Feb 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza (19) shoots against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Senators 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just Another Week In The Life Of Jason Spezza - Positives Ignored, Negatives Magnified

In all seriousness, Senators fans, sometimes I don’t know what you are thinking. I cannot think of another athlete that is so loved yet so reviled among their own team’s fan base than Ottawa Senators’ captain Jason Spezza.

Sure, Sidney Crosby has his haters, but you don’t find many Penguins fans themselves hating on their captain.  Mats Sundin was hated while he was a Maple Leaf, but not among Leafs fans.

So is the conundrum when it comes to Spezza.

Yes, he make turnovers sometimes.  So does any other player in the NHL.  But Spezza’s seem to be magnified to such an extent that the ones that don’t work are vilified more than the ones that do work are celebrated.

Yes, sometimes he doesn’t look like he is giving maximum effort.  The same thing was always said about Mario Lemieux during his career, but that worked out ok for him.  Not that I am comparing Spezza’s ability to Lemieux’.  I learned that lesson when I compared Spezza’s career path to that of Steve Yzerman.

A lot was made of Spezza losing the battle for the puck along the boards against James Neal that resulted in the game winning goal.  Spezza’s momentum was carrying him away from the play and he did backcheck, just getting there a moment to late to stop Neal from putting a rebound into the open net.  That’s what 4 on 4 overtime is supposed to do, create turnovers and scoring chances.  Spezza wins that puck more than 50% of the time and there would be a 2  on 1 the other way.

Meanwhile, Spezza was skewered as if he had just given up a pair of Joe Nieuwendyk goals between his legs in the third period of game 7 of a playoff series.  Yes, that was a Patrick Lalime reference. The Ottawa sports radio station, TSN1200, ran a daily poll and the question the day after the game (Tuesday morning), where over 60% of respondents suggested trading Spezza, either now or in the summer, was the thing to do.  Talk about a knee-jerk reaction.

All he did in the next two games was almost single-handedly lead the Senators to 4 points in the standings, with a goal and 2 assists against the Blues and two big assists against the Sabres.  The reaction from some fans –  “one or two games doesn’t make a career”.

Remember, Spezza is doing this while obviously battling injury, whether it is his back or another hip/leg injury as a result of compensating for his chronic back.  While many players would be idolized for playing through the injuries, Spezza gets nothing but grief for his attempt to play through it despite hurting.  Erik Karlsson battled back quickly last season from a major injury and was lauded for coming back despite obviously not being at 100% but giving it an effort.

I don’t understand the double-standard when it comes to Spezza.

There are 8 active players who have played over 200 games and have averaged a point per game.  Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Backstrom and Spezza.  That is pretty select company, but Spezza is never talked about in that category, even among many Senators fans.

When you cite his perceived defensive liabilities, make note that Spezza is a +60 in his career.  I know that isn’t the be all, end all stat in terms of defensive presence, but Malkin is +62, Ovechkin +63 and Stamkos is +2.  Spezza is having a poor year in terms of plus/minus.  Spezza is still among the top faceoff men in the NHL, winning 54% of his draws, and is almost as proficient on the road (53.1%) as he is at home (55.3%).  He is 14th in the NHL in terms of faceoffs taken, and one of 15 players who takes 30% of his team’s draws or more.  He has done that this season despite obviously not being at full strength physically.

I said last month that the Senators should have shut Spezza down until after the Olympic break, to allow him a full month to rehab his injuries.  I am not a doctor and I don’t know if what is bothering him could be fixed in a month or not.  He hasn’t used it as an excuse or an explanation, even though he continues to get railed.

Oh yeah, he has done all this while adjusting to a new role and trying to fill the shoes of a legend who wore the C for so many years, Daniel Alfredsson.

With a year left in his contract after this season, there will be much debate over whether to re-sign him and if so, how long and for how much. His health next season will go a long way to determining those factors for me, but for a select and vocal group of Senators fans, there isn’t much he could do aside from hoisting the Stanley Cup after setting a record for points in a playoff season in doing so to change their minds.  The guy still gets no respect.

And if #19 is wearing Blue and White in October of 2015, and that same group is longing for depth at centre in Ottawa, I WILL be saying “I told ya so”.

 

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