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Maple Leafs trade target: Jason Spezza

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Could Spezza be Toronto’s third line centre next season?

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Could a homecoming reunion be in the cards for Jason Spezza?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With a weak free agent market this offseason, the Maple Leafs could turn to the trade market in an attempt to improve a competitive roster. Toronto will carry plenty of cap space to fill out next year’s lineup, and should have one last year to splurge before Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are due for their raises. If the Leafs strike out on landing a big free agent like Joe Thornton or John Tavares, one player who could be of particular interest to them is Jason Spezza.

Spezza, who will turn 35 in June, posted just 26 points in 78 games this season with the Dallas Stars. This was a significant drop-off for a player who has been known as a consistent 50+ point scorer for well over a decade, and his ice time fell to just 13 minutes per game in his first full season under Ken Hitchcock.

Spezza carries a $7.5 million cap-hit in the final year of his contract, and the question becomes: do the Stars believe he’s worth this price? Trading him would allow the Stars to spend more on a big-name free agent, while the Leafs could land a potential 50-point scorer without having to commit to significant term. As per Cap Friendly, he carries a ten team no trade list, and it seems unlikely that a Toronto-born player would pass up a chance to play for a competitive Leafs team.

A Closer Look at Spezza’s Year

Spezza’s year-by-year 5v5 production

Stat 15-16 16-17 17-18
Stat 15-16 16-17 17-18
GP 75 68 78
TOI 944.69 857.18 824.17
G 20 11 4
A 13 16 10
P 33 27 14
P1 29 19 10
P/60 2.1 1.89 1.02
P1/60 1.84 1.33 0.73
CF% 54.45 50.06 52.25
Rel CF% 2.8 -0.92 1.06
xGF% 51.99 48.18 53.83
Rel xGF% -0.29 -3.42 0.35
ixGF/60 0.84 0.62 0.62
iSh% 12.66 10.48 4.08
ZSR 55.39 51.03 54.73
TOI% 26.23 25.71 22.05

Spezza’s all-situations shooting percentage fell to 5.8% this year, down from his career average of 13%. As per Natural Stat Trick, his most common linemates went from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn last year, to Mattias Janmark and Devin Shore this season. He also struggled with a back injury down the stretch, so it is not exactly clear how often he was playing at 100%.

In terms of expected goals for per minute at 5v5 (IxGF/60), Spezza’s posted an identical mark to his ‘16-17 season. His numbers look fine in terms of both relative shot attempt differential (Rel CF%) and expected goal differential (Rel xGF%), but both his point production and time on ice fell.

Spezza’s With-or-Without You Numbers

Spezza’s ‘17-18 With-Or-Without You (WOWY) #s

Player TOI With CF% With Spezza CF% Without CF% Without Spezza
Player TOI With CF% With Spezza CF% Without CF% Without Spezza
M. Janmark 450:22:00 52.78 51.84 46.62
D. Shore 228:40:00 49.18 53.58 48.76
B.Ritchie 173:04:00 53.62 51.19 56.96
R.Elie 158:22:00 53.21 53.09 50.39
A.Radulov 149:07:00 55.7 51.55 51.5
G.Smith 111:37:00 50.25 54.05 55.98
M.Hanzal 100:40:00 56.63 53.54 45.87
A.Roussel 96:37:00 55.67 51.85 51.87

With the exception of Brett Ritchie and Gemel Smith, Spezza’s linemates fared better in terms of shot attempt differential when they played with him rather than without him. Spezza does benefit from a fair share of offensive zone starts, but his a significant portion of his drop-off may be simply due to poor luck, worse linemates, and a late-season back injury.

Assessing Spezza’s Fit With The Maple Leafs

If the Leafs can get Spezza back to his pre ‘17-18 form, they would have themselves a terrific centre. Prior to this season, Speeza scored at a 5v5 points per 60 rate of at least 1.73 since ‘07-08 (as far back as I could go on Corsica), and this type of production would certainly make him overqualified as a third line centre.

As mentioned above, Spezza receives his fair share of offensive zone starts, and he’s outstanding in the faceoff circle. He could be a natural replacement for Tyler Bozak, and the Leafs would only carry a one year commitment. Acquiring him would allow the Leafs to keep William Nylander with Auston Matthews, and boast added centre depth in case an injury occurs.

Toronto could keep two top lines together, while pairing Spezza with players such as Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. The Stars get added money to spend on a big free agent, while the Leafs get a strong third line centre without committing term. The two teams would be left to negotiate how much money would be retained, and what players or picks would head to Dallas, but this looks like a potential fit if the Stars are ready to move on from their Spezza era.