires managed to avoid that.
While Spezza was only 17 when traded, the Spitfires sent three 18 year olds, a 17-year-old, two picks, and cash up the 401. The IceDogs wanted immediate help in all areas and that’s what they got. Unfortunately, even with Vaive, the trade didn’t help their record at all as they won just 18 games from 2000-02.
Spezza came as advertised for the Spitfires, using his superstar talents to the fullest, before moving on. The club got everything they had hoped for.
Rawski, Eady, Courtney, and Maracle were all useful pieces for the IceDogs during their career. The team would have benefitted from James being around longer but that was just a bonus for the Spitfires.
When the dust settled, it was tough to argue the deal from the Spitfires’ point-of-view. They avoided giving up serious young prospects and multiple high picks for one of the best talents in the league. Any team would be hard-pressed to pull that off in today’s game.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.