Leafs Nation has been one of the most miserable places on earth over the past few weeks, and it’s hard to blame them. The quick exit of the team, in which just about everyone got too cute, left a poor taste in everyone’s mouth as perhaps the biggest let down of this era.
One player who gets an unconditional pass from all, though, is veteran forward Jason Spezza. The Mississauga native has been one of the best bang-for-buck additions to any NHL team over the past two seasons, often turning back the clock to his past glory in a limited role at a league minimum salary. The team announced today that he’ll be doing it once again, signing a one-year extension at $750,000.
I’ve waxed poetic about the man’s meaning to the organization before, as someone who genuinely wants to be a part of helping the Leafs get to the promised land, who unites a dressing room, and one of their few beacons of identity and determination, even when times were tough for him at the beginning. But somehow, he’s gotten even better since the last time he was the focus of a discussion.
This season, Spezza put up 10 goals and 20 assists in 54 games – a 46 point pace over 82 games – despite taking the ice for just 11:02 per night. On a per-hour basis, this made him the team leader in point production at 5-on-5 (3.11 points/60), and trailed only Brad Marchand and leader Connor McDavid league wide. Spezza did this while still putting up a positive share of on-ice possession, and without an abnormal individual or on-ice shooting percentage, and while winning 56.9% of his faceoffs. While things didn’t go the team’s way in the playoffs, Spezza was far from the issue there, delivering five points in seven games and holding a shot-attempt share of roughly 56% at 5-on-5. Both of his goals came in Toronto wins.
One concern that some do have involves the Seattle expansion draft, as this makes Spezza a player that the team would supposedly have to protect. With that said, given his age and his previously his previous threat of retirement were he claimed through waivers, I can’t imagine that Seattle would take the chance on him. There is no competitive advantage for them to take him off of Toronto’s lineup, and they’ll likely be better off to claim a more willing player.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is a great signing. Spezza clearly loves playing for this team, to the point where he said to media today that he would take less than the league minimum if he could. It’s almost impossible to mess up a league minimum deal; particularly when you can use that player as a short-spurt superstar. To get this out of the way is great news, but a reminder that there is another season to look ahead to, and business to be done after grieving. For now, you get this first step towards that, a great deal on a great player that is perhaps more than the franchise deserves.