Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Evaluating Jason Spezza

The Toronto Maple Leafs add veteran centre Jason Spezza to the mix. He may come at a minuscule cap hit but his numbers look anything but.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made a handful of small signings when the free agent window opened up on July 1st. The most notable of these moves was adding 36 year old centre, Jason Spezza. Spezza signed a 1 year, $700,000 deal for league minimum salary. That’s a very cheap price to pay for centre of Spezza’s ilk, even given his decline over the past couple years. Spezza is however a very rich man, with his career total earnings in the NHL considered to be over $85M, his current focus seems to be on silverware. The 5-time 30-goal scorer, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario (also home of John Tavares), credited his love of the game and desire to win a cup as his reasoning for coming home. Whilst the deal he signed comes with absolutely no risk there are concerns about how much Spezza can truly offer the Leafs.

There is no denying Spezza was a 1st line centre in his prime, however, given the Leafs depth down the middle there are questions surrounding where exactly Spezza fits. He spoke with media following the signing of his contract and stated Babcock sees him as a good complementary fit for the team. He stated Babcock will likely give him time on both special teams and as a bottom 6 forward at 5 on 5.

The Numbers

Although Spezza spoke on needing to acclimate to a different role as bottom 6 forward, his minutes have slowly diminished through the few past few seasons. Over the past two years Spezza has been down around 13 minutes of ice time a night. Even in this diminished role he still contributes as a positive possession player for his team when he is on the ice. Over his career Spezza is a 52.5% Corsi (+3.0%rel.) and a 51.7% Fenwick (+0.9%rel.). Most impressive is that his Corsi rel. last season matched his career average whilst his Fenwick rel. was more than double his career average +2.0%. This is a positive sign that whilst he may not be producing the points he once was, Spezza certainly isn’t being outplayed by opposition matchups.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Spezza has also never been a below 50% face-off man in his entire career. In fact, last season Spezza led his team (58.2% FO) second only to Martin Hanzal who only appeared in 7 games. Whilst the above stats show that Spezza was a positive possession player for Dallas and his line outshot and out-chanced the opposition at 5 on 5, they didn’t outscore them. Spezza was a -13 for 2018-19, however, there is pause for optimism with this stat. While on the ice his team shot as a measly 6.1% shooting percentage, well below the teams average of 8.3% and even further below his career average of 9.3%. The fact that Spezza experienced a heavy dip in both his personal SH% and his teams on ice SH% is a positive. Assuming this was just an off year and that Spezza’s shot hasn’t declined by such a large factor, this should move back closer to his career average. This is the cause for why his actual +/- doesn’t match his expected +/- in the table below.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Special teams

As previously mentioned, Spezza made reference to the fact that Babcock saw him fitting in on both special teams. The losses of Kadri and Ennis on the power play will free up a couple spots. Spezza mentioned in his press conference that he has played on the man advantage his entire career and feels very comfortable there. That was evident last season with him being the 4th highest PP producer on his team behind only Seguin, Radulov and Klingberg. Given Spezza’s ability from the face-off dot and his playmaking ability on Dallas’ PP from last season, he would be a welcome addition for his ability to win draws in the o-zone and move the puck.

Spezza also commented saying he would be used on all special teams. Whilst Spezza was a valuable part of Dallas’ PP, he hasn’t really ever been used on their PK. Spezza’s possession numbers however are pretty positive, he’s great on the draw, he’s 6’3 and takes up a lot of space. He is also a veteran of the game who plays a pretty sound 2-way game which should lend itself towards him being a successful penalty killer. These are all critical skills which certainly help if what he says is true and he does feature there for the Leafs.

Final Thoughts

Exactly where Spezza features in the lineup for the 2019-20 season at this point is unclear. The Leafs clearly have their top two centres sorted. Outside of this there is a possibility of Alexander Kerfoot or even William Nylander (unlikely) playing the third line centre role. Spezza will almost certainly play one of either the 3rd or 4th line centre slots. His ability to move up and down is a huge improvement over what the Leafs had last year in Freddy Gauthier if he fills the bottom centre spot. If he does player the 3rd line, hopefully this means the Leafs will run the Matthews and Tavares line out for 20 minutes each per night.

The leadership and role specific game that Jason Spezza can bring to the Toronto Maple Leafs is huge. The fact he brings all this at a league minimum cap hit is even bigger. The team Dubas looks to be assembling for this year may just be better than last years which almost all of us considered impossible a few weeks ago. This season should be a very exciting one and hopefully Spezza can contribute to help the Leafs get over the first round hump in the playoffs.

Sources: Hockey-Reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche: Breaking Down The Soderberg Trade

The Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic traded centreman Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for depth defenseman Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third round pick.

Soderberg, a 33 year old has been a mainstay in the Colorado Avalanche lineup for the past four seasons.  The 2018 season was Soderberg’s best year as far as scoring goals. Soderberg had a career high in goals with 23 goals and averaged 0.88 Goals/60 (at 5v5). 

The Colorado Avalanche traded Soderberg at his highest value. The Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic discusses the trade in great depth to the media. Sakic shared, “this trade allows our young centermen to have a chance to play a more prominent role on our team and add an experience defensemen to our roster.”

The trade makes a lot of sense. The Avalanche have a surplus of talented centremen at the NHL level including Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost and Colin Wilson. In addition, they have talented prospects at the AHL level such as Shane Bowers and Dominic Toninato, who could make the jump to the NHL at any time.

Let’s take a brief look at Kerfoot, Jost and Wilson.

Alexander Kerfoot

Alexander Kerfoot is ready for the next level. Kerfoot is ready to be put in the second line centre gig. Last year, Kerfoot played in 78 games and tallied 15 goals and 27 assists. With an increase in playing time, I believe that Kerfoot could tally 25 goals and 30 assists. He is definitely capable of accomplishing this, but just needs the playing time. 

Tyson Jost

Tyson Jost is a talented center, but like Kerfoot (both playing under 15 min ATOI), he hasn’t been getting a ton of playing time. Last season, Jost scored 11 goals and 15 assists in a span of 70 games. Those statistics are decent for a third line centre. If given more playing time, we could see a spike in Jost’s offensive production.

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson is another center that can grow and mature because of the Carl Soderberg trade. Last season, Wilson tallied 17 goals and 16 assists in 65 games.

Wilson is an un-restricted free agent, but he’s proved that he’s a reliable forward over the course of his tenure in Colorado. With 38.9 million in cap space, you can expect that the Avalanche will bring Wilson back and perhaps give him an expanded role. 

In Conclusion

I’m conclusion, the trade makes sense for the Colorado Avalanche. They sold Carl Soderberg at his highest value. They also traded him because they have younger centremen that need that playing time. You can chalk this up as a win for the Avalanche.

stats from hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche: Mikko Rantanen Is Pivotal To The Avs’ Success

Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen was part of the 2019 NHL All-Star Central Division team and he deserved it.

Mikko Rantanen, was voted onto the 2019 NHL All-Star Central Division, with teammates Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The trio is known as the “Rocky Mountain Line”. The Rocky Mountain Line has been dominant this season and Rantanen’s talent isn’t going unnoticed. Rantanen’s performance this year has been nothing but outstanding.

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Why Is He An All-Star?

In 50 games this season, Rantanen has registered 23 goals, 51 assists for 74 points, which leads the team, and puts him second in the league, behind only Nikita Kucherov (78pts). Plus, in his last 5 games, Rantanen has been on fire, registering 6 points, including 3 goals. He has an average time on ice of just over 21 minutes, showing just how vital he is to the Avalanche forward core. He has a 2.92 points per 60 minutes, which ranks 18th across the entire league among players with over 12 minutes of time on ice per games played.

In addition, he’s not only great offensively either, he’s got great defensive stats as well. He has more takeaways (25) than giveaways (23) this season. In terms of his career numbers, he has a 120-86 (+34) TK-GV differential, showing he has always been smart with the puck. His Corsi For % (CF%) has also been impressive this season, standing at 52.5%. Plus, he’s also not afraid to play the body (38 hits) and also he puts his 6’4 frame in front of shots too (28 blocks).

Off-Season Outlook

Rantanen is one of 15 total restricted free agents (RFAs) in the organization. He’s one of six pending RFAs on the Avalanche roster. Alexander Kerfoot, Nikita Zadorov, Sven Andrighetto, J.T. Compher and Vladislav Kamenev will also hit the market on July 1st.   

With his consistent play alone, he’s looking at upwards of $7 million USD, but once you see his average time on ice and the level of competition he’s facing each night, it’s a boost. Plus, his success in all three zones puts him far ahead of most players in the league. He has more points than Steven Stamkos (57pts) and a better TK-GV differential, as Stamkos has a -19 (17 TKs, 36 GVs) this season. He also has a much higher CF% than Mark Scheifele (49.7%) this season. So when you take his offensive production, along with his ability to keep the puck away from the opposition, and the fact that he rarely gives the puck away, he’s in for a big paycheck. He could be looking at around $8-$9million.

What To Expect Down The Stretch

Dependent upon what the Avalanche decide to do at the trade deadline this year will dictate his workload for the remainder of the season. The Avalanche secondary scoring has not been as good as it needs to be, and they should certainly look for cheap depth options. If they do get a solid piece at the deadline, he could be looking at a lighter workload moving forward. He will still be putting up big numbers, and I don’t see his CF% or his TK-GV differential changing drastically. That being said, the Avalanche have a key player that dominates in every facet of the game and will be getting a handsome pay-day this off-season.

All stats from hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

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