The Jason Spezza era in Toronto could be over as soon as it began. With Zach Hyman set to return from injury, the consensus from media members around the league, such as TSN’s Shawn Simpson, is that Spezza will be the odd man out for the Maple Leafs. The respected veteran centerman had plenty of suitors this off-season, but opted to take a hometown discount to suit up for the Leafs. However, his opportunities with Toronto have been limited by head coach Mike Babcock and it is now expected that Spezza could be on his way to the waiver wire and then off to another NHL team or down to the minors.
For whatever reason, Babcock has not seen Spezza as a valuable piece of his roster so far this season. While GM Kyle Dubas and company likely saw the former perennial 50+ point scorer as a potential bargain at the $700K minimum contract they signed him to, he has been unable to maximize that value. Babcock has been hesitant to give Spezza the opportunity to make the most of his affordable contract. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston states that it was apparent all the way back in training camp that Babcock wasn’t enthused by Spezza’s addition and didn’t see a particular fit for him in the lineup. Granted, Spezza is not exactly an ideal fourth-line center, but surely the team could find a way to use the former All-Star, right? In fact, only the injury issues with John Tavares have allowed Spezza to make regular appearances – although he has been a healthy scratch frequently as well – but even in those games his ice time has been limited to a career-low 11:06 ATOI. Spezza has still managed four points in nine games and has an impressive 57.3% Corsi, but nothing he has done has seemed to change Babcock’s mind as to his role on the team, likely forcing management’s hand when it comes to waiving him upon activating Hyman.
Spezza, a veteran of more than 1000 NHL games, stands a very good chance of being claimed on waivers. The Maple Leafs were far from the only team to pursue the capable pivot this summer and that interest has likely only risen given his minimal cap hit and the pressure that many teams are facing to add talent in the face of a salary cap crunch or injury crisis. While Spezza is no longer the top scorer he once was, he did produce nearly 30 points in each of his final two seasons with the Dallas Stars despite noticeable regression and could do so with another club. Spezza’s face-off numbers are down this season and he seems to have lost a step in his skating, but otherwise he still plays a complete, two-way game. On top of that, he brings invaluable experience and locker room leadership to any team.
The one club that sticks out as a possible landing spot is of course the Ottawa Senators. The team with which Spezza has spent most of his career, the Senators were one of his most aggressive suitors this summer and their young squad could certainly benefit from his veteran presence. GM Pierre Dorion has made it known that he is looking to make an addition up front and may be able to do so without parting with trade capital by simply claiming Spezza. His minimal cost would also be attractive to a team that often seems allergic to spending. Both Simpson and The Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan see Spezza as an ideal fit in Ottawa as a mentor and a player who can contribute throughout the lineup. While Spezza signed in Toronto this summer to return to his hometown, a reunion with the Senators would truly be a homecoming for the former face of the franchise.