Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Jason Spezza is Here to Stay

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 21: Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 21, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Maple Leafs defeated the Coyotes 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 21: Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 21, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Maple Leafs defeated the Coyotes 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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After Jason Spezza signed a league-minimum, $700,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer, there were a lot of questions about his playing time under Mike Babcock.

Since though, the Toronto Maple Leafs have let Babcock go and hired Sheldon Keefe and it looks like Spezza could be here to stay.

Throughout this season, it looked like Spezza was never Babcock’s option. He played other players more, like Nick Shore and Dmytro Timashov — which I never understood.

You could get the feeling right off the top, when Babcock scratched Spezza in the home opener because he wasn’t ready to play on the penalty kill. Since then, Spezza has averaged 12 seconds of penalty kill time in 13 games under Babcock.

That was one of the question marks early regarding Babcock’s future with the team. Whether he was ready to play penalty kill or not, it’s more about respecting the player and letting him live one of his dreams.

Part of the reason why Keefe was brought in was for that reason. It showed early when Nick Shore was put in by Keefe to play against the Colorado Avalanche, all because he’s from Denver. When putting a player into a game like that, for a special reason — the respect goes both ways.

Spezza now has an opportunity to show that he’s still capable of playing in the NHL. After his future with the team looked foggy under Babcock, Mitch Marner getting injured was sort of a blessing in disguise for the 36-year-old.

Let Spezza’s play speak for itself.

I think Spezza is still capable of driving his own line, which is what he’s doing right now with Alexander Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen (which has looked good so far).

With two fast players on his wing and Spezza’s speed not being there anymore, he can just always get it to either wings and let them skate it into the zone, then get wide open (yes, he’s still capable of that).

That’s what made Spezza such a dangerous player on the ice. He always knew where to be and when to get open for a scoring chance, which is what Keefe has liked about him so far.

Having two capable centres in Spezza and Kerfoot will help a lot on the third line. Both players have won more than 45% of the face offs they’ve taken this season, so if it’s on an off-wing for one player, the other one can come in and make it work.

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There will be questions though — once Marner returns from injury. He will likely return to John Tavares’ line, which will then move other players lower in the lineup.

Questions regarding where players go once Marner returns can wait. Right now, we need to see how each player performs, who’s worth keeping up in line 1A and 1B and whether or not Spezza is capable of driving a line consistently.