If there is one positive thing to take away from the Tomas Kaberle fiasco last, it is that Jim Rutherford was able to dump off his contract on then Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier without giving up much of anything. All the Hurricanes had to do was take on the expiring contract of 37 year old defenseman Jaroslav Spacek in return and this deal ended up being more than just a salary dump. Spacek quickly found his role in Carolina as a third pairing defenseman and made a great first impression in his Hurricanes debut by recording two assists. He was able to give the Hurricanes stronger defensive depth as he performed very well as a sixth defenseman and proved to be a good mentor for some of the younger defensemen, most notably Jamie McBain.
Spacek was just about everything you would want a third pairing defenseman to be and his experience could make him somewhat valuable to the Hurricanes going forward. Does that mean that the Hurricanes should re-sign him in the next couple of weeks? Not necessarily. While Spacek was solid when healthy, he was also very brittle and missed a considerable amount of time with various injuries. This is something that Spacek has struggled with for the last few years and it’s gotten worse as he’s gotten older. His limited mobility and durability also make him no more than a third pairing defenseman at this point in his career, which is a role that shouldn’t cost a team more than $2 mil. per year. Spacek might re-sign under those terms but it seems more likely that he will be the odd-man out given how many defensemen Carolina has in their system right now. A one-year deal wouldn’t be out of the question, though.
As of right now, it is tough to say what the Canes will do with Spacek but if he wants a new contract, his play last season might be able to help him earn one. His point total isn’t going to wow anyone, but Spacek was able to control possession as he had the highest scoring chance percentage at even strength among Carolina defensemen. After the jump, we will take a closer look at the season Spacek and see why he was able to succeed in Carolina.
Jaroslav Spacek 2011-12 Scoring Chances
Average TOI: 16:05
Even Strength Chance% Def. Rank: 1/9
Even Strength Chance Diff/60 Def. Rank: 1/9
QualComp Def. Rank: 7/9
OZ Start%: 58.4%
One of the reasons why Spacek looked more comfortable with the Hurricanes is because Kirk Muller used him in a sheltered role. He played third pairing minutes, was used a lot in the offensive zone and was matched up against bottom-six competition. All Spacek had to do in this position was not be a defensive liability and thankfully, he was far from that. However, the easier minutes also means that he is expected to drive play at a greater rate than others on the team. He was able to do that for part of the season.
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
|Game #||TCF||TCA||SCF||SCA||Segment%||Team %|
TCF = Total Scoring Chances for at even strength, TCA= Total scoring chances against at even strength, SCF= Even strength scoring chances for during segment, SCA = Even strength scoring chances against during segment, Segment%= Scoring chance percentage at even strength during segment, Team% = Hurricanes scoring chance percentage at even strength
Season Segment Line Graph
Click graph to enlarge
It didn’t take too long for Spacek to adjust as he played his strongest hockey of the season shortly after he was acquired. He had a bit of a slump after that but regained his composure after about 20 games. The end of the graph can be pretty misleading because it looks like Spacek closed the year on a really strong note but he only played in a couple games during his final segment and that consists of only eight scoring chances. Spacek missed basically all of March with various injuries and setbacks and that’s part of the problem with him. He also missed about two weeks in January (segment 2) which when he had one of his weaker stretches of play, as well.
Spacek is a fine defenseman when he is healthy but he’s taken on a lot of mileage over the years and all of these injuries have really affected his play in some cases. The other thing about Spacek’s play when he was healthy is that he performed at a level that was well above the team’s average at the time. This is probably because he played soft minutes but he was at least able to play that role effectively, which is more than I can say for some other players that Carolina have used in their third pairing. The Hurricanes decision to bring back Spacek will likely depend on their confidence in his health. He was a significant upgrade over Derek Joslin as a sixth defenseman and provided a decent amount of production for his cost, but there is a very good chance that he could spend half of next season on the DL because of how brittle Spacek is. His age is another concern, too because a lot of players tend to hit a wall the closer they get to 40.
I also have questions about how versatile Spacek is because he was only used as a third pairing defenseman and powerplay specialist in Carolina. He was rarely used on the PK, didn’t see opposing team’s top lines (unless there was a bad change) and played over 20 minutes in only two games while in Carolina. This limits what Spacek can do and if he is re-signed, he is probably going to stay on the third pairing no matter what. He did play the shutdown role in Montreal a couple seasons ago but he injuries have hindered him a bit even if he does have the size that can work well in that situation.
The other thing that could make Spacek attractive to other GMs is how he improved the play of Jamie McBain. That is, if you remember what kind of roles they were being used in.
Spacek and McBain were one of the Hurricanes’ best defense pairings as they were able to control scoring chances at a higher rate than almost every other unit. Keep in mind that they were facing significantly easier competition than others, so Spacek doesn’t look as good when taking that into account. However, it is hard to fault him for playing his role well. Look at it this way, there are a lot of teams who use awful players on their third defense pairing and they still get demolished despite playing in easier situations. McBain and Spacek definitely had their issues defensively but they were not a liability and they gave the team a decent amount of offense from the back-end too. This allowed Kirk Muller to roll three defense pairings and not lean on Allen, Gleason, Faulk and Harrison to play near a half-hour almost every night.
Bryan Allen’s success with Spacek here might suggest that Spacek can be used in a tough-minute role but Allen was not being used in a shutdown role with Spacek. If you look at Allen’s game-by-game ice time, you will notice that there are some stretches where he was playing 11-15 minutes a night. This is because Muller used him in a third pairing role with Spacek during that time. I’m not sure why he did that but the two of them worked pretty well together.