The Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Sunday that Jason Spezza has officially retired from his NHL playing career and will be transitioning into a front-office role as a Special Assistant to General Manager Kyle Dubas.

This marks the end of Spezza’s three-year run on the ice in Toronto, where he played 183 games and put up a more than respectable 80 points considering he only averaged 10:51 per game largely spent on the fourth line. He also chipped in six points in 17 playoff games. Over his time as a Leaf, he was consistently one of the only players the team could count on to show up for big games, something that was always greatly appreciated and respected by the fan base.

Over his career, Spezza recorded 995 points (a total bummer that he retired five short of 1,000) in 1,248 regular-season games and another 76 in 97 playoff games.

Considering his pedigree, Spezza coming home to Toronto on league-minimum contracts and embracing any role thrown his way was more than commendable. From the healthy scratch in his first game as a Leaf, to giving the penalty kill a try, to sitting out multiple playoff games, he was a true professional through it all.

Spezza was regularly tasked with anchoring the fourth line with a revolving door of linemates through most of his three seasons in Toronto – as evidenced by the fact that four of his five most common linemates were defensemen (the other was Wayne Simmonds).  But he also had more than a few big-time moments for the Leafs on the ice.

Let’s take a look at a few.

Perhaps most famously, there was Spezza’s fight against Dean Kukan to spark the Leafs in the playoffs with the team on the verge of elimination, one many of his teammates credited for starting the team’s comeback in Game 4 vs. Columbus:

There was also his hat trick in 2020-21 against the Vancouver Canucks:

His playoff series against the Canadiens was fantastic, including two big goals:

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the rest of Spezza’s illustrious career in the league. Drafted second overall in 2001, his draft pick rights were traded from New York Islanders along with Bill Muckalt and Zdeno Chara to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin. After breaking into the league with the Senators, in Spezza’s second full season (which had an AHL year in-between it due to the lockout), he broke out with 90 points in 68 games while centering one of the best lines in hockey in between Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. The following season, Spezza went to the Stanley Cup Finals, where Ottawa lost to the Anaheim Ducks.

Ottawa enjoyed some decent seasons after that Cup appearance, but they never advanced past the first round again with Spezza in the fold before he was eventually traded from the Senators along with Ludwig Karlsson to Dallas Stars for Alex Chiasson, Alexander Guptill, Nick Paul (the irony is not lost on me here) and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft (Mackenzie Blackwood).

In Dallas, he was supposed to pair with Tyler Seguin to give the stars a deadly one-two punch. The Stars put together some good seasons, but they never advanced past the second round (losing to the Blues both times), and Spezza fell out of favour as time went on in Texas. In his last two seasons with Dallas, Spezza tallied 26 and 27 points in 78 and 76 games, respectively. He was also healthy scratched in the playoffs (although he played well when he did get into the lineup).

With his career in decline, Spezza came home, where we all were able to enjoy his career renaissance as a fourth-line scorer and veteran leader who played on sweetheart contracts for the capped-out Leafs, which only further cemented his legacy not just as a highly productive NHL player but a consummate pro’s pro.

It’s a total shame that Spezza not only never won a Cup in his career, but that the Leafs couldn’t even get over the first-round hump in his time here. It would have been a great send-off to cap a great career.

The good news is that Spezza is staying with the organization, and if the team were to get the job done moving forward, he would still be a part of it. We know that he helped lay the foundation and culture for this current era of the franchise with his passion for the game and highly-respected veteran perspective that he’s eager to lend to the first-year prospects in the organization and the team’s core leaders alike.

Cheers to Jason Spezza for a great career. Here’s wishing him nothing but success as he moves into a front-office role with the Maple Leafs.

Kyle Dubas’ statement on Jason Spezza’s retirement

“It is difficult to describe just how much of a lasting and positive impact that Jason Spezza made in his three seasons with the Maple Leafs. Jason’s passion for the game of hockey, his desire to continuously push himself and his teammates to improve, as well as his capacity to make strong connections with all members of the organization, have been invaluable. Though today marks the end of his tenure with us as a player, it is a pleasure to have him join our front office to impart all that he has to offer.”

Jason Spezza’s statement on his retirement

“I love hockey. Since the age of three, I’ve been lucky enough to live out my dream and do what I love for so many years. I eat, sleep, dream hockey and it’s always been there for me. There are too many people to thank individually but I’m forever grateful and indebted to the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and Hockey Canada for their support and belief in me as a player and person. To my teammates, coaches, support staff, trainers and equipment staff – a heartful thank you for everything. Through countless hours at the rink – whether on the ice or with those behind the scenes – I have been so fortunate to have forged friendships for life.

Hockey has been my life’s work and to be able to come home to Toronto and bookend my playing career where it started was incredible. To the fans – in Ottawa, Dallas, Toronto, and across the league – your impact on the game is immeasurable. I’ll never be able to replicate that feeling of stepping onto the ice to the roar of the crowd, but it is something I’ll always remember. Thank you.

Looking forward, I’m very grateful to the Leafs for the amazing opportunity to transition into this new role. It enables me to continue to follow my passion; learn and live new experiences within the game I love.

Lastly, none of this happens without the unwavering support of my parents, siblings, wife, and kids. You have always been my cornerstone.”