The Dallas Stars offseason has already been underway for quite some time, but now with a head coach settled in, the team will have some tough decisions ahead of them. One question general manager Jim Nill and head coach Jim Montgomery must make is what to do with declining veteran Jason Spezza.
After signing a four-year, $30MM deal four years ago, the soon-to-be 35 year old is coming off a disappointing 2017-18 season. After scoring 33 goals in the first year of that deal, the veteran’s numbers have dropped as he scored 15 goals in 2016-17 and followed that up with just eight goals last year under former head coach Ken Hitchcock, while he averaged just 13:00 ATOI, his lowest time on the ice since his rookie season.
The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (subscription required) writes that the duo of Nill and Montgomery will are expected to discuss and come to a decision whether Spezza can fit into Montgomery’s system by the end of May. With one year remaining at $7.5MM AAV, there are a lot of options regarding Spezza. The team could keep him and hope he can produce on a bottom-six line. The team could also buy him out, saving $5MM in cap space for 2018-19, but would require the team to extend his cap hit of $2.5MM for 2019-20. The team could also try and trade his expiring deal to a team with existing cap space and take back a longer-termed player, who might be able to produce better than Spezza. Of course, Spezza does have a 10-team no-trade clause.
Shapiro also breaks down the veteran’s decline and is quick to point out that Spezza’s numbers were already going down before Hitchcock arrived in Dallas, so you can’t expect Spezza to return to form under Montgomery. However even with the lack of quality linemates among the bottom-six, Shapiro points out that Spezza has lost the ability to create his own scoring opportunities as he’s become a forward who attempts to position himself in front of the net in hopes to re-direct shots or catch a quick rebound. On top of that, Spezza’s defense hasn’t gotten any better, which was never a strength of his in the first place.
In the end, the decision will come down to how Nill and Montgomery view Spezza’s value. If you try not to think about the $7.5MM he is owed, he might fit well into a bottom-six role. The one nice thing about Spezza’s contract is that it should expire when the Stars need to open up cap space for Tyler Seguin’s new contract.