Beyond 2015

So Jason Spezza, Ottawa’s first line center and the league’s fourth leading league scorer last season, is out indefinitely with a herniated disc?

Ignoring the immediate kneejerk reaction, and ensuing panic that will flow, this news is a ‘we just traded Pavol Demitra for Christer Olsson’ kind of terrible that takes time to properly absorb.

The good news for Spezza is that his surgical procedure that took place today reportedly went well; although no specific timeline has been placed on his return.  

This indeterminate amount of time that Spezza will be out of the lineup will assuredly have some fans freaking out and for good reason – even if he misses a best-case scenario of six to eight weeks, we’re looking at Spezza missing approximately 28 regular season games over the next two months. With the seven games that have already been played, Spezza will be lucky enough to return to the lineup by the time we reach this season’s three-quarter mark.

Fans will instinctively dwell on the short-term implications and how the organization can survive in the interim. Much is being made of the internal options within the Senators organization and the depth that the Murray management team has accumulated and deservedly so. This organization’s depth is “the envy of the league” after all. We don’t have to worry about the Senators using Matt Gilroy at the forward position for example.

From today’s Ottawa Sun:

"We're actually excited about the fact it's a great opportunity, not only for individuals but for the team, to play," said coach Paul MacLean. "Jason is one of those special players in the league that can make something out of nothing. We don't have someone like that to go in there, but we certainly feel very confident with the depth of our team. We feel with the way we've played to this point, if we can continue to do that, the opportunities to win are going to be there."

There’s no questioning the fact that Spezza’s absence creates an opportunity for this team’s other centers to showcase and improve their worth, but how much more can we expect from the likes of Peter Regin, Kyle Turris or a rookie like Mika Zibanejad? It’s been a small sample of games to this point, but with the exception of Regin, the other two guys have been solid.

The most sobering reality of Spezza’s injury is that it inevitably lends itself to some forward-thinking. He’s two seasons removed from unrestricted free agency. His back injury history was already a red flag for the organization. As Scott pointed out earlier, he’s now going under the knife for the same surgical procedure that he had in the summer of 2006 – almost seven years later. Being 29, he’s no longer the 23-year old who had the rest of his career ahead of him. He’s at an age that is historically accompanied with a decline in play and productivity.

The injury certainly makes Mark Parisi’s post on Silver Seven Sens from the other day a timely one and it’s something that I have discussed in the past as well.

It’s not like the Senators have to make a decision to re-up Spezza anytime soon, but at some point, there inevitably has to be some internal discussions focused on a contingency plan.

I don’t know if the injury will change management’s desire to retain a player who has spent his whole career in a Senators jersey. Although he has certainly had his detractors and was a lightning rod for criticism, since Dany Heatley’s trade request, fans and the media have stopped ripping Spezza for what he isn’t and have appreciated him for what he is.

Often organizations look for a number one center in perpetuity, and I certainly do not want to undercut the on-ice value that Spezza brings. Players of his ilk rarely if ever become available in free-agency, much less choose to sign in Ottawa. If the Senators choose to extend Spezza, the trick will be getting him at a price that can account for production that will likely diminish as the years pass.

That time is a ways off, but it's something to consider.

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