Jason Spezza spent 11 seasons in Ottawa including two as captain. When he signed with the Maple Leafs this summer, it brought the Toronto native back home and back to the Battle of Ontario.
But, Wednesday morning, the 36-year-old received news that he would be a healthy scratch for the season and home-opener against of all teams, the Senators. It had all the ingredients to be a pretty special night for a player that is well-respected around the National Hockey League.
But Leafs coach, Mike Babcock had other ideas, opting to go with Nick Shore to center the team’s fourth line instead.
To no surprise, Spezza was disappointed at missing his first season-opener of his career. The coach meanwhile, said he needs the veteran of 16 seasons to work on adjustments on the team’s penalty kill.
“He’s the coach and he decides the lineup and I have to get up to speed with what he wants,” Spezza said. “It’s a long season. It’s obviously disappointing, you want to play to open the season, there’s no doubt about that.”
Spezza wasn’t the only person in Toronto upset. Leafs alumni and co-host of the popular TSN1050 radio program, OverDrive had perhaps the strongest take on the scratching.
“I quite frankly think it’s a joke,” he said. “Jason Spezza signed for peanuts to play here, shows up early to help with the young guys and you put that in his face?
“And another thing going forward–in the next five years, they’re going to have to look for players to sign for nothing just like (Jason) and when they see that message they might think twice about it and say ‘go screw it, why would I want to put myself through that?’ It’s just Babcock being in control and saying ‘I didn’t like the signing and I’m not putting him in the lineup.'”
Spezza did come to the Leafs at a considerable discount, inking a one-year deal at the league-minimum $700,000. The deal did not include any signing or performance bonuses either.
The deal certainly helps the Leafs, who have more than $40 million committed to four forwards until 2024. The club presently has no cap space after placing four players and nearly $14 million on long-term injure reserve, according to CapFriendly.
And so, before the puck even hits the ice on the 2019-20 season, there’s a bit of controversy on the season.
On the ice for the Leafs, it’s business as usual with one goal in mind: Ending a 52-year Stanley Cup drought. Returning with a core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares to go along with an upgraded defense featuring Morgan Rielly, a full season of trade acquisition, Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie, who makes his Toronto debut following an offseason trade from Colorado. Frederik Andersen, who finished last season with the third-most wins and the second-best save percentage among goaltenders with 60 or more starts, is also back in the fold for the blue and white.
The Senators enter the season in what is likely another year of building. The club elected not to retain any of its star-caliber players on expiring deals last season, moving them out before the start of the season or at the deadline. In free agency, they added low-risk, one-year deals to ex-Buds, Ron Hainsey and Tyler Ennis while adding Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev in an Ontario swap that sent Cody Ceci the other way. Thomas Chabot and Colin White, players that represent the future, were re-upped to long-term deals. But all indications are that it will be a tough year in Canada’s capital city.
The NHL season kicks off Wednesday at 7p.m. from Toronto. Elsewhere, the Blues and Capitals face-off in a game that features the defending champion, Blues and the 2018 cup-hoisting Caps. The Oilers will host the Canucks in the in a Western-Canadian meeting at 10p.m. and the Sharks and Golden Knights will renew their rivalry from last April’s postseason to close out the first night of the season at 10:30p.m.