Tonight is a chance for another Stars win, which is exciting, but as with last year's spate of homecoming tours for Ruff, Nill, Seguin, Horcoff and Peverley, tonight will also be especially meaningful for one of the players. Jason Spezza will make his first return to Ottawa since his request to be traded was granted last summer, and he admits that there will be a fair bit of nerves.
Here is where I wanted to embed this SportsNet video of Elliotte Friedman's excellent interview with Spezza, but SportsNet videos are basically autoplay monsters from the Mario Bros. underworld, so just give it a click and check it out over there.
There's no hiding the fact that Spezza hasn't had quite the season some people were dreaming about when he was signed, but that reality ought to be properly placed within the context of the Stars' middling-at-best progress this season as well. As much as Spezza might shrug off any suggestion of it being a luxury not to be "the guy" in Dallas, it has to be a good feeling for him to be able to make adjustments in his game as needed without fearing immediate rabble-rousing from concerned citizens:
Spezza hasn't scored at the same rate with Dallas as he did with Ottawa (35 points in 47 games this season). He said adjusting to a new team and modifying his game have contributed to the production decline.
Playing out of the spotlight that shines bright in a Canadian market has allowed Spezza to try and improve defensively without feeling the pressure of having to score while he makes adjustments.
"I'm trying to play a little bit more responsible game," he said. "At times you feel the pressure to score and to put up points and be consistent that way, and maybe by doing that, I didn't make the necessary adjustments at times in my game."
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Spezza's game has been a work in progress, but he has seen encouraging signs.
"We've worked hard on trying to eliminate some of the plays that we think have been hurting him and getting comfortable inside our system," Ruff said. "Sometimes that's a simpler game, but his game has really been going in the right direction.
"He's been snakebit when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net because he's had some golden A opportunities that haven't gone for him. I think if he keeps doing the right things … he's been a positive influence on almost every offensive situation for us. That has been a big plus the last six or seven weeks for us." [NHL]
Let's pause for a moment at look over to Tyler Seguin, who has had every bit the offensive season the Stars wanted (and desperately needed early on). Seguin has scored plenty, but that hasn't stopped people from immediately trying to poke holes in his defensive zone play or general "all-around" ability, as if such dubious criticisms make an elite 22-year-old goal-scorer somehow expendable or undesirable for any team in the history of the NHL.
Spezza has, apparently, been trying to improve his defensive game, and that has possibly kept his scoring from reaching its former heights so far. So Seguin is scoring but playing defense, and Spezza is playing defense but not scoring enough, or something. Does that mean it's basically a lose-lose for star players when your team is, uh, losing?
Though Spezza, 31, already faced the Senators on Jan. 13 in a 5-4 loss in Dallas, he’s been looking forward to this date and as he headed towards the visitors’ dressing room before a 50-minute skate here Wednesday afternoon the memories were flowing.
In 686 career games with the Senators, he finished with 251-436-687 career points which ranks him second behind only the legendary Daniel Alfredsson. Spezza has known since the schedule came out this day was coming and he has mixed feelings about it.
"It’s a little nostalgic coming back to the rink and it just reminds you of some of the good times you had," said Spezza, who planned to make a stop at Tony’s Capones to have a meal and visit close friend Tony Cuccaro and his son Vince. "You have to handle it professional. I’m a member of the Dallas Stars. I’m excited about where we’re going.
"This is a bit of a closing of the book on the move. It’s different to be back here as a visitor but it’s something I knew was going to be inevitable when I did get traded."
Named the captain after Alfredsson departed for the Red Wings as a free agent on July 5, 2013, Spezza was always a lightning rod for criticism with the Senators. The fans loved him when he scored points but they couldn’t stand his penchant for bad giveaways. [Ottawa Sun]
(Go ahead and check out the Ottawa Sun piece in its entirety as well, if for no other reason than to see Bruce Garrioch's majestic video. If you've never seen one of those, you are missing out.)
The note at the end of that last paragraph just serves to reinforce the sad reality that whenever a top goal-scorer plays for a team that doesn't win, accusations about shoddy defensive play (or in this case, giveaways, but still similar) will follow. While scoring at a point-per-game clip during his ten-year tenure in Ottawa, Spezza was also a positive possession player for all but one season, but giveaways, that's the thing we're going to cite in order to sustain a narrative about how it was partially Spezza's fault that the Senators were bad. Gee, I wonder why he didn't want to spend another ten years there.
So, sure, let's look at giveaways for a second just to drive the point home. Jason Spezza is (as he often is) near the top of the list for giveaways this year, which would be concerning if A) giveaways weren't a completely useless stat, as evidenced by the fact that B) Joe Thornton is right next to him on that list. In fact, browse any giveaways leaderboard, and you'll see mostly elite players up there. A certain Ryan Getzlaf was 13th in giveaways last year, but I don't seem to recall too many people lambasting him for being irresponsible with the puck while he was coming in behind Sidney Crosby for 2nd in Hart Trophy votes. Giveaways are garbage in most cases, because you know what has to happen in order for a giveaway to occur? You have to have the puck in the first place--something that the elite players do much more than most other players. If you are scoring and driving possession, giveaways are not worth a second glance.
So when you hear about how Spezza's otherwise-marvelous legacy in the Eugene Melnyk-saddled domain of Ottawa was tarnished because he wasn't defensively responsible enough or some such nonsense, just remember that during his time there he was one of the best players in the league and on his team, no matter what kind of anecdotal evidence you might hear otherwise. It's not Spezza's fault that a penny-pinching owner never built an environment that would make players actually want to stay.
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I might have gotten a little passionate up there, but I will not have our giggling, newly broken-nosed 2C's name besmirched by anyone (except us, if warranted)--especially after his line filled the gap during Seguin and Benn's recent scoring vacation.
Speaking of Jason Spezza, word is there will be no supplemental discipline for Alexei Emelin. I think that's the right call, but what do I know? [Pro Hockey Talk]
Ralph Strangis talks about how being a fan is about something much more enjoyable than just the outcome (fun fact: Jack Edwards started to write a column like this last year, but then he started writing about a time the Bruins lost a game, and he threw his company-issued laptop out the window). This is a lie. [Stars]
Pardon Mike Heika's French, but he doesn't have the answer for what the Stars need to do to save this year. [DMN]
A TRADE HAPPENED, and it is boring. Marcel Goc for Maxim Lapierre. This is basically a Dan Ellis for Tim Thomas type of deal without the Tim Thomas charisma. [Trib Live]
Cal Clutterbuck has joined the ranks of the Fined for Embellishment club. Let's all welcome Cal with some warm applause, but not too loud, pl--oh, see, that's what I mean...you can get up now, Cal. Nothing actually touched you, it was just clapping. [NHL]
Jeremy Morin was taken to the hospital last night after his elevated heart rate wasn't going down. Scary stuff, but thankfully Morin is doing all right. He will be monitored before resuming play. [Columbus Dispatch]
If the Hart Trophy is supposed to reward players who make so-so teams look like really good teams, Carey Price is probably as deserving as anyone. [THN]
Alex Ovechkin passed Tyler Seguin and Rick Nash to take over first place in the NHL goal-scoring race with two tallies against Pittsburgh last night. The Caps won 4-0. [Capitals]
Russian Machine Never Breaks has a handy guide for how to be a female hockey fan. It starts off with a steamy photo of Tyler Seguin. [RMNB]
Mental illness is a real thing, and hockey players deal with it just as much as anyone. [THN]
Finally, it's time to play "You Be the Ref!" Today's lesson is about how to call Alex Ovechkin for two penalties when he doesn't really do anything at all:
GIF: Ovechkin got a holding AND a roughing call on this. What in the....? http://t.co/wJyJ5msDjz— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 29, 2015