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Mendes: Why the Senators should hang onto Spezza

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Ian Mendes, TSN 1200
2/5/2014 9:30:07 AM
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The last 48 hours have been a perfect example of how Jason Spezza is the most polarizing figure on the Senators roster.

On Monday night, many fans in this city placed the blame squarely on the captain for his role in the James Neal overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  

But the very next night, Spezza answered his critics with a clutch three-point performance that included a pair of beautiful assists in a stunning 5-4 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues.

On both nights, our radio station was flooded with calls and e-mails from fans wanting to talk about Spezza. The first night we heard from his detractors and, on the second, we heard from his defenders.

It's a predictable pattern with the fans here in Ottawa. When Spezza plays poorly, his critics say you cannot win with him. When he generates offence, the negative comments disappear into the cold night air.

There is no arguing that Spezza has had a rough season in 2013-14. In many ways, Spezza is having a similar season to Eric Staal in Carolina. Staal has 14 goals and 44 points and was left off Team Canada's roster because of his slow start. Spezza has 15 goals and 42 points – numbers that look awfully similar to Staal's. The Sens captain sits 24th in scoring amongst centremen in the NHL, a ranking that suggests that he is still a legitimate number-one centre in a 30-team league.

Spezza is also only one point behind Kyle Turris on the team scoring list without the luxury of playing with the same quality of linemates so far this season. And while everyone can agree that Turris is trending upwards, most believe that the opposite is true for Spezza.

Those who are into analytics have been trumpeting Spezza's poor Corsi numbers all season long as tangible proof of his declining skills.

After Monday night's loss, where Spezza failed to clear the puck out of his own zone, many fans who aren't into advanced stats said they had reached their breaking point with the captain. We were bombarded with "Trade Spezza" e-mails and calls and there seemed like a growing distaste for his style of play in Ottawa.

One of the most common complaints I heard from fans is that Spezza needs to earn his $7 million salary.

But what fans need to remember about Spezza is that his contract is set up very favorably for next season. While he carries a cap hit of $7 million, he will actually only get paid $4 million in actual money for the 2014-15 campaign.  (Spezza is being paid $5 million this season as his front-loaded contract starts to decline).

And for a team like Ottawa that is desperate to reach the salary cap floor, this contract is an absolute dream. For next season, the Sens are getting $3 million of salary cap space eaten up for nothing. If the Sens were a spend-to-the-cap team, this deal would be an issue for them, but the exact opposite is true and that is why I would expect the Senators to hang onto their captain. He gives them $7 million of salary cap space for the price of $4 million.

And now ask yourself this important question: Would you pay Jason Spezza $4 million to play next season?

Of course you would.

In a world where the oft-injured Martin Havlat will be making $6 million next season and Mike Ribeiro will be making $5.5 million, Spezza is absolutely a bargain at $4 million in real dollars. He won't even rank among the top 50 forwards in salary next season.

As his salary is lowered, perhaps the expectations on Spezza could follow suit. He is 30 years old and no longer surrounded by snipers like Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. But at $4 million dollars next season, Jason Spezza will be worth every penny that he is paid.

Jason Spezza (Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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