Jason Spezza joined In The Box on TSN1200 on Thursday to discuss his decision to sign in Toronto.
Celebrity co-host of the show Marc Methot, a former teammate of Spezza’s in Dallas, gave his thoughts on the Spezza addition by the Leafs during the segment:
You don’t hear too often anybody say anything bad about him, but I can’t stress enough how great of a person he is in the locker room mentoring young players and helping out. He is unbelievable. He is such a smart, intelligent person. He has so much hockey knowledge. And he just loves the game. He’s so passionate. He’s there before everybody else is and he is one of the last guys to leave. He is always taking care of his body.
I know he made some huge strides last summer when he hired a skating coach. He was doing speed skating stuff to work on his skating because once you start getting older, everything gets tighter. All of a sudden, maybe you’re a half a step slower. He takes all of those measures to maintain his health and skating ability. What a pick up that is for Toronto, I think.
It makes it easier for you as a player in Jason’s case when you see the ice so well. He opens it up. Watching him pick up speed through the neutral zone when he is on the power play — he is so effective. His entries are incredible. His speed is not as big of an issue as people make it out to be. He is sneaky fast when he opens up because of his long stride. It’s length and range. I’ve always heard that about J, and whenever I skate and practice with him, he can move. He’s quick and he’s a big body with a hard shot. He sees the ice great. For Toronto to sign him for what they got him for… Jesus, that’s a good pickup.
You signed with the hometown team, the team you cheered for growing up as a kid in the GTA. Tell us about the process of signing with the Leafs.
Spezza: I think it was a different process that I’ve never been through with free agency. When you go through it a little later in life, it’s a little bit different. I talked to a whole bunch of teams. I had some really good options. There was a priority for me to try to get on a team where I feel like I had a chance to win. There are not going to be too many more cracks at it for me to do it. Things worked out. I met with them. I had met with them a few times to discuss kind of where they saw me. It just kind of seemed like a good fit for me.
Did you ever have any conversations anywhere else, including Ottawa?
Spezza: Yeah, I did. I spoke to Ottawa and spoke to other teams. I spoke to a whole bunch of teams, to be honest. With Ottawa, it was a serious consideration, but we just felt like this was probably a better option for me to go to at this point. Definitely the heartstrings were pulling to consider Ottawa and go back there, but circumstantially, I think it is a unique opportunity for my family to be around. My dad will be at 41 home games. The team is in a position where they are trying to win right now. There were more lucrative opportunities, but at this point in my career, that’s not really a consideration. The game has been really good to me.
How many children are you up to now?
Spezza: I’ve got four little girls. My oldest is nine now. I’ve got a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, a five-year-old, and a three-year-old. My wife is a saint. She takes care of them during the season and lets me live the life of a hockey player. I still sleep in and try to help where I can. My life has never been in a better place personally just with the joy you get from the kids. The more you have, the more fun it is around the house. I am lucky that my wife allows me to continue to play and have a good career.
You had a pretty good playoff with Dallas. How are you feeling physically as you’ve signed with the Leafs and are hoping for bigger things there?
Spezza: The body feels good. I am realistic with the fact that my role is in the bottom six now. I can help the second power play. I was frustrated to not start the playoffs with the scratch. I was a little surprised, to be frank, and then when I got in, I wanted to make sure I never came out and found a way to contribute. It was good for me to contribute down the stretch and know that I can help in that bottom six role.
We all play just to play in the playoffs. When you get there, nothing matters other than just trying to win the games. I thought that suited me really well and it was nice to have a good couple of series and show people I can contribute in that bottom role. When you’re a top guy your whole life, they expect big numbers and big contributions, but as you get older, you’ve got to shift your game a little bit if you want to play on good teams.
Do you draw on your experience as a young star in Ottawa and how you’re more in a mentorship role now?
Spezza: 100%. I look back at the guys who helped me — Bryan Smolinski, Daniel Alfredsson, Curtis Leschyshyn, Luke Richardson — and these guys were just such great veteran guys and they were good examples every day. They were always willing to talk. That is what I try to do now with the guys. I just know how much I appreciated it.
You’re a little intimidated by the older guys. You feel like there is a big age gap. But those guys helped me so much. I still keep in touch with all of them and still try to talk to them. I just really appreciated it. I think that’s why you try to lead yourself in the game.
Where is Kawhi going? What are you hearing?
Spezza: He better be signing back here! That’s why I came here! The whole city revolves around Kawhi now. He might be playing center for us, I don’t know. By the sounds of it, people are pretty excited about it around here. I missed the whole playoff rush. I was still in Dallas, but it is pretty cool to have a championship come here. It felt like it was Canada’s team and everybody got behind them, so it was a pretty neat experience for the city.
You’re a massive Dallas Cowboys fan. How much did you take advantage of that living in Dallas?
Spezza: I had a pretty cool chance to get down to the practice facility quite a bit. I didn’t get to a whole lot of games because it is a little bit away aways and it’s during our season. I tried to go to one game a year. The team set me up for my 1,000th game — they set me up before I left this year — with a dinner with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Jay Novacek, Charles Haley. It was really cool. I got to meet a whole bunch of the legends I kind of grew up watching. It was just a really unique situation to get to know some of those guys and meet them and hear some of their stories.