Remember when Mike Babcock decided to scratch Jason Spezza in the Toronto Maple Leafs first game this season against the Ottawa Senators, the team he played for during most of his career?
At the time, everyone questioned Babcock’s logic. A hometown seasoned veteran playing against his former team–the narrative practically wrote itself.
But Babcock had other plans for Jason Spezza, and things weren’t looking so bright for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ new signing.
But once Sheldon Keefe took over the Leafs bench, he didn’t hold back from utilizing Spezza as much as he could. And as everyone hoped, Spezza has been on fire as off late, easily making him the best signing of the offseason for the Leafs.
A Tough Start
After signing a one-year contract at the league minimum as a veteran for just $700,000 this season, I expected Spezza to actually make a big impact on this team. After shipping out fellow veterans Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey, it’s still important for the Leafs to have an experienced veteran when trying to guide such a young team to success.
Not to mention, Spezza is still a capable fourth line player, scoring 8 goals in each of his last two seasons. At such a price, I wanted to see him do well.
However, things started out tough this season for Spezza when it seemed like Babcock already had a gripe with him by refusing to play him often.
Under Babcock, Spezza didn’t play in 10 out of 23 possible games. In the 13 games he did play with Babcock, Spezza managed to put up three goals and four assists.
For a fourth liner bouncing between the bench and the press box, this was pretty good and made me wonder why he couldn’t just be given a chance in the lineup every night.
After Mike Babcock was fired by the Leafs on Nov. 20, Sheldon Keefe immediately stepped in and changed the way the offensive lineup was organized. Spezza found himself playing more–only missing one game under his new coach so far. These changes have really paid off.
In seven games under Keefe, Spezza has put up five points. Jumping between the third and fourth lines, Spezza has looked much more comfortable at centre, getting more opportunities with the puck and using his time to make more creative plays. Yes, I know he has made a few mistakes, including one costly one against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, but for the most part he has been great.
Well Worth the League Minimum
In my opinion, Spezza has even looked like a legitimate third-line centre at times. Whether he is or not just speaks to the tremendous impact of his value. At just $700,000 for this year, there’s no doubt in my mind that he is becoming one of the league’s best bargain signings of this offseason.
Spezza’s value also comes from his versatility to be moved to the wing. There’s definitely a lineup logjam when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs bottom six, but I truly believe Spezza should be a mainstay for the rest of the season.
As long as Spezza is able to maintain this strong play under Keefe and continues to get more comfortable in the lineup, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of his strong play.
Let me know what you think about Spezza’s performance so far this season and how you would like to see him utilized.