Maple Leafs and Jason Spezza get a break as suspension reduced to four games

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza had his six-game suspension reduced to four games by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday.

Spezza was suspended on Dec. 7, two days after kneeing Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk in Toronto’s 6-3 loss. He already has sat out four games and is eligible to return for the Maple Leafs on Saturday when they visit the Vancouver Canucks.

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Spezza appealed 6 game suspension

The discipline came following an in-person hearing (over Zoom) for Spezza following a spate of incidents in the Maple Leafs-Jets game. Pionk received a two-game suspension for a knee-to-knee hit on Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin during the third period of that game.

Less than two minutes after that hit, Pionk — who had lost his stick — dove to the ice to make a play for the puck. Spezza skated over and lowered his left knee to make forceful contact with the side of Pionk’s head.

At the time of the suspension, the NHL noted it had taken Spezza’s clean record into account.

“Ultimately, while we believe that Spezza’s long history of clean play supports his argument that he does not intentionally drive his knee into the head of Pionk, this is a play in which he is attempting to enact forceful retribution on a player who is in a vulnerable position,” the suspension video said.

Spezza opted to appeal through the NHLPA to have it reduced on December 9th.

Spezza suspension reduced

jason spezza suspended
Dec 4, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza (19) celebrates his goal with teammates during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Today, that appeal was finally completed.

“Applying the factors set forth in Section 18.2 of the CBA, I find that a four (4) game suspension is appropriate here,” Commissioner Bettman noted in the appeal. “My conclusion accords with the findings of DPS that Mr. Spezza committed a serious and reckless infraction of Rule 50 that resulted in an injury to Mr. Pionk (albeit an injury that turned out to be less serious than it might have been). My decision to reduce the length of the suspension is based primarily on an undisputed fact — Mr. Spezza’s admirable record of clean play over a nineteen (19) season, 1,300 game career — which is an important factor that is expressly emphasized in Section 18.2(c) of the CBA.”

Spezza, 38, has recorded 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 26 games this season.

He has 981 points (358 goals, 623 assists) in 1,203 career games with the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars and Maple Leafs. He was selected by the Senators with the second overall of the 2001 NHL Draft.

–Field Level Media contributed to this report.