Personal anecdotes - and the soft spots/prejudices that come with them - make up one of the most inspiring and amusing things about fantasy hockey (and fantasy sports in general).
Aside from maybe the most callous analytical minds out there, many of us warmly recall players we “stole” in drafts and guys who “burned us” because we took them too soon, whether they’re limited by injuries or the gravitational pull of regression. Personally, there are quite a few players whom I’ll have a slightly tougher time assessing with true objectivity; I’d be lying if there wasn’t at least a small part of me that felt vindicated when Cristobal Huet was exposed after signing a giant contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Don’t look at me as monstrous … he still got paid.)
Jason Spezza is one of those players who I can’t help but be entertained by.
Most obviously, he was part of one of my best fantasy hockey teams, even though they didn’t win it all thanks to being thwarted by a hot Huet week. During that fantastic phantasmagorical campaign, I managed to snag Spezza and Dany Heatley later than expected before their first season rolling together as part of a gaudy Ottawa line alongside Daniel Alfredsson. Jonathan Cheechoo’s 56-goal season also helped propel that pseudo-squad to “regular season” glory before a flukey playoff fumble.
It’s not just that run that makes Spezza likeable, though. He always seems to have a goofy look on his face, whether he’s sad, happy or indifferent. Spezza is the creative type who is coming off a -26 season yet he’s unpredictable enough that he’s also had a +26 season (he’s +54 overall, if you’re into that largely worthless stat). By frequently being the best or one of the best players on a shakily managed team, Spezza’s often wears the scapegoat’s bullseye, which only makes me like him more.
As nice as it is to see players stay in the same place - the New York Islanders sent the pick that became Spezza along with Zdeno Chara to Ottawa in the perpetually hilarious Alexei Yashin trade - it’s more exciting for fantasy hockey writers to hear about sexy trade rumors, so Spezza asking out is pretty enticing.
Senators GM Bryan Murray notably states that he doesn’t want to face Spezza’s team “every day,” so for this exercise, I’m going to ponder Spezza’s influence on teams outside of the Atlantic Division. I’m generally going to lean toward the Western Conference overall, however, as Murray might be saying that he doesn’t want him in the East, period.
BEST WESTERN FITS
-- St. Louis Blues - The Blues are rumored to be “high” on Spezza’s list of preferred no-trade-exempt teams, so it makes sense to devote a little bit of extra time to this possibility.
At first, the idea of Spezza being limited by Ken Hitchcock’s perceived creativity-killing system sounds toxic for fantasy purposes. In all honesty, it might be wise to expect him to only see modest (if any) statistical improvements in St. Louis, aside from possibly plus/minus.
Delving a little deeper, Spezza could be a great fit in St. Louis if the Blues can somehow find a deal that satisfies the Senators but doesn’t damage their NHL-level roster too much. Hitchcock could shelter Spezza from tough defensive matchups by sending David Backes’ line (or another heavy-lifting group) out to try to shut down the Jonathan Toews of the world while Spezza can focus on scoring offense for a St. Louis team that’s pretty deep but not quite as dynamic as you’d like.
That higher degree of specialization might make them a little vulnerable to road matchups, yet you’d hope Spezza can hold his own when needed. If the Blues keep T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen with Backes like they did for much of 2013-14, there are still some interesting “receivers” for Spezza’s beautiful passes; guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and perhaps even Patrik Berglund could flourish with an ace assist man setting them up.
The more I think about it, the more I like this idea. Still, if you subscribe to the “don’t erase your first answer” test-taking strategy, my initial gut reaction was to fill in the “False” bubble.
-- Nashville Predators - The Predators have some solid pieces that could work quite nicely in Peter Laviolette’s night-and-day different system to Barry Trotz’s clogging ways, yet it would be nice if Nashville could furnish him with some better out-of-the-box “toys.” A Spezza - Mike Fisher throwback 1-2 center combo wouldn’t be all that bad of a start.
(Too bad they couldn’t lure Alexander Radulov back overseas with promises of barbecue, no state taxes and Spezza passes …)
SHOTS IN THE DARK
-- Vancouver Canucks - If the Canucks absolutely cannot make peace with Ryan Kesler, would a Kesler for Spezza + an asset or two trade work out? I’ll be honest, more than anything else, I’d dream of a scenario where he actually provides a right-handed “shot” for the Sedin twins.* Might a disappointing Canucks forward like Zack Kassian “figure things out” with Spezza? I don’t think Spezza’s that good any more, but maybe he could nurse him to some level of productivity.
-- Winnipeg Jets - It’s amusing that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke about making a “blockbuster trade” because I can’t think of many teams that seem more like Han Solo in hibernation mode. I’m not sure why Spezza would accept a trade to Winnipeg, yet that would provide quite the blockbuster. It would also probably make Evander Kane’s life less miserable, which would be a nice change of pace.
-- Phoenix Coyotes - Yuck, let’s just move on. I almost feel like I betrayed Spezza by even mentioning the ‘Yotes. No offense, this just would be a questionable fit (at best).
-- Washington Capitals - This would make a lot more sense if Adam Oates was still in town. Even so, Spezza would represent that long-awaited second-line center.
-- New York Islanders - Garth Snow is basically playing “free agency by trade” this summer, so why not give his team more complimentary scoring? John Tavares could be the do-everything star he is, Frans Nielsen can tackle the tough defensive assignments and Spezza could take some of the pressure off Tavares - Kyle Okposo. Most importantly, we’d gain endless opportunities to make jokes about the Yashin trade.
Another bonus: Spezza with a hipster goatee in Brooklyn when the Isles move there in 2015-16.
-- New York Rangers - Just imagine how fun it would be to watch Spezza in Alain Vigneault's increasingly silky smooth system, especially since the Rangers will buy out Brad Richards to make room for someone and have enough older guys to push the “win now” button a little bit. A Spezza - Rick Nash duo could be one of the all-time misunderstood/scapegoated combinations in NHL history. This might be my favorite idea of them all.
ONE QUICK NON-SPEZZA-RELATED THOUGHT BEFORE I LEAVE YOU: The Florida Panthers’ power play put up crazy-terrible numbers that will almost certainly improve by sheer improved luck next season. As much as people bag on Dan Bylsma, I think he could end up looking like a genius there if the pieces fell the right way.
* - By “shot” I mean the trio would just pass the puck into the net over and over again. At least, that’s how that scenario plays out in my head.