What to do Without Jason Spezza
DALLAS, TX – JANUARY 31: Jason Spezza #90 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the American Airlines Center on January 31, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Dallas Stars were dealt a brutal blow in their already challenging quest for a playoff position last week when centre Jason Spezza was ruled out for at least 2 weeks with an upper body injury sustained against the Winnipeg Jets.
Spezza is a genuinely elite level second line centre who would most likely be the top man for many teams. He arrived in Dallas via trade in 2014 after having spent his entire career to that point with the Ottawa Senators. Stars General Manager Jim Nill was seeking some experience to bolster his already talented yet youthful squad and near pulled off daylight robbery in acquiring the playmaker.
While he had a solid start to his Stars career in 2014-2015, it was last season when Spezza truly rolled back the glory years in scoring 33 goals as the Stars roared to the top of the Western Conference standings. He was the perfect third wheel in their high scoring offense alongside the dynamic duo Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
This current campaign on the other hand has been a frustrating one for Spezza. He has had injury issues prior to this most recent set back which have left his form for the most part inconsistent. There is a strong possibility he also misses last season’s rookie sensation Mattias Janmark on his left hand side with the Swede having missed the entire season so far with a rare genetic knee injury.
However, even an underperforming Jason Spezza is a massive asset to the Stars. His ability to skate the puck into the offensive zone on the power play is almost unparalleled, and he is always strong in the face-off circle. The Stars are truly at their most dangerous when Spezza is providing the type of offensive fireworks that he did last year. This may be Benn and Seguin’s team, but the Stars rely on Spezza to provide the depth that truly made their offense so potent last season.
So what is going to happen in his absence? Well Lindy Ruff certainly has some tinkering to do. Nobody in the Stars depth chart can truly replicate what Spezza brings with his experience and talent, but the following centres will most likely be expected to take on greater responsibility in the coming weeks…
The development of Faksa has been something to behold in Dallas over the last year or so. The former first round draft pick took no time at all to settle in at the NHL level and is already the go to defensive forward for Ruff. What has been even more impressive is his ever increasing offensive production. He has 24 points in 51 games this season, almost twice the output already of his rookie season (12 points in 45 games).
The Czech has to date shown no fear of taking on extra workload and he could certainly continue to thrive in the short term absence of Spezza.
Radek Faksa has been one of the best players for the Stars this season (GettyImages)
Eakin has proven in the past his ability to fill in temporarily on the top lines but he’s having a very underwhelming season and looks a shadow of his former self. The primary issue with Eakin is that he is more so a super utility player who doesn’t particular excel in any particularly area. He doesn’t truly have the scoring touch for the top line but he’s also wasted on a checking line as he doesn’t have the defensive prowess of true elite shut down forwards.
His experience alone however will see him earn more power play time deputizing for Spezza but he will bring very little of creativity or scoring touch in the same role. Eakin’s best opportunity to fill in for Spezza will be to ensure he competes well on the face-off dot.
Much of the responsibility will fall on Cody Eakin who has been underperforming (GettyImages)
The Stars have nurtured in quite a few rookies this season but perhaps none has stood out as much as Shore. He has 8 goals and 15 assists while playing every game so far. Like Faksa, what is most pleasing about Shore is that he seems to get better and more confident with each passing game.
Despite spending much of his time so far on the wing, Shore is a natural centre who could thrive in Spezza’s role. In the first game without Spezza though on Saturday versus the Blackhawks, Shore played left wing on Faksa’s line and the duo combined for the first goal of the game.
Shore has the offensive talent to fill a hefty chunk of the void left by Spezza, but it is more likely that a collaborative effort will be required to see the team survive in his absence.
Devin Shore has had a stellar rookie campaign (GettyImages)
The Stars will also naturally expect their wingers to carry some of the load. Veteran Patrick Sharp is starting to finally play close to his best hockey again after concussion issues, and Patrick Eaves continues to chip in offensively especially on the power play. Perhaps even Brett Ritchie could see his already solid production rise in his teams’ hour of greatest need. The return of savvy veteran Jiri Hudler could also boost the Stars offense. He hasn’t been at his best since signing in Dallas but has top line potential at his peak.
In what is an absolutely critical stretch for the Stars, losing one of their top offensive talents is far from ideal. The Stars have typically looked their most effective when teams are unable to focus exclusive attention on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and without Spezza this becomes a far easier task for opponents. How their depth players respond in his absence will determine how the team gets on without Spezza. Hopefully, the damage will not be too severe. The Stars certainly can’t afford too many more slip ups.