Monday, May 21, 2007

Jason and the Senators

About a year and a half ago the primary debate in Canadian hockey circles revolved around the 2006 Team Canada Turin selections. I was personally a little distressed when Gretzky and Co started talking about 'loyalty' and 'past performances,' and 'age,' the exact opposite sort of logic that was credited with Canada's gold medal performance in Salt Lake. The 'best players at the time' logic.

The age clause is probably the one that bothered me the most. At the time two young kids in particular were tearing it up: Eric Staal in Carolina, and Jason Spezza in Ottawa. Both players had been pegged to be superstars for a long time; I think Staal's success was probably a bigger suprise simply because Carolina looked like they would be so bad, but either way, both were being considered for the team.

Ottawa was tearing up the league when they came to play Calgary in mid season. At the time it was a great matchup: Ottawa's stunning 'new NHL' offense vs Calgary's olds chool defensive stylings.

Now if you have read this blog to any extent, you'll know of my passion for Team Canada. You'll also know there are a lot of players I simply believe in, they have that 'je ne sais quoi,' and Jason Spezza is one of those guys for me. I've watched him play since he was 16 years old, Don Cherry has hyped the guy (Spezza played for Cherry's Ice Dogs for a while) and the way he plays just screams 'winner.' I always thought he looked good in the playoffs, and I've picked him in my pool in every year he's played - this includes the year he was called up. I always thought Spezza looked really good in his first few playoff games. Most of the time he only played about 7-9 minutes a night and he was at least moderately productive.

Jacque Martin, for whatever reason, never seemed to believe in Spezza. The general criticism was that Spezza was a defensive liability. I think a quick look at his stats tells a different story-Spezza's been about a +22 player in every season since his rookie - and if you tell me it's because he has great linemates, then I'll tell you he's had a lot of different linemates over four years - including a full lockout year in Binghamton. He's been all minus in the playoffs except for his rookie year - but what Senator is the exception to that rule?

Looking back that Sens/Flames meeting at the 'Dome, it was a perfect opportunity to put my love of both Spezza and Team Canada to use. I left for the game early enough to catch warmup and brought this sign:
Anyway, got down to the front row on the Sens warmup side. Fisher seemed to notice it first, skating around in the warmup, it was obvious he was reading the sign. A couple of times Spezza came around and quickly checked it, finally he smiled and gave a little nod. The sign was briefly shown on CBC (about two frames briefly) but it was pretty much illegible I guess Gretz didn't catch it, because Spezza never was named to team Canada. Perhaps it was due to injury concerns, or perhaps it was due to age, or perhaps it was due to Spezza's supposed defensive liability concerns. Either way, it was probably a bad call (although that team didn't lose due to lack of talent). Spezza went on to finish the season with 90 points in 68 games, and was the best Senator in the playoffs.

The Flames went on to win the game 2-1 in an OT comeback, spurred on from a Donovan to Amonte goal in the third. It was maybe the best game the Flames played all season, beating the Senators at the top of their game.

This year, Spezza tore up the league in the same way during the regular season, but his Senators went through much more of an early season test. While they blew through the league last year, there were all sorts of questions in the early goings this year. Now in the playoffs, Spezza's Sens have learned from their hard times, and Spezza has personally gone from a minus to a plus. His 20pts is 2nd in the league, only to his starboard sniper Dany Heatly.

Many are attributing the Senators post-season success to Daniel Alfredsson's playoff emergence, I think it's simply the only logical evolution to a team that will one day belong to Spezza.


MetroGnome said...

Jacque Martin, for whatever reason, never seemed to believe in Spezza. The general criticism was that Spezza was a defensive liability.

Playfair and Lombardi, anyone?

Kyle said...

Similarity conceded. But it seemed as if Martin had some sort of personal problem with Spezza in particular, while Playfair just seems like an overall moron.

walkinvisible said...

MG/kyle: please tell me you read my post from nearly two weeks ago, outlining how much i think lombardi has been treated like spezz of old...

and when/if i ever meet you guys (i'm totally available for the finals games 1 & 2), i can tell you the story about how i met spezz at the sporting life once and found out that he doesn't karaoke....