Nov 30, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman before the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Spezza, Welcome To Your Yzerman Years

While the criticism of Ottawa Senators centre (and likely captain) Jason Spezza has waned a little bit over the past few seasons, there is still a pocket of Spezza haters out there.

And I can’t quite understand why.  Spezza is a legitimate #1 centre in the NHL, a rare thing in today’s league.  By my informal count, 14 teams have a player who I would consider to be a true #1 pivot, with a handful of teams blessed with having 2 players that I would consider to be true first line centres, for a total of (ironcially enough) 19 players.


May 22, 2013; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins centre Brandon Sutter (16) and Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza (19) face off in the second period in game four of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

So for those still calling for Spezza to be traded, what is the alternative?  Teams would be knocking on the door, but you wouldn’t get fair value.  And the guy is still only 30 years old. Which leads me to the Yzerman comparison.

Spezza’s career seems to be on the parallel track to what Yzerman did in his Hall of Fame career.  Yzerman came into a different situation (a bad Detroit team), so he played, and played a lot, as an 18 year old.  Spezza, on the other hand, came to a team that could afford to be patient with him, even if that wasn’t the best thing for the team.  Personally, I think he was mishandled from the start by Jacques Martin, but that is another post for another time.

People who look back at Yzerman’s career now, remember the warrior who was one of the best all-around players in the game.  But looking closely and remembering the early years, the criticisms of Stevie Y were much the same as what Spezza faced.  Trade rumors (including one to Ottawa, and another to Montreal) surfaced on a regular basis.   All offense, not paying enough attention to defense.  It wasn’t until Scotty Bowman came along that he convinced Yzerman to sacrifice a little offensively for the betterment of the team, and even that took 3 or 4 years t really take.  I think that is the same message that Paul MacLean is trying to convey to Spezza.  And I think he is hearing the call.

You can point to injuries all you want, and call Spezza “frail” but Yzerman went through some of the same problems with his knees in the early years, missing significant time during 3 seasons with injuries.

Yzerman was 21 years old when he was named captain, but there wasn’t much of an alternative in Detroit at the time. You could argue that he really didn’t seize the leaderhip mantle until Bowman came and groomed him for the role.  The same progression has happened with Spezza, but he hasn’t been named captain before now because someone pretty good has previously held the distinction since before Spezza arrived in the NHL.

Which is all the more puzzling that Spezza wasn’t at least invited to Team Canada’s Olympic Orientation Camp, because I don’t think there is a player in the league who Canadian GM Yzerman would feel like looking into a mirror at than Spezza.

Yzerman was 31 years old when raised his first of his 3 career Stanley Cups.  Spezza is 30 years old now, and will not be 31 until after this coming season. Senators fans can only hope Spezza’s career continues on the trend that Yzerman’s did.

Jason Spezza, welcome to your Yzerman years…we’ve been waiting for you.

Tags: Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators Steve Yzerman

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  • disqus_IkMPMeIVb0

    u are comparing Spezza – Jason freakin Spezza to one of the top 5 players of all time?! what in the flying F is wrong with you?! Can Spezza score, assist, play D, win faceoffs, lead a team or even skate like Yzerman did in his prime or later in his career?! not even close on any one. Donny you’re out of your element. His first years were no comparison to Yzerman – no comparison at all. You are damn clueless. multiple 50 or 60 goal scorer, multiple 100 point seasons. Seriously wtf

    • Jared Crozier

      Obviously you are a Red Wings fan. Comparing stats in the 2000′s directly to stats in the 80s is impossible. Over his career Yzerman netted 1.16 points per game. Spezza is at 1.02 PPG and is just entering his prime, in a time where scoring is way down from what it was in the run and gun 80′s. Faceoffs – Spezza is among the league leaders. Leadership – we will find out, but Yzerman wasn’t always considered a great leader even when he wore the “C”, that came later when he grew into the role. I am not comparing Spezza now to Yzerman at 40, when his career was done. I am comparing Spezza now, at 30 to what Yzerman was when he was 30. I think its a fair comparison, and one that can’t be quantified because of the different eras. Its not as far fetched as you seem to think – not even close.

      • disqus_IkMPMeIVb0

        Actually I am a Blackhawks fan. and kinda hate all things Red Wings. But I give respect where its due. PPG stats? why bother Yzerman played the last 1/3 of his career on one leg and as a defensive minded forward. Yzerman in his prime at 30?! compared to Spezza at 30?! Ok well Yzerman at 30 was one of the best 3 players in the game, Spezza isn’t in the top 10. Spezza doesn’t even get considered for team Canada because he isn’t the greatest playmaker even though that’s his strength, has never been a great goal scorer – and had you actually grown up watching hockey in the 80s you would know the scoring was higher then because the players where better offensively – most notable of those being shooting. You cant compare anyone today to goal scorers like Yzerman, or Hull, Lemieux, Gartner, Gretzky, Kurri, Robitaile, Bure – thie list goes on. The only player who is even close is Stamkos. Yzerman not a great leader? well he was all Detroit had until what? 94? so who would he lead? He had to do it and he did it all by himself. Spezza doesn’t even excel on a good team. He had Heatly and Alfredson and still was the 3rd wheel. Spezza has never been able to score or puck handle like Yzerman, cant pass as well, cant play D as well, is no where as fast as Yzerman was before his LAST knee reconstruction of 3. In fact the only player I would compare Spezza to among any of the great players? Well no one – its insulting to use his name even when mentioning players like Roenick or Modano. Jason Spezza?! You are out of your mind kid and like I said – out of your element. He will never win a cup, if he does it would be as a role player, he will never see the Hall of Fame (which Yzerman was already assured of at 30) and he will always be known as overrated, un-realized talent. When making comparison – there has to be something to compare. You really think they are on the same level talent wise, or ability wise? Its obvious when writers today have viewpoints of past players and they never actually watched them play – they just look at stats sheets and some highlights – its kind of sad. Just like people who compare Crosby to Lemeiux or Gretzky – he isn’t even playing the same sport as those two. Of Lebron to Jordan – Lebron may be bigger but doesn’t have the same talent or clutch ability of Jordan. Like most superfans – always want someone from your generation to stand out – and I wouldn’t have any issue with that – but you said Spezza LOL had you said Stamkos, or Ovechkin that’s one thing – offensive powerhouse who need to revamp their game a little for the better of the team, grow up to become good leaders and win – those two are comparable to Yzerman – but Spezza?! LOL laughable

        • disqus_IkMPMeIVb0

          by the way – at age 30 Yzerman had 1.41 PPG, compare to Spezza’s 1.02 PPG.
          Spezza as a playmaker played with Heatly and Alfredson during his better years with 38% of his points coming on a powerplay.

        • Jared Crozier

          Kid? Before you make accusations like that, you should know what you are talking about. I think you are a little full of yourself. I did grow up watching hockey in the 80s, and if the goaltending and defense was the same now as it was then you would still have 15 or 20 players scoring 100 points every year. I watched Yzerman, as I did Gretzky and Lemieux and Bossy and Trottier, and the stars were great, and would have been in any era, but you would have third liners today that would have been point per game players if the same player with the same training were transported back to that era.

          The talent and overall skill level in today’s NHL is much higher than it was then, simply due to evolution, coaching and training. Goalies were terrible in the 80′s compared with today’s standards. (not to mention smaller, leaving more net area to shoot at). That’s why you can’t compare point for point.

          Its not a direct comparison, on who is better, Spezza or Yzerman. That can be done when Spezza’s career is over, and it would still be difficult then, and obvioulsy Yzerman would win that arguement. I was comparing a career path. Yzerman didn’t win until he was 31, Spezza is now 30. Yzerman was captain almost by default at 22, and had to grow into the position, and became a great leader. Alfredsson had the C since before Spezza was a Senator, so Spezza didn’t have that option (or burden, depending on how you look at it). Spezza has grown into a leader, just not while wearing the C.

          Its not a disrespect to Yzerman, more of a credit to Spezza, who is underrated and is one of the top 10 playmakers in the game (debatable, but I would put him top 5), at a time when the talent pool is much deeper than in Yzerman’s prime, and you cannot argue with that point.

          • disqus_IkMPMeIVb0

            I stand by my Kid comment, especially since you think todays talent pool is deeper. Newer means better coaching and training? Awful goailes – who was that one guy? Patrick Roy who was the best goalie in the late 80s. 90s, and arguably til he retired? Ron Hextall was also terrible, so was Ken Dryden, Billy Smith, Ed Belfour – yes they all are terrible. You also forget that holding, clutching and grabbing was legal, no penalties for head shots, the trap was invented in the 70s (not the 90s,00s like many think) I don’t recall too many people skating through Dennis Potvin, or not being caught by Paul Coffey or Larry Murphy, people having careers ended by Scott Stevens – yes terrible LEGAL defense as compared to the baby hitting game of today. More net to shoot at? Well Hull Had a saying, if he couldn’t see net he either put it in a corner or missed – todays much more skilled forwards? almost always put the puck right in the gut of the goalie, get lucky bounces through the pads, get robounds and the emphasis on traffic in front of the net to blind or deflect – maybe if more players played like Stamkos or even Crosby and aimed at something other than the goalie scoring would go back up – but the deeper pool of players all get so nervous when they have a shot all they try to do is make sure they shoot it. Doesn’t help much that with 30 teams the talent pool you speak of is spread thin, so players who never would of even been drafted in the pre 90′s era are now 2nd line players in todays game to fill spots. You are clueless kid, but keep believing that all thing new are automatically better. You prob think the spread option pistol in the NFL is a new concept too LOL And on your logic, you can compare any player in the game at age 30 who hasn’t won a cup yet now cant you. Career path similar? how? Has Spezza been one of the best ever offensive players to this point? No? Is he about to re-tool his game to help his team win more? I am not sure what he would change his offense isn’t spectacular to begin with so he cant really scale back his assist percentage now can he – maybe he could do an exact opposite! been above average for the beginning, and instead of changing his game from being a scorer which he isn’t – he can try to change to being better offensively. Its way too much praise for Spezza, and is insulting to any great player. As hard as I try to see any similarity on any level from Spezza to anyone – its just not there. Is he a good leader? kinda? why not compare him to Messier or Stevens at the same time then. Messier didn’t win without Grtezky/Kurri on the team til he was nearly 30 as well. Though looking at his stats sheet I imagine you think he was a great player too

          • Jared Crozier

            Have you even watched hockey in the last 20 years? Those goalies you listed were good for their time, in that era but, if you watch a player playing net today compared to the 80′s, with a few exceptions, there is no comparison. Absolutely none. Equipment size does have a part, but no longer can a goalie be rolly-polly and just stand there and hope the puck hits them.

            How can you possibly argue that the talent pool is not deeper now than it was with the influx of Europeans, and the growth of the game in North America as well. I would bet the top AHL teams today would smoke middle of the pack NHL teams from the 80′s without a doubt.

            You call me kid, yet you won’t admit that the natural evolution of the game is a factor. Players are bigger, stronger and faster today, stay in game shape all year round and have better skill development. That is inarguable.

            So you can harken back to the good old days, watch your ESPN Classic games and wear your way too tight Stan Mikita jersey and wistfully remember how things used to be. I will grow along with the game and while respecting what the players did in the past, appreciate what Generation Next, including Jason Spezza, brings to the table today. Our debate has gone beyond player vs player, so this is the last rebuttal I will make.

            And by the way, Spezza is 6th among active players in points per game, and if that doesn’t count as being one of the top players in his era, I don’t know what does. He is also in the top 35 of all active players in +/- so he isn’t as bad defensively as you profess. Yzerman was 5th among points per game in the duration of his career, and 23rd in +/- during which he was 2nd in games played (of people with a career +150 or more.).

            Obviously we will have no agreement on this issue. I have said my piece, you have said yours, and that will be all I will contribute

          • disqus_IkMPMeIVb0

            The question is have you watched hockey in the last 20 years without the pre-determined bias that new is better?
            So Hasek purposely playing with smaller pads and flopping all over wasn’t one of the best of his time. You’re right, I’d much rather Marc Andre Fluery or Ilya Bryz LOL
            Faster, stronger, bigger….of the three you can have bigger, the other two as usual you are out of your mind. However, the big big players today are generally not that good. If Chara and Pronger were not huge neither would be effective.Yet Lidstrom was smaller, not the fastest yet one of the best ever til the day he retired…
            Skill development – USA has the most money, best training facilities – yet American hockey players are still a lesser class of hockey player as a whole behind Canada, Europe and Russia. With all the advances coaching, training and skills development why cant Americans figure out to be good puck handlers and passers, or see the ice like foreigners can? Speaking of, there were Europeans in the NHL in the past eras guess you missed that….
            Spezza 6th in points in his era – that’s true – and it proves MY POINT – this era isn’t as good, as Spezza is above average at best, which means the 5 ahead of him aren’t that much better either. Take Corsby, Ovechkin, Stamkos out of the NHL and you do have the AHL. Speaking of the AHL, ever notice how none of the really good players today or ever never play there?! they play in Canada or Europe – and you clearly know little about hockey KID – grow up and try and learn something. You are supposed to be objective as a writer, as opinionated as you are with no facts at all to back you up you are nothing more than a kid on a couch with his little opinion. Thanks for the laugh, have to get back to ESPN classics – Oilers and Flyers in 1989 is on ;) LOL

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  • Carson Burge

    Growing up I was a huge Red Wings fan mostly because of Yzerman himself. Even though I idolized Yzerman as a kid I always followed Spezza during early 2000′s, perhaps because I noticed very similar qualities in a budding star. It wasn’t until Yzermans retirement in 2006 that I started closely watching Spezza along with the Senators and quickly became consumed with the team. Spezza has since been my favorite player and will continue to be until his retirement. I know many people out there who criticize Spezza for his style of play, durability, point production or lack of etc, yet overlook the fact he is one of the most consistent players in the NHL and I believe is going to have breakthrough seasons in the next couple years. In closing, the points you made in your article along with the ones in the comment sections below, I could not agree with you more Jared. I enjoyed this article very much! as I do with most of your work.. Let this piece speak for itself after this year when SPEZZA shows why he continues to make other players around him much better!

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