Jason Spezza is one of the best 4th liners in the NHL, but will he be back with the Leafs next season?

Published April 1, 2022 at 11:09
BY BRADLEY CELSIE
Jason Spezza is no longer expected to lead a team in points, however Leafs fans have come to expect a little more production than he has been able to produce of late. Spezza is in his third season with the Leafs and nineteenth season in the NHL. He sits 104th all time in overall games played and ninth among active players.

Spezza signed a one-year league minimum deal in 2019. He has renewed that deal twice, at one point stating "if I could take less, I would". If that isn't commitment and exemplary leadership, I don't know what is.


In his first season with the Leafs, he averaged 0.43 points per game (25 points in 58 games). Last season, Spezza averaged a very impressive 0.56 points per game (30 points in 54 games) - exceptional production for a fourth liner.


So far this season, Spezza has amassed 21 points in 60 games, which puts him at 0.35 average points per game. While this is still respectable for a guy averaging right around 11 minutes a night since signing here, it is a clear drop in production. What is perhaps more concerning is his two points in his last 15 games. Additionally, his line has not been overly noticeable in terms of generating offense in that stretch.

While the offense has been slow of late, we do have to remember that he is here to be a fourth line role player who can play on the second power play unit, win key faceoffs, be a leader, advocate to the referees on the ice, and be a role model off the ice.

It should also be noted that his current point pace is on par or above most top teams' fourth lines. For reference, the 2021 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning most common fourth line was Ross Colton (averaged 0.4 points per game), Matt Joseph (averaged 0.34 points per game) and Pat Maroon (averaged 0.33 points per game).

This year's first place Colorado Avalanche have Darren Helm averaging 0.19 points per game as their fourth line center. Jason Spezza does play the second power play unit, unlike most fourth liners, giving him more offensive looks. But even with that factored in, his offensive numbers as a Leaf have been exceptional. Even with the dip in production this season he continues to spoil Leaf fans with high fourth line production.

In terms of bringing Spezza back for another season, the Leafs have many young forwards who could be ready to make the jump to full time NHL roles next season (Alex Steeves, Curtis Douglas, Matthew Knies, Nick Robertson, etc.). Spezza on the roster could take away a spot from a young player who is ready for the next stage of development. Alternatively, the Leafs could go to the Unrestricted Free Agent market in hopes of replacing Spezza. However, it is difficult to imagine finding a better bang for your buck on the open market than Jason Spezza.

In my opinion, if Spezza wants to come back I think he should be brought back. He has earned that. Even if it is in a role in which he does not play every night, alternating in and out of the lineup with some youngsters. He can help teach them the ropes of the NHL while providing secondary offence and a solid faceoff presence. Plus some additional nights off might be helpful for the 38 year old. Spezza is the fourth oldest active NHLer skater today.

Spezza would also have to be accepting of this role. He owes nothing to the Leafs and if he wanted to retire his career would be celebrated. But given how much he seems to love it here, I would imagine Spezza will want to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs next season. The only way I see Spezza wanting to retire is if the Leafs end the Stanley Cup drought, and send Spezza off into the sunset as a Champion.

Sources: Hockeydb, QuantHockey, NHL Stats, TSN
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