This one’s a little out of left field: The Maple Leafs will sign 36-year-old Jason Spezza when the FA period opens at Noon EST.
Expect hometown boy Jason Spezza to sign a one-year contract with TOR today.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) July 1, 2019
Kyle Dubas mentioned recently that one of the Leafs‘ best advantages this FA period despite the lack of cap space is selling veteran players on the opportunity to come and win here on cheaper short-term deals in the twilight of their careers, and that’s exactly what’s taken place here. Once an elite centerman with multiple 30+ goal and 80+ point seasons to his name in Ottawa and Dallas, Spezza has lost a step (or two) and has been a 25-point player the past two seasons with the Stars, but he’ll bring an element to the team’s second power-play unit and also add scoring depth and faceoff ability down the middle/wing.
Spezza is a high-end faceoff taker who has won over 55% of his draws in the last three seasons. Even if he slots in on the wing at times on this Leafs team (he spent a fair bit of time there in Dallas as he slowed down), he has the ability to take right-side draws on his strong side and win a large percentage of them. He won over 58% last season overall, including over 59% on the power play, where he’ll help the Leafs‘ second unit — which struggled throughout the year — start with the puck more often. 12 of Spezza’s 27 points last season came by way of the power play, so it’s one area where he’s been an elite contributor over his career and still has something left to give with his slick hands, heavy shot (he can rip a one-timer as a right shot, which adds an element the Leafs don’t have), and play-making ability:
Spezza also has the ability to fill in as the pivot on a skilled line should a situation like Nazem Kadri getting suspended in the playoffs or a key injury down the middle arise. He has remained relatively healthy so far as he’s aged, playing 75 and 76 games in the last two seasons, and chipped in three goals and five points in 11 playoff appearances this past Spring. Matthews – Tavares – Kadri – Spezza, with Nick Shore and Frederik Gauthier as depth options, is an improved depth situation down the middle, to be sure.
Spezza is also tight with John Tavares, who has remarked on how much he looks up to Spezza as a professional, a person and a father, so he’ll replace some of the veteran leadership elements lost with Ron Hainsey and Patrick Marleau departing for pastures anew.
“He’s a guy I really look up to in terms of the type of professional he is,” the 28-year-old Tavares said. “I’ve got to know him and his family. He’s a great father and husband. We push each other in the off-season, have a great friendship and talk hockey or life.”
The contract is expected cost the Leafs just $700,000 (league min.) for the one-year commitment. “Spezza is coming home to try to win a Cup” is a statement that would’ve had a lot more gravity to it five years ago, but the deal is hard to complain about at that number given it helps address a couple of needs — some cheap scoring depth up front, face-off ability, and help on the power play.