Jason Spezza called it a career after 19 seasons in the NHL where he was one of the most respected veterans in the league, as his reputation of holding a level head and being a solid leader echoed around the league. With his retirement, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a key player in the locker room, although he notably joined the Leafs’ front office staff. So who could replace such a legendary player in the Leafs’ organization, and how might the impacts of this departure be felt in the coming season?
Who Could Replace Jason Spezza for the Leafs?
Replacing a man like Jason Spezza is not an easy task by any means. It is hard to come across veteran centers that are level-headed leaders that are on a low salary and are the type of workhorse that Spezza was. As such, the Leafs may have to settle for only some of these qualifications, which may see them needing to accommodate a larger salary.
If the Leafs wanted to keep the player as a center, then the free agency market has some possible candidates in the veteran leader market, including the option of bringing back Tyler Bozak from the St. Louis Blues. This option doesn"t seem entirely like a bad move either, given that the player is on a low contract currently and has played with some of the current Leafs" in the past. The downside is that his performances have not been the greatest, and in no way would currently live up to those of Spezza.
Another possible replacement would be the long-time leader with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin fills the role of a workhorse with some stellar performances, especially for a 36-year-old, managing 42 points in 41 games last season. The drawback of Malkin is that he is injury prone, and his current contract is $9.5 million, which would put the Leafs more than two million over their salary cap.
The more affordable options for the Leafs would be to bring in Riley Nash, who they already had traded for in the 2020-21 season to play during the playoffs, or to bring in Derek Stepan from the Carolina Hurricanes. The drawback with these two players, much like with Bozak, is that they don"t quite meet the same playing standard as Spezza, and as such would not be expected to put up nearly the same amount of points.
Filling From Within
The Maple Leafs could fill these roles from within the team, as they already have a certain combination of players that could overall fill the role of Spezza when working in combination with each other. For the role of veteran leader, the Leafs can look to defenseman Mark Giordano, who served as captain of a team for nine seasons. Then to fill the role of a dependable center, the Leafs struck gold in the acquisition of David Kampf who surprised many in his first season with the Leafs.
When looking at how filling from within could impact the Maple Leafs, it would allow them to bring in a rookie player such as Nicholas Roberston, Nick Abruzzese, or Mikhail Abramov and groom up these players to fill roles in the big league for the future. Where this could cost the Leafs is in their immediate performances in the coming season, as these players would need time to grow, and in the meantime, the Leafs would be missing out on a huge point provider that had been filled by Spezza.
Overall, the loss of Jason Spezza as a player will most definitely be felt by the Maple Leafs organization in the coming season, and possibly felt throughout the league if the Leafs choose to grab a replacement in the free agency market. Only time will tell what Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe will choose to do for the future of the team, but it will be covered right here on Overtime Heroics Hockey.
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