Do you remember that Jason Spezza is a Toronto Maple Leaf? It’s been so long since hockey has happened that sometimes I forget he’s here. But, the hometown boy finally gets to play for his favourite team from Ontario, and we couldn’t be happier (especially at the low, low price that he does it for).
Spezza had an interesting start to the season, which tends to happen when you’re a skilled fourth line center playing for Mike Babcock, especially a Babs full of spite. Not only was Spezza a consistent scratch (behind Nick Shore), he didn’t even get the opening day start. In Toronto. Against Ottawa. It was a dumb thing that Leafs Nation got worked up over, but it was also a dumb thing for Babcock to do.
That said, he had his best season in a few years, and picked it up a bit more once Sheldon Keefe took over, as he had nine goals and 25 points in only 58 games. Not bad production for a fourth line center, huh?
By the Numbers
If we look at Spezza’s fancy stats, he ends up being an pretty effective player on both ends of the ice. He struggles a bit at generating offense, but makes up for it with his strong defensive play and his ability to finish. However, his biggest weakness is that he takes too many penalties and doesn’t make up for it by drawing them, as well as his defensive zone giveaways. But, very few players are perfect, and for a fourth line center who can play in a third line role when needed, this is more than perfect for that role.
Now, let’s look at his isolated numbers. While he’s a bit lackluster at actually driving offense and offensive chances, he makes up for it by suppressing scoring chances very well. And despite the fact that the shot and scoring chance metrics aren’t quite there, he does a pretty good job of actually scoring from time to time.
That doesn’t hold him back from generating chances on the power play though. While he doesn’t create a ton of actual offense (he only has two goals and seven points on the man advantage), he does help his unit create chances, which should eventually lead to production. Hopefully that’s the case come playoff time.
But when you look at his transition data, it makes sense.
As you can see, Spezza is really good at getting the puck out of the zone, but his ability to carry the puck in is a bit behind that. He’s far from bad at it, but he definitely seems to excel more in his own end.
What We’ve Seen So Far
One important thing to remember from that last blurb is that while Spezza doesn’t drive offense, he can still finish. He has a very old school style with his shot, in that he isn’t afraid to fire a slap shot if it’s needed. He’s also very good at burying goals from roughly medium range, as four of his seven even strength goals have come from beyond the faceoff dot.
He’s also still got some hands too. He may not be at the level all the time, but he’s still got shades of prime Jason Spezza to show from time to time.
How Will He Do Against Columbus?
If there’s one advantage that the Leafs do have over Columbus, it’s that they are much deeper offensively than the Blue Jackets. Not only do they have a lot more star power, but they even have a bit of an advantage over their bottom six, which is why having a player like Jason Spezza is important.
As far as center’s go, he’ll likely be matching up against either Riley Nash or Devin Shore, who are both fine players, but not at the same skill level as Spezza, even at his age.
It’s hard to say exactly what we’ll see considering that it’s only a 3-5 game series and anything can happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has at least one good game in the series where he gets a point or two, maybe even a goal.
Spezza has done a pretty good job performing in the playoffs up to this point in his career, as he has 25 goals and 70 points in 80 playoff games. Of course, we shouldn’t be expecting 22 points in 20 games like his 2007 Cup Final run with the Sens, so a more reasonable expectation if the Leafs go far might be his output from last year with the Stars.
In 11 playoff games last year, Spezza had three goals and five points. If the Leafs only go as far as a couple rounds this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he performs similarly. Add a couple more rounds, and you might find yourself getting 10 points in 20-25 games from Jason Spezza, which is best case scenario when you’re talking about a fourth line center who is also on your second power play unit.
If Spezza doesn’t perform too well in the postseason, it won’t be the end of the world for the Leafs. But, him showing up will be a huge difference maker, especially on a team that already has amazing center depth with Matthews and Tavares.