Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is Spezza The NHL's Most Underrated Player?

They say there's no such thing as bad publicity. Whether it's positive or negative, at least they're talking about you. The worst thing is to be forgotten about. The last part is where I'd like to start. You see while Jason Spezza is known throughout the city of Ottawa, it seems the rest of the hockey world has forgotten about him for the most part, at least when it comes mentioning the game's elite players.

When a discussion pops up about who's the best in the world, you will always get the obvious picks. There's Sidney Crosby, Stamkos, Ovechkin, Malkin, the Sedin's, Lidstrom, King Henrik and even Phil Kessel will get a mention, but never Jason Spezza. He's been getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, no respect!

In past years it was hard to argue he should be included. He came into the NHL as a phenom from junior hockey, but he was a one dimensional player who often found himself on the wrong side of a Jacques Martin. His playing time and contribution to the team reflected Martin's feelings. The Sens Army wasn't too far behind.

Spezza has always been a frustrating player and often the subject of many Sens fans hate. He was polarizing in that sense. One minute he'd be dazzling you with a pass or deke that only a handful of guys in the world could pull off, the next he'd be making a lazy blind drop pass that would lead to a goal for his opponent. Fans weren't shy to let him hear about it either. To his credit, he has handled it with the grace and wisdom of someone 30 years older. He many times could have said he'd had enough and wanted out of here, but he has never criticized the fans or the city. Ever.

For all of Spezza's shortcomings, he has worked extremely hard at becoming a 2 way player and over the past few season's has become responsible enough in his own end to warrant some penalty killing time every now and then. For all of you keeping score at home, he's drastically cut down on his drop passes too. But for some reason, everyone still thinks of him as the Spezza of 5 years ago. If I'm Jason Spezza that has to be infuriating to deal with.

For all of the skeptics who think his career hasn't lived up to the potential he once had, maybe you should look again. Heading into today's game with Philly Spezza has played 602 career NHL games and has 613 career points. Yep, for all his faults and alleged underachieving, he's averaged more than a point per game over 600 games. To put that in perspective, a player that everyone would agree is the elite of the elite in Steven Stamkos, has 323 career points in 320 career games. It's basically a wash between the two point wise and no one will argue that Stamkos should be a Selke winner either. Yet Stamkos is a lock to be on Team Canada for any major tournament and Spezza isn't even usually in the conversation.

At the start of the 2011-12 season, nearly every "expert" there is predicted the Ottawa Senators to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs for the 2nd straight year. Yet here we are just a week away for the regular season ending and the Senators are still in good shape to make the post season. Mr Spezza is a key in that resurgence and all you need to do is watch how poor the team plays without him if you doubt the statement.

With less than a week to go, Jason Spezza sits fourth in league scoring with 81 points. Have you ever seen a guy in the top 5 in scoring get so little respect? Spezza has long been a more than solid point producer but this has been the season when he's finally had the all around year we've been asking him to have since he came to Ottawa 10 years ago.

Through 76 games Spezza has 31 goals, 50 assists, is a +12, plays 19:51 a game and has a solid 53.9 faceoff winning percentage (21st in the league), all while leading the entire league in faceoffs taken with 1613. The only other MVP candidate in the top 30 is Claude Giroux at the 24th spot.

When you start to look at where he sits in all the different statistical categories in the league, you wonder how you aren't hearing Spezza for the Hart more often. He has truly had a special season and I'm not sure why so few people, especially in the media, seem to be acknowledging it, while I've been bombarded by Kessel is the second coming all season long.

Sure some of it is because of the market he plays in and some of it is because a lot of the media don't bother to do the research, instead choosing to rely on a player's past reputation, but it isn't like Spezza is having a quiet season tucked away in Columbus. He's fourth in league scoring in a Canadian market and has finally stepped up his all around game to the point where I can legitimately claim he deserves consideration for MVP of the league.

I bet most of you, especially the "experts" had written Spezza off for the most part and didn't think he was capable of such a spectacular season. Somewhere Jason is laughing, check that, giggling. One thing's for sure, he definitely belongs in any elite player conversation now and may be getting a free trip to Vegas at the end of June.

Thoughts on Spezza's turn around season?


Anonymous said...

Not sure about the Hart but only because there are a couple of Sens that have been critical to our success this year and I totally agree with a lot of the points you have. Why isn't he a shoe-in for Team Canada?
Still a big Spezza fan and I've decided to pick up my 2nd jersey with #19.
So glad to have him as a Sen!

Anonymous said...

Spezza is the total package. He's the heir to the throne. Alfie is legend but Spezza is Primetime. Everyone in their locker room knows that, and the C on his chest is not far off.

Anonymous said...

MVP for the Sens this year. I used to curse Spezza, but there's no denying that he has put a lot of work into his game. He's taken leadership of the team.

Kelly said...

I recently saw a piece on potential candidates for team Canada in 2014. It was a big list of no brainers plus others getting consideration. Spezza was never mentioned. It's tough to beat the bad rap he has as a defensive liability. He's a way more complete player now and hopefully the stigma starts to disappear.