In the hours leading up to and after the announcement that Jason Spezza will be sidelined for an indefinite period, there was a range of emotions from Sens fans, and even some members of the media. Words like “disaster”, “heartbreak” and “brutal” were bandied about.
Yes, the injury is a big blow to the Senators. Almost any team losing their number 1 centre for an extended period of time would be crippled, unless you are the Pittsburgh Penguins. But before the panic button gets pushed and people start calling for trades or short term free agent fill-ins to bolster the roster in his absence, here are reasons why you don’t need to worry quite so much:
- Kyle Turris has blossomed this season and if he plays with Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek they can support Turris as he gets used to playing the hard minutes that a first line centre must play. Alfie and Michalek are veterans who are also solid defensively so the first line should be ok.
- The Senators have never been deeper at centre than they are right now. Players will be chomping at the bit to get the minutes left over from Spezza’s absence. Mika Zibanejad and Peter Regin will be the first contenders for the spot. Zibanejad has looked great in his two game audition and it came at the right time to let the Senators brass breathe a little easier. Zack Smith and Jim O’Brien can continue to fill their roles on the third and fourth line, but they will also be looked to for more offensive contribution while Spezza is on the mend.
- Craig Anderson has been so good this season, that they don’t need to score a ton of goals to win games. This might not continue for the whole season, but while Anderson is in the zone, a goal or two will be enough on any given night.
- The Senators have put points in the bank early. They are 5 points clear of 8th place, after only 7 games. Those points will come in very handy later on in the season, and you can’t really say they left any points on the table.
- If you take the estimate of 8 weeks for recovery and rehab, you can circle March 30th against the Maple Leafs as a target for his return. That would mean missing 27 more games. Ottawa has 11 points through 7 games so far this season. By my calculations, 54 points should get a team into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this year. If this is true, Ottawa would need 43 points in their remaining 41 games. There would be 14 games for Spezza to play after his return (assuming 8 weeks), with only one back-to-back set of games. If they can play .600 hockey with him in the lineup, even after surgery (not a stretch by any means) they would earn about 17 points after his return. With the 11 points they have already, that means the Senators would need 26 points in 27 games while he is out to make the playoffs.
Will they lose some games that Spezza could have been a difference maker in? Of course they will. But I feel that the Senators without Spezza are still at least a .500 team. If they aren’t a .500 hockey team without him in the lineup, then they probably wouldn’t contend in the playoffs anyway and would be better served in the lottery with a chance at a high draft pick in a deep draft to continue the rebuild.
The other options of a trade – which wouldn’t net a player much better than the internal options without tearing apart the system – isn’t that viable, unless you use a goalie as the bait. The other option, signing a free agent to a 1 year deal, is viable, but who is out there that would be an option? Brian Rolston? Jason Williams? Brendan Morrison? The options aren’t exactly tantalizing.
So the Senators should, and probably will, stand pat. If Zibanejad and/or Regin flop, then the trade option could be explored, but I am confident the team can remain in the playoff hunt as long as they need to without Spezza, and when he returns it would be akin to Murray pulling off the best trade deadline deal ever.