Jason Spezza has been an elite player in the NHL for a decade. Fans around the league know a number of different Spezza’s. There’s the did-you-see-that Spezza, uh-oh-not-again Spezza, and then there is the infectious Spezza. Ottawa Senators fans have a hot and cold relationship with their superstar first line center. Through 611 NHL games Spezza boasts 228 goals, 393 assists for 621 points and a +80. One of the downfalls to Spezza has been his health, having only played all 82 games of a season once in his career during the 2008-2009 season.
Earlier this week Bryan Murray, GM of the Ottawa Senators, announced in a press conference that Spezza was set to undergo back surgery to repair a herniated disc and is expected to be sidelined for two months. Senators fans sighed a collective "not again" in despair. While some believe that this team has enough depth to continue to compete at a high level during his noticeable absence, some of us take a more realistic approach. It is difficult to replace the skill set a number one center of Spezza's caliber brings to a team. Even on this Senators team, which entered it's second year of a three year rebuild program, there is no one who can step up and replace what Spezza brings this season. Kyle Turris, acquired in a trade from the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman David Rundblad and a second round pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has made steady strides in his development since arriving in Ottawa. However, at 23 the expectation for him to produce Spezza numbers are unrealistic and place a burden on a young player with tremendous potential. In order for the Senators to remain relevant and in position for a playoff spot it will take a collective effort from a team which dresses a number of promising young players led by Turris, Silfverberg, Zibanejad, and Wiercioch alongside veterans Alfredsson, Neil, Phillips, Gonchar, newly acquired Methot, and reigning Norris trophy winner Karlsson.
The Achilles heel of this team is its young and inexperienced defense core. Benoit, Borowiecki, and Wiercioch all have limited NHL experience with Wiercioch being the only one of the three with a good chance to become a full time NHL player. Jared Cowen, who is out for the regular season with a hip injury, had a stellar rookie campaign and is sorely missed. Mike Lundin, who was signed as a free agent in the off season broke a finger while playing in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout and has yet to suit up for his new team. If goaltender Craig Anderson can continue his inspired play from the early season the Senators are well positioned to continue to work on securing a playoff spot.
All in all the Senators without Spezza should not be mistaken for road kill nor should they be considered contenders. This is a rebuilding team which is well coached and managed and is unlikely to throw in the towel despite the loss of last year's points leader.