The hockey world has been on pause for over three months, but things looking up with the NHL into Phase 2 of the Return to Play plan and with a set date of July 10 for training camps to open. The league shutdown has not stopped clubs from doing whatever business they can (including signing prospects to entry-level contracts and free agents from the KHL) and potentially formulating plans after the season with the financial losses affecting the salary cap over the next couple seasons.
Taking a look at a number of potential roster scenarios involving the Toronto Maple Leafs and gauging how GM Kyle Dubas may address the situation, we will look at the Leafs situation up the middle, specifically veteran center Jason Spezza and his future with the club.
The 37-year-old former All-Star signed a one-year league-minimum deal with the Leafs last July to help provide some experience and leadership following the departure of Patrick Marleau. After some well-chronicled misuse by former head coach Mike Babcock before his firing last November, Spezza played well in a depth role at center and on the wing, scoring 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 58 games averaging just under 11 minutes of ice time per night.
The Toronto native enjoyed playing in his hometown and being given the opportunity to contribute, which is why he indicated during a conference call in April that he would like to sign another deal to stay with the Leafs.
"I definitely feel like I have game left and there's nowhere else I'd rather be than (to) play another year here in Toronto," Spezza said. "I would love to be back because we are building things with this club and I want to be a part of that."
Spezza’s versatility is something that would make his return quite valuable to Dubas. Assuming he re-signs for another year, the Leafs would have a bottom six center or winger at $700,000 or something close to that, while re-signing Kyle Clifford might cost more than double that amount.
Without the presence of a stabilizing veteran, Toronto’s options would be either Frederik Gauthier or Adam Brooks at center. Gauthier is a arbitration-eligible restricted free agent after this season and will likely meet the qualifications of the requisite number of NHL games played to be exposed for the Seattle expansion draft next June.
Brooks signed a two-year contract extension last month and is waiver-exempt next season, which could mean that the Leafs will shuttle him between the AHL Marlies and the NHL to see how effective he can be in a bottom-six role.
If one of Gauthier or Brooks is claimed by Seattle, it might be possible that Spezza would sign another one-year deal and that Toronto might be amenable if his skills and speed has not diminished, but for now it appears a foregone conclusion that he will be back for another year with the Blue and White.
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