Monday, September 19, 2011

Go, Spatcho, Go

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to ask Tomas Plekanec a few questions about his life and his hockey philosophies. As an afterthought, and out of curiosity, I asked him to whom in the Canadiens' room he feels the closest. He said, "I have no problems with anybody on the team, but I'd say I'm probably closest to Spacek."

Spacek just seems such a likeable sort of guy. He's never scowling or unpleasant. He works hard, and during the miracle playoff run last year, he raised his game a couple of notches, providing stellar coverage of some very tricky forwards. He also gives great quotes, whether he means to or not. (Anyone who's seen those "Get to Know Your Canadiens" videos on the team website and recalls Spacek saying his worst-ever Halloween costume was the pink Teletubbie...including purse...can vouch for that.)

This summer, Spacek reached a crossroads in his career. About to turn 38 in February, he's not quite as fast as he used to be. He's not putting up the points like he did in Buffalo or Columbus either. And sometimes when he's got to race for the puck on an icing, he takes the kind of hit that makes a 37-year-old slow to get up. So it must have been disconcerting for him to see Yannick Weber developing into an NHL defenceman and the arrival of Raphael Diaz and Alexei Yemelin from Europe, just as he's about to enter the last year of his contract.

Suddenly there were too many defencemen looking for too few jobs, while the prospects for a somewhat pudgy 37-year-old on the downslide weren't looking great. Spacek could have decided to collect his very generous paycheck and let the chips fall where they may. He didn't do that, though. Instead, he took a look at himself and his training regimen and saw room for improvement.

He says he improved his cardio with some extra running this summer, and he was on skates six weeks before camp, which is quite a bit earlier than in previous off-seasons. The result is a leaner, fitter Spacek who looks determined to hold onto his job, despite the younger competition.

All of this is good news for the smiling defenceman who's doing everything he can to revitalize his career and make his contract year a strong one. It's also very good news for the Canadiens. With the health of Andrei Markov's knee still uncertain and the departure of Roman Hamrlik's vetern workhorse abilities, the Habs have a need for an experienced D-man who can step up when needed. When contemplating possible replacements in case Markov's recovery is slower than expected, or if another big-minutes guy like Josh Gorges or P.K.Subbban gets hurt, most fans don't even consider Spacek, but if his better conditioning enables him to play a tighter game, he could be very valuable as the season progresses.

Spacek has been playing his off-side since his arrival in Montreal, during which time he was most often paired with Hamrlik. Now, with two right-handed shots in the lineup in P.K.Subban and Yannick Weber, there may be an opportunity for Spacek to play his preferred left side. One would imagine a fitter player working in his comfort zone would have a better chance to put up points. If Spacek is able to work the second wave of the PP effectively, it would increase the efficiency of an already-strong power play unit.

You have to admire a guy who's proud enough to want to make what's probably his last season in Montreal the best it can be, and who's determined enough to do the work to make that happen. While it might be strange to see Spacek without his accustomed second chin, it's easy to see why Tomas Plekanec likes him so much. I like him too.


Raj said...

Good points, JT, as always. Many of us rag on Spacek too much. He and Hamrlik were +/- beasts last year and, until PK improved his game and started to work well with Hal Gill, were always on the ice together when JM needed a reliable defensive pair. Olivier at "En attendant les Nordiques" has always always shown how good statistically the "2 old Czechs" were. I wish we could have kept Hamr but cut his ice time so he wasn't so spent come playoff time, but that was not to be. I hope we can manage Spacek's minutes this season so he can be healthy for the playoffs. We sure do need him for both RS and playoffs, especially if Markov doesn't come around as soon as would wish. A fit Spacek playing his natural side? Wow, I'm excited.

moeman said...

Great read.

Anonymous said...

12 years in the League and he's been around playing for quite a few different teams, won the Gold with the Sketch at the Olympic as well... I wonder what's on his mind now that he his 38, is he contemplating retiring after this year or to the contrary he will try everything possible to extend his professionel hockey carreer in the NHL ?

I hope that Spacek is freaked out about the possibility of retiring and that he will play his contract year this year as a mean to prolong his carreer in the NHL.... you see Spacek's best two seasons ever were contract years before hitting unrestricted free agency status, a 43 points season before moving to Buffalo in 05-06 and a 45 points season in 08-09 prior his aguisition by Montreal,.... so I say, lets hope that Spacek wants a little more hockey in his life.... on the other hand am just not so shure if he does or he doesn't.

DanielleJam said...

Anyone who uses self-deprecation as a humor tactic is bound to be popular (in my book anyway!). I think this may be what makes Spacek so likeable.

dwgs said...

I met Spacek with my two young boys at the Habs blood drive a couple years ago. The kids, who were then 7 and 3, were awed and tongue tied in the presence of most of the players we met. Spacek was great with them, a big warm smile to say hello and seemed to take a genuine interest as he chatted with them for a couple minutes. He put them at ease and made them feel special. It was a nice moment. Kirk Muller was still the best though, repeatedly punching the 7 year old in the shoulder until he would tell him his name.

Uwey said...

The biggest problem I have owith Jaro, is his decisions with the puck in the defensive zone. More often than not he will try the high risk pass out of his own zone rather than the safe up the boards & out. His give aways have cost this team many needless goals.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention that, Uwey. Seeing how common your viewpoint was, Chris Boucher wrote an article regarding defensive zone pass completion percentage from the Montreal rearguards earlier this summer.