Winning In Lieu of Any Spezza Offence

If you’ve been reading this blog fairly regularly over the past while – whether it’s a couple of months or say all the way back to 2011 — you will have assuredly noticed my concerns with when Jason Spezza’s contract will draw to a close and the risks associated with re-signing a player of his age, his checkered health (now two major back surgeries), who was not exactly renowned for being driving puck possession or his defensive acumen are quite sizable, especially in light of historical NHL evidence reflecting that offensive production begins to drastically decline after the age of 32 – the age that Jason conveniently be when he hits UFA at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season.

Granted, it is much easier to rehash Spezza’s shortcomings when he’s enduring one of his worst NHL seasons in recent memory.

Via Behind the Net, here’s a look at Spezza’s even strength production per 60 minutes of ice-time:


(Note: ‘A1’ refers to a first assist and ‘A2’ a second assist.)

If you’re wondering why I excluded the 2012/13 lockout shortened season, it’s because he only played in five games.

As you can see by Spezza’s numbers, despite his point production being the smallest of his career with the exception of that dreadful 2008-09 campaign, his points per 60 rate is actually propped up by an inflated second assist rate.

On the power-play, it’s a similar story. His points per 60 are the lowest of his career dating back to the 2007-08 season.

It’s worth mentioning that Behind the Net’s advanced metrics only date back to the 2007-08 season, but even if we go back further and use the goals per game and points per game rates that Hockey-Reference provides, reflect a player who is producing goals and points at a level not seen since his formative days in the NHL when he was 19, 20 and 22 years of age.

In fairness to the Spezza, it’s not like there isn’t context to explain his scoring woes. The coaching staff’s decision to pair Kyle Turris with Bobby Ryan, the constant lineup shuffling, groin and hip problems and the pressures of a once struggling team weighing on him as the new captain, Ottawa goaltenders have also had a terrible .891 save percentage when Spezza’s been on the ice at five-on-five. Throw in the fact that Spezza and his teammates have also combined for the lowest five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage (9.19) of his career – combining this shooting percentage with his on-ice save percentage and you’ll get a PDO of .983 – which is Spezza’s second lowest total in has past seven seasons.

So not only has Spezza been inundated with difficult circumstances, PDO, which history has shown tends to regress towards 1.000, reflects that Spezza has also been unlucky.

There has been a sizable rebound in Spezza’s shot attempt differential (Corsi) over the past few weeks, so although he only has been on the ice for two even strength goals for in the past 12 games, at some point, you have to imagine the even strength goals will start coming for him. Especially since it seems like the days of him playing against the opposition’s top lines are a thing of the past. (Note: After having one of the team’s highest Corsi Related Quality of Competition rates in his last two full seasons, Spezza’s checks in with the seventh highest rating amongst Ottawa forwards who have played in 20 or more games this season.)

Sadly, he’s seventh on the team in even strength goals with seven and two ahead of guys like Michalek, Condra and Neil.

What’s been bothersome for me is that Spezza hasn’t passed the eye-test for me a lot this year, so while there are plenty of reasons why his production and numbers are off, his skating has noticeably deteriorated.

Whether that’s because he has compensated for injuries or just the natural eroding of skills that comes with age, it has hampered his ability to the 200’ game that Paul MacLean encourages his players to play.

Once in a while, you will get a flash or see flashes of the old Spez, but too often, I find that these moments are fleeting and I hate saying it because I like the player and have found that fans have often been too quick to criticize him, he just doesn’t seem like he’s that dangerous of an even strength player these days.

I was glancing at SportingCharts even strength charts that allow you to visualize where players have been taking their shots and getting their goals and in contrasting this current season with Spezza’s productive 2011/12 campaign that happened as recently as two years ago, you can see that he’s simply not shooting a high volume of shots from high traffic areas or places where he has had success in the past.

Here are his shots…

And goals…

What’s most impressive about Ottawa’s recent string of success (they’re 7-1-2 in their last ten games) that has allowed them to climb back into the playoff picture, is that it has essentially come without any kind of offensive contribution from Jason Spezza.

I know that Bryan Murray has gone at lengths about wanting to go out in them market to acquire a player who can help this team and he’s mentioned the need for a big forward who has some skill, but perhaps the best tonic for Ottawa’s playoff chances and an extended playoff than an improvement in Spezza’s production.

And if Spezza can’t improve his numbers, maybe that’s simply an indication that this team isn’t in a good enough position to be going all in for a two-year window of Cup contention.