The day that Jason Spezza stepped onto the ice for the first time to begin his NHL career, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft Matthew Knies was seven days old. Spezza’s been around a long time.
In fact, Spezza needs only one more season to complete two full decades of play in the NHL. Spezza, whose career encompasses 1,218 regular-season games and 92 playoff games, presently sits tied for 96th place (with Maple Leafs’ legend Dave Keon) in all-time NHL scoring with 986 regular-season points.
Spezza has also scored 75 points during the playoffs. He’s done it all, with one exception. He hasn’t been on a team that’s won the Stanley Cup. And Spezza makes no bones about it. That’s why he’s back. He wants to win the Stanley Cup.
Signing Spezza Has Been One of Kyle Dubas’ Best Moves
Signing Spezza to a series of one-year, NHL minimum-wage contracts has been one of Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas’ best moves. In his first season with the Maple Leafs, Spezza scored nine goals and added 16 assists (for 25 points) in 58 games. That’s a 13-goal, 35-point pace over an 82-game season.
Last season, which was Spezza’s second with the Maple Leafs, he scored 10 goals and added 20 assists (for 30 points) in 54 games. That’s a 15-goal, 46-point pace over an 82-game season.
Spezza is flexibility personified. He’s played up and down the lineup when needed; he’s been excellent in the face-off circle; and, he’s been a team leader and mentor to the younger players in the dressing room. He’s a class act and a good spokesperson for the organization.
Is Spezza Losing His Effectiveness?
This season, however, it appears to the eye test that the 38-year-old Spezza has lost a step. He doesn’t seem to be as effective as he’s been the past two seasons. There have been some rumblings, rumors, and questions that this might be Spezza’s last season. Is it time that Spezza hangs up his skates? We wouldn’t be surprised, if and when that did happen, if a position of some sort within the Maple Leafs’ organization might be waiting for him.
Are rumors about 2021-22 being Spezza’s last season unfounded? Is it premature for Maple Leafs’ fans to believe he’s lost his usefulness to the team? Might this season be the final season of his career?
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Spezza’s numbers, both old-school and new-school, to see if there might be an on-ice reason for Spezza to hang up his skates.
Looking at Spezza’s Statistics
To this point this season, Spezza has scored nine goals and added seven assists for a total of 16 points in 41 games. That puts his 82-game pace at 18 goals and 32 points. It’s a better goal-per-game pace than either of his first two seasons with the Maple Leafs. However, his 32-point pace is quite a bit lower than his 46-point pace from last season, but just slightly less than his 35-point pace from the season before.
Spezza’s prowess in the face-off circle is just as good as it’s been the past two seasons. He won 54.0 percent of his draws in the 2019-20 season, compared to 56.9 percent during 2020-21, and 54.9 percent this season. He’s taking almost as many draws this season as last as well. Last season he took 8.9 draws per game. This season he’s dropped slightly to 8.7 draws per game.
If we look at his analytics, thanks to naturalstattrick, we see that Spezza is still positive in almost every category. At five-on-five:
In Goals, he’s at 50.5 percent (372 Goals-For to 364 Goals-Against).
In Shot Attempts he’s at 49.9 percent (207 For to 208 Against).
In Shots, he’s at 53.2 percent (208 For to 183 Against).
In Scoring Chances, he’s at 53.7 percent (88 For to 76 Against).
In High-Danger Scoring Chances, he’s at 50 percent (13 For to 13 Against). And in Expected Goals, he’s at 52.0 percent (18.1 For to 16.7 Against).
It should also be noted that all his five-on-five numbers have been generated while he’s played on a fourth line with Wayne Simmonds, Nick Ritchie, Pierre Engvall, Kyle Clifford, and Krill Semyonov. All these players, by the way, make more money than Spezza does.
If There’s a Choice, Dubas Would Be Wise to Re-Sign Spezza
The bottom line for us is this. Should Spezza wish to re-sign with the Maple Leafs next season, we believe the Maple Leafs’ should heartily agree.
In our opinion, Spezza might be approaching 40 and he might have lost a step or two, but he still contributes better than average playing with – and leading – the team’s bottom-line combinations. If he chooses to play again next season for the Maple Leafs and is willing to do so for the NHL-league minimum, we say get out the cheque book.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf