He came, he saw, he giggled. It wasn't exactly the triumphant return Jason Spezza might have imagined, but even though he went pointless Dallas came away with the win last night. Sens fans responded to the Spezza tribute video with a standing ovation for the former captain. It was well-deserved. Still, there's a large segment of the fanbase that never really took to Spezza for whatever reason; you could make a good case he was the most under-appreciated Senator ever. Which leads us to our first thought for today:
The under-appreciated Jason Spezza
I'm an admitted Spezza booster so I won't waste too much time on how great Giggles truly was, but I will leave you all with this one stat: in his 11 seasons with the Senators, Spezza was 9th in points per game among all players with a minimum of 500 games played. He was the 4th highest scoring centre over that time frame --only Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Pavel Datsyuk scored at a higher rate. The knock against Spezza's always been his defensive play, but I sometimes get the feeling that Sens fans don't always appreciate how special of a scorer he truly was.
But under-appreciated he was, and for that I actually put a lot of blame at the feet of Jacques Martin. Martin built his coaching career on defensively sound hockey, and a teenaged Spezza simply didn't fit the mold of what Jacques expected from his players. Asked to comment on Spezza's performance in that first camp, Martin replied:
"This is a men’s league," Martin told reporters then. "And he’s still a boy."
Coverage of any professional sports team, especially by the local scribes, will be largely influenced by how coaches and management treat their players publicly. This is not to say that reporters don't have a mind of their own, but when a coach trashes a player, it tells the beat guys that they can savage the player in their columns. Fan opinion of players is heavily influenced by what is read and written in the major media outlets. Spezza got off on the wrong foot and, a near-MVP season in 2011-12 aside, never fully recovered in the public eye. To many, even in his last season he still had an immature game. It's too bad because he's one of team's all-time greats; if nothing else, Spezza's situation is a cautionary tale about the lasting effects of first impressions.
The all-time team
Speaking of all-time greats, I've got a suggestion for a fun game: pick the five skaters plus a goalie that best represent Ottawa's all-time team. I won't define the parameters, it's more fun if you come up with your own justifications as to the why, but the one rule is that you have to keep people slotted in their positions. For instance, Marian Hossa insists on playing right wing even though he shoots left. This means you cannot play him on left wing no matter how much you'd like to.
My all-time team:
Left Wing: Martin Havlat
Centre: Jason Spezza
Right Wing: Daniel Alfredsson
Left Defense: Zdeno Chara
Right Defense: Erik Karlsson
Goalie: Craig Anderson
The defense are pretty easy choices, though you could maybe make a case for Redden over Chara. The forwards are surprisingly tough, as I could imagine arguments for a Heatley-Yashin-Hossa trio up front. The goalie position is no contest if you value any kind of longevity with the team. So who's on your all-time team? Let's hear about it in the comments section.
Trusting the kids
Bob McKenzie was on the Team 1200 talking Sens earlier this week, and The 6th Sens has you covered if you're looking for a partial transcript of what was said. McKenzie is by far and away the most respected NHL insider, so when he speaks it's worth listening. If Bob says Bryan Murray has been active, and has kicked the tires on Antoine Vermette, we don't have much choice but to believe him. On the one hand it's nice that we're not talking about Chris Stewart anymore, but on the other hand it's ludicrous that Murray is a) apparently willing to part with assets for a rental player, and has b) identified forward depth as the central issue that needs addressing. If there's one thing this Ottawa team has going for it, it's its depth up front. Ottawa's top nine forwards are good. It's a strong skating, highly skilled group that has the added bonus of being relatively young. Additionally, given the team's budgetary constraints it behooves management to find savings where they can. Young, cheap players filling in admirably at the top of the line-up is the best way to do that. The emergence of Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and co. should be management's dream come true. Instead, it sounds like they just don't trust the kids yet. That's too bad, because there are other pressing issues that need remedying.
The opportunity cost of not fixing the defense
I don't think it's news to anyone that follows this team closely that the weakest part of this year's iteration is the backend. The disappointing part of this is that it's the exact same weakness the team had last year. The short term frustration of this season aside, the actual problem with failing to improve the defense via either top prospects or immediately help is the wasted opportunity. For the foreseeable future, the Senators will be a budget team. Melnyk has at times hinted the budget could grow "given the right opportunity" but I struggle to see how one could build a much more competitive team than this given the existing budgetary constraints. Essentially: besides Bobby Ryan, all of Ottawa's best players are on good, team-friendly contracts. Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, the core of this team today and into the future, are all as cheap as they're going to come. For most of the players, their peak value is today and every season the team wastes is a missed opportunity. Melnyk says the Sens are a budget team that wants to compete for the Cup; if he's serious about the budget part of contending, now's the time.
Mika Zibanejad: Living up to Expectations?
Thanks to this great new tool from whiz kid @MimicoHero, we can quickly visualize some of the key individual player metrics and rank each player against their peers in the league. The most helpful aspect of these visualizations is the stack rank for each metric that give us fantastic context for making comparisons. I've embedded the rankings for Zibanejad below:
Zibanejad looks a like solid second line centre by virtually every measure, and he's played especially well of late. The question for the weekend, then: is a solid second line centre living up to expectations for Zibanejad?
Thanks for reading!