While many people are still using the caveat “if” when it comes to the Senators playoff chances, as in “if” the Senators make it, I was over that hurdle two weeks ago.
As I look forward to the postseason, I wonder about Ottawa’s chances to have a deep run. While the potential to get Erik Karlsson back would be an absolute boon to the psyche and the on-ice performance of the Senators, the big cloud hanging over the team, in my opinion, is still Jason Spezza.
Past history shows that you need a solid strength up the middle, and having 1 or even 2 centres capable of being #1 goes a long way to having playoff success.
LA had Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar, Boston had David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Chicago had Jonathan Toews and usually Patrick Kane up the middle while Pittsburgh obviously had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You can go on an on, Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf, Carolina with Eric Staal and Doug Weight.
While he is pretty solid on most nights, Kyle Turris is not the guy you want as your #1 option up the middle heading into the postseason. He is tall and lanky, but not overly strong and isn’t the dominant presence that, despite his perceived shortcomings, Spezza offers. Mika Zibanejad might develop into that player, but it would be unfair to thrust him into that role in the playoffs at the age of 20.
A healthy Spezza is a player who has been through the playoff wars, has had success and failures, and is a true #1 pivot in the NHL, among the top 10 centres in the league. His all-around game has improved to the point that he is the primary face-off guy in all situations and he is sorely missed in the close games where his offensive creativity is game-changing.
While he has his critics, almost everyone would agree that the Senators without Jason Spezza are far inferior to the Senators with Jason Spezza. Now the waiting game ensues to see if he can get back in the two weeks or so before the playoffs start. Apparently he has begun off-ice workouts, so hopefully a return to the ice sooner rather than later.
Turris is a viable #2 centre, and good in a supporting role, and they may win a round with him as the #1 (if Karlsson is back on the blue line), but the Sens need the presence of Spezza to go deep into the playoffs.