Maple Leafs’ Spezza will retire if claimed on waivers, agent says

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP/CP)

TORONTO — Jason Spezza simply can’t see himself playing anywhere else.

The veteran centre is so entrenched with the Toronto Maple Leafs that he’d rather walk away from the sport than report to another team that claims him off the waiver wire, according to agent Rick Curran.

“He’ll simply retire,” Curran told Sportsnet on Sunday.

The Leafs placed Spezza and No. 3 goaltender Aaron Dell on waivers as part of roster maneuvering needed to create flexibility in the wake of a left knee injury to Nick Robertson. The NHL’s other 30 teams have until noon ET on Monday to put in a claim.

While Dell is likely headed elsewhere — there’ve been four claims involving goaltenders already in this young NHL season — Spezza intends to stay in Toronto no matter what happens.

The 37-year-old relishes the role he’s carved out with his hometown Leafs and holds the cards here: In the event he was claimed by another team and refused to report, he’d likely see his $700,000 contract terminated.

That would allow him to sign another deal in Toronto.

Spezza said there was “unfinished business” when he returned to the Leafs on a second straight one-year contract in October, and understood at the time that a roster move like the one that occurred Sunday was possible because of the team’s salary cap position, according to Curran.

He’s taken on a mentorship role inside the organization — skating with Robertson and other prospects at the team’s practice facility throughout the off-season — while happily embracing a depth position on the roster.

Spezza is averaging 7:44 through three games and picked up his 600th career NHL assist in the season opener. He won all 10 faceoffs he took during Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

“To me, it’s special to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Spezza said in September. “Being a Toronto boy, it’s something that I dreamed of, and you wanted to be a part of something special.

“I didn’t take for granted any days that I got to put the jersey on.”

He may get to do that again as soon as Monday night, when the Winnipeg Jets visit Scotiabank Arena — assuming he goes unclaimed.

The Leafs’ decision to place Spezza on waivers was tied directly to the knee injury Robertson suffered in Ottawa, the extent of which will be known following an MRI on Sunday. It temporarily left Toronto with only 17 healthy skaters on the active roster, forcing the team to make additional moves in order to bring up reinforcements from the taxi squad.

Spezza, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, has appeared in more than 1,200 career NHL games and remains very much in the Leafs’ plans.

They remain in his, too.

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