A one-year, $700,000 contract — that’s the price the Toronto Maple Leafs paid to have Jason Spezza on their roster this season.
It was a challenging year for the 37-year-old, who spent most of this season on the fourth line. One of the lowest points for him as a Maple Leaf came in the home opener, when he was scratched because of what former head coach, Mike Babcock said was lack of special teams practice.
He signed for the league minimum to live out his childhood dream of playing for the Leafs, and Babcock ruined it before the first game of the regular season.
For Spezza though, he was obviously disappointed, but that moment didn’t stop him from being what Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs wanted him to be — a role model for the younger players.
After most Leafs practices, you’d see Spezza working alongside players like Mitch Marner, helping with face-offs, or other parts of their games. Most recently, it was Nick Robertson, who shadowed the 17-year veteran.
“We’ve been able to get to know each other a little bit. I try to help him out with a few things.” Said Spezza during the NHL’s Phase 3 training camp, “he’s a good kid, he’s very quiet and focused, so you want to help him feel comfortable too.”
Having a presence like that on the team — who’s willing to share his abundance of knowledge with each and every player, and to even do it after practice — shows what type of leader Spezza is.
But while he’s shown what kind of leader he is behind the scenes, he’s also carried himself in that same manner on the ice in game situations.
In game three, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Robertson scored his first career NHL goal. And who was the player that was there to retrieve the puck from the referees? Jason Spezza.
Jason Spezza gets the puck for Nick Robertson pic.twitter.com/bdWL8XLp32
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 7, 2020
More often than not, the 37-year-old can be seen talking to players on the bench, giving feedback and usually sounding like a head coach if he’s chosen to speak to the media. But he went out of his comfort zone in this years’ playoff qualifiers.
It wasn’t leaving his wife and four daughters for the NHL bubble, which he said was not a “sacrifice”, but a “choice”. It was an in-game decision, which Maple Leafs head coach, Sheldon Keefe said was Spezza not wanting “[our] season to end today.”
The fight, which was with Dean Kukan in the 2nd period of game four, was Spezza’s 7th-career NHL brawl. At a time when the team needed a spark most, the veteran was there, literally, fighting for his season. Some might say he didn’t win the fight, but many believe this was the spark that lit the flame to their massive 3rd period comeback.
Unfortunately though, his season would end two nights later in a shutout loss to the Blue Jackets in game five.
“It’s an emotional loss, I think. For the amount of work that we put in to prepare ourselves for this — to be done so quickly,” said Spezza in his end-of-season availability with the media on Wednesday, “makes it probably a little more emotional than normal just because of the commitment to get ready.”
Was that ‘The Last Dance’ for Jason Spezza?
He showed his worth this season with the Maple Leafs, who will hopefully re-sign him this off-season. Whether it’s a league minimum deal, or a price above that, the 37-year-old deserves it.
Nobody knew what would come of his season in Toronto. People questioned whether he’d play well, and there were even questions about him making the lineup after what Babcock did in the home opener.
Yet he showed his worth and how important he can be to this group of players and their quest of winning a Stanley Cup. And of course, too, they’d love for Spezza to be a part of that journey with them.
The question now remains, “will he be a part of the Maple Leafs next season?”
With the way the players and Keefe have spoke about him, you’d think he would be. Even he’s said he’d love to be back in a Maple Leafs uniform next season, but that more needs to be discussed with management in the coming weeks.
My thoughts though are that he returns next season, and I’m pretty sure about it. By how he answered some of the questions in his end-of-season media availability – like saying “we” when speaking about what happens in the future regarding him as a Maple Leaf, all signs point to a return next season.
“We don’t know that because we don’t know what happens next year,” said Spezza, “we have potential, we know we have potential — we’ve shown it at times. There’s some nights where we’re unbeatable and there’s other nights when we’re not.”
Usually when players are likely leaving a team, you get a response of the player wishing the team the best in the future, like what Tyson Barrie said during his end-of-season media availability.
“I’m really pulling for them [the Leafs] going forward,” he said.
When you hear words like that, you likely know it’s the end of the road for that player with that team, and when he did use the term “we”, it was in the past rather than future tense.
Going back to Spezza, I do believe Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and each of the staff members enjoyed Spezza being with this team enough to re-sign him. And what will it hurt if the Leafs do have him under contract next season?
A league-minimum deal at best and if the team doesn’t like how he’s progressed throughout next season, they could find a way to possibly bury the contract (which is unlikely). But my thoughts are that he’d be with the team and if they do make a run at the Stanley Cup, he’ll be there for every single second of it.
There are a lot of moving parts going into next season and a Spezza deal isn’t the number one concern for Dubas. However, some part of me believes he should get a deal done with his camp sooner rather than later.
A lot of fans are pulling for him to be re-signed and rightfully so. He fought to keep this team alive and even if it was for just one more game, he didn’t go down without a fight.