Tack on another chapter to the feel-good story Jason Spezza is writing in Toronto.
It was the man his teammates call “Vintage” that brought forth a classic idea to the Maple Leafs’ leadership group: pay it forward, spread the wealth.
As Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday’s edition of Headlines, a group of the Leafs’ well-compensated NHL players pooled money together to make a contribution to their American Hockey League brethren this season.
The Leafs were trying to keep their generosity quiet.
“Yeah, obviously not quiet enough,” captain John Tavares said, when asked about the contribution following Saturday’s 4-1 victory versus the Jets in Winnipeg.
“I have to give Spezz a lot of credit on this one. He kind of brought it to the forefront from the leadership standpoint, and the leadership group thought it was really important. I think we know — society as a whole, but certainly in our game — how tough a year it is for so many. So, within the organization, we wanted to make sure we try to take care of our own.”
Spezza, 37, is on his second league-minimum contract with the Leafs, but has earned a comfortable living through a long, successful career.
He doesn’t wear a letter on his sweater but routinely spends extra time with prospects and younger members of the group working on everything from face-offs to having the proper mindset.
Marlies call-ups Adam Brooks and Nick Robertson have been quick to sing his praises.
Coach Sheldon Keefe said he had only heard “some rumblings” about the gift.
“It just, first of all, speaks to the character of our group, but I think it also just speaks to the recognition of the fact through this pandemic people in all walks of life are going through some tough times and the hockey business as well at different levels,” Keefe said.
“If you’re a guy playing on an AHL contract, it’s a challenge to get through this period. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but not surprised that our players have the character that they do and step up.”
In light of their shortened season and the farm circuit’s ravaged gate revenue, AHL players on two-way contracts are only receiving 48 per cent of their usual salary in 2020-21.
The minimum salary for an AHL player is US$51,000 — before the 52 per cent cut and taxes.
Due to the pandemic, many endured a long off-season without seeing a paycheque. They are now getting their pay chopped by half.
“There is no one to blame, but I would hope the NHL and NHLPA would recognize the dire financial and mental situation so many of the AHL players are in at this point,” Larry Landon, executive director of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association, told the New York Post in January.
“These players are maxed out on their credit lines, they have piled up debts since the end of last season and they are fearful of what awaits them.
“Our players are filled with anguish and anxiety. Our office has received numerous calls from players and their wives, crying about what is an unpalatable situation. Players may not be able to afford rent. They can’t get four-month leases on apartments. They’re eating fast food. Is this what anyone wants?”