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.
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.