The Toronto Maple Leafs will soon be facing a cap crunch with players like John Tavares, Zach Hyman, and Travis Dermott coming off of the injured reserve. This means that they will have to waive or trade almost all of their spare players in the NHL to fit under the cap. The Athletic’s James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel looked at who the potential candidates are. Including, Nic Petan, Nick Shore, and Jason Spezza.
Naturally, given that Spezza is a former Sens great, there was lots of talk about this. There was plenty of talk online about whether or not the Ottawa Senators should bring him back. However, aside from being a nice nostalgia moment, bringing back Jason Spezza wouldn’t make sense for the Senators.
Jason Spezza Return To Ottawa Doesn’t Fit
First, let’s take a look at the player Jason Spezza is now. He certainly is not the point per game player he was when he left Ottawa. In fact, he has not hit 30 points in the past two seasons. With the Dallas Stars, Spezza put up 26 (8-18) and 27 (8-19) for the past two years respectively. Both of those he missed roughly five games, however, he is clearly not what he once was.
His ability to control play also decreased in recent years. From NaturalStatTrick, in 2017-18 he had a CF% of 50.61% and an xGF% of 53.49%. Both ranked in the top 4 for his team. In 2018-19 he had a CF% of 49.19% which ranked fifth among Stars forwards. However, his xGF% was just 49.10% which ranked ninth among Stars forward. His step down is a cause for concern as he is already 36-years old and players don’t tend to get better the older they get.
This year, Spezza has had a bunch of struggles with Toronto’s Head Coach Mike Babcock. From the very get-go, it seemed like he wasn’t Babcock’s type and struggled to get out of the dog house. He’s played just over half of the team’s games this season which is certainly an adjustment for him.
Despite that, his on-ice numbers have been very solid this season. In his limited role as a sheltered 4th liner, Spezza has controlled play very well. He has a 56.64 CF% in the 7 games he has played. Now, this is a very small sample size and something that will likely regress as the season goes on but it’s encouraging enough anyways. He’s showing he can be an effective 4th line player who is used in a sheltered role at 5v5. That has a value around the league, especially for playoff teams. So, why should Ottawa avoid this?
The biggest reason is the youth movement. It has been discussed quite a bit by Sens fans this season, but at some point, there needs to be room for the younger players to play. Logan Brown is back up in the NHL and looking good, Nick Paul is showing he can play when put alongside actual teammates. All of this should be more important for Ottawa going forward then trying to re-live the glory days by bringing back Spezza. If these players continue to play like this there is no justifying sending them back down which means there just wouldn’t be a spot for Spezza on this team.
Drake Batherson and Filip Chlapik are just two more names that should be given another shot at some point this season. It may be post-deadline but there are also only so many players a team can trade. The reality of it is the Ottawa is very unlikely to find trade partners for all of their expiring players. It’s why deals like the Vladislav Namestnikov ones are fine at first but need to be cautious moving forward.
If the Sens really want to add another forward then looking for a player with a higher upside would be much smarter. Look at the list that TSN put together during the broadcast the other night. Any of the names like Jesse Puljujarvi, Joshua Ho-Sang, Ryan Donato, or Kevin Fiala would be decent options. These guys are much younger then Spezza and have a higher upside.
If they desperately want to acquire another forward (why?), this is a good list at least. Only player I wouldn’t be interested in is Toffoli though just because he’s a bit older pic.twitter.com/4UKnETX8jq
— Trevor S. (@ShackTS) October 26, 2019
Whether that’s someone like Donato or Fiala who are already probably more than fourth liners now or someone like Puljujarvi or Ho-Sang where the potential is clearly there. These by no means would be moves that automatically work out, however, swinging for the upside talent is a much better idea. The best-case scenario for these players is you find some kind of hidden gem or even top-six forward for the future. A best-case scenario for Spezza is he provides a little bit of value while here and you flip him for a depth pick at the deadline or let him walk in Free Agency.
The overall upside is what a team like Ottawa should be swinging for. Having the potential to add someone who can be extremely talented in the future, even if it’s risky, is a bet that’s much more worth it then someone who will make no difference in a tanking season.
Too Many Players
The final reason is a bit of a combo of the first two. The Sens seem to be making a panic move because Artem Anisimov and Colin White are both hurt. However, as Brown and Paul have shown, they have players who can play well in the void. The other reason might be they wish to win on another trade like the Namestnikov one. Either way, the issue will come when White and Anisimov get healthy.
There is absolutely no way you can justify sending either Brown or Paul down if they continue to play as well as they have. Scott Sabourin was just told to find a home, which means he very likely wouldn’t be on the block and Ottawa won’t waive one of their expensive veterans like Mikkel Boedker to make space. So, that would leave you in a pretty bad situation if you claimed someone like Jason Spezza off of waivers.
If you traded for one of the younger players previously mentioned it seems reasonable that you would shred at least one contract, if not two in return. The team’s trading said players would also likely want a younger player to try and work on as well. Or possibly an NHLer to help their team out right now. Either way, claiming someone like Spezza off of waivers won’t solve anything when the team gets healthy. All that will happen is Belleville will be even more crowded, leading to less development for the prospects that “need” to be down there.
There are just too many reasons why a Jason Spezza return wouldn’t make sense for Ottawa. The player himself is still an NHLer, even if he isn’t what he used to be. However, the other factors this team has should prevent a move from happening. It seemed unlikely anyways but when you really look into it, it just doesn’t make sense.