(image from www.2008finals.com)
Let me preface this opinion blog by stating that I am a fan of Jason Spezza, and I have been since the early days, when he was being screwed around by Jacques Martin. I have defended him through his mistakes (and there have been many), his youthfulness and his silly giggle in interviews. I have also been frustrated by many of those things, but he is a player with whom you know what you get.
That being said, I sincerely hope that this stretch of horrible play does have one silver lining – that Jason Spezza finally gets some respect in this town. He has become the team’s whipping boy, the latest in a long line of victims who have filled the role. However, take a look at the facts listed below, for the club before and after Dec 26th, 2010 (the date that Penguins defenseman Kris Letang railroaded the Senators’ season).
- Ottawa’s record before Spezza’s injury was 16-17-4, and the Senators were sitting in 8th place in the Eastern conference on Dec 27th. Not spectacular, but most fans seemed satisfied that they were in the playoff chase. Since the injury, the Senators have gone 1-8-3 and fallen to 13th place in the conference, behind even the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are now 13 points out of the playoffs.
- The Senators’ power play ranking was middle of the pack with 19.1% up to and including Dec 26th (22-for-115). In fact, the last 4 games before Spezza’s injury the PP had gone 4-for-17 (23.5%). Since #19 went down, the PP has gone an absolutely inept 2-for-37, (5.4%). The power play is now ranked 21st in a 30 team league.
- At the time of his injury, Spezza was in the top 10 league wide in faceoff percentage. He still ranks at #10 with 56.4%. Chris Kelly is the Senators’ next best faceoff man for Ottawa, coming into the Montreal game with a 49.6% success rate and sits 54th in the league.
Most people have a lot of things to say about Jason Spezza. He is unique in the fact that not many people will tell you “he’s OK”. You either love him or hate him. Yes, he turns the puck over more than his fair share of times, but he also handles the puck more than most players in the league. He isn’t getting paid $7 million per year to dump the puck into the corner. His job is to create offensively, and you have to admire his confidence in that there is nothing he doesn’t think he can do on the ice.
Would I like him to pick his spots a little better? Absolutely. He is still on the upward trend in his career, and I would compare his career path with that of two other superstars – Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano. Both of these players thought offense first, and took some time to learn the all-around aspects of the NHL game. It took some pretty influential coaches (Scotty Bowman and Ken Hitchcock respectively) to finally make them see the light. Yzerman is considered one of the greatest all-around players ever, but check the early part of his career and you see a number of similarities to Spezza. People seem to conveniently forget that Yzerman was in the league for 14 seasons before he won a cup in Detroit. Modano spent 10 years in the league before his cup win with Dallas. Spezza is still only 27 years old, and has a number of productive years ahead of him, before he even reaches his peak.
Spezza will continue to improve and eventually learn from his mistakes. He has paid more attention to the defensive side of the game this season, and is even a regular penalty killer. This has affected his offensive output, as have nagging injuries. However, take a snapshot of a Senators fans’ face on Dec 26th and take one today. The Boxing Day fan would look so much happier and more satisfied with his team than his Jan. 21st counterpart.
I’m not saying Spezza will lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup by himself. But you see right now the hole that exists when he is absent from the lineup. You can plug these holes for a game or two with Chris Kelly or Mike Fisher in the number one centre spot, but neither is a legitimate candidate for the role. Admittedly, he isn’t Sidney Crosby or Mike Richards, but Spezza is a legitimate #1 NHL centre, and those types of players don’t grow on trees.
Kris Letang’s hit/crosscheck (depending on your opinion of the play) on Boxing Day may have ruined the Senators’ season, but it may finally bring Spezza some respect in this town. People who constantly call in to the talk shows and comment on articles, begging for him to be shipped out of town, now have a real idea about what life without Spezza would be like.
IT ISN’T PRETTY!!!