Is there a more useless  80 to 90-point player in the National Hockey League than Jason Spezza?

Sure, the Ottawa Senators young centre delivers consistent scoring year after year. He’s a good playmaker and a player many other NHL clubs would love to have on their roster.

Or would they?

For all his production, Spezza has some serious flaws as a player: he’s lazy, he doesn’t backcheck, he makes terrible neutral zone passes, and, worst of all, he appears to have been bitten by the “me-first” bug.

The Ottawa Citizen points all these things out in today’s editorial, rightfully accusing Spezza of taking his position in the community and with the team, as well as his high salary, for granted. Another case of a spoiled young athlete? Yes, but there’s more wrong than just Spezza’s attitude.

But back to his play again, the guy just isn’t worth the headaches. He reminds me of a Jason Allison or Craig Janney type — good production, but not a winner. He’s not the type of player you build a team around.

Now, as the Citizen notes, Spezza has indicated he’s tired of the scrutiny and might like a change of scenery. If I’m Bryan Murray, I take him up on this in a heartbeat. The Senators already got rid of one selfish forward in Dany Heatley. It may be time to dump his old linemate too.

Last summer’s Heatley drama may just be replayed in the Capital Region involving a new participant.


Colour me skeptical.

General Motors has announced plans to build a new line of fuel-efficient six-cylinder transmissions at its facility in St. Catherines. Hot on the heels of April’s similar declaration that GM would be building new V8 engines at the plant, this would appear to be great news.

The CAW says the moves will create 500 new jobs at the plant, allowing the factory to remain open for another 15-20 years. This, on the surface, is indeed good news for Ontario’s battered manufacturing sector.

But there are issues that stand in the way of this being slam-dunk great.

For one, GM hasn’t exactly shown it’s learned much from the pounding it has taken over the past few years. Sure, the new Camaro is selling like hot cakes and the company has already paid back its U.S. federal loans — or so it claims.

Sales are on the rise, and the company has posted positive gains in all five months of the new year to date.

But the numbers should have an asterisk beside them. For one thing, GM has offered financing deals the likes of which consumers have never seen before in attempts to woo them. How long can the company keep offering deals that include little-to-no money down, etc?

Also, the Camaro will never be anything more than a niche car. How many Canadians can afford the gas or insurance for a Camaro, let alone the purchase price?

Finally, the announcements for St. Catherines show where GM’s head is still at: building six and eight-cylinder vehicles, when high gas prices and ridiculous insurance rates have many Canadians — Ontarians in particular — buying compacts and sub-compacts in record numbers.

How about putting more effort into building more Chevrolet Aveos and such? Of course, the answer is that the company can’t make much money on these cars due to union wages, hours, etc. So, GM continues to focus on building large and expensive vehicles, despite their lesser sales.

Talk about a chicken and egg scenario. It’s enough to make one wonder if GM is ever going to come up with a sustainable plan for the future.

Props to a great guitarist who has been content to spend his career in the shadows of his boss.

Mike Campbell, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, hooked up with Daryl Sterdan of the Toronto Sun this week to discuss the group’s new album, Mojo. Over the course of reading their candid conversation, which covered everything from Campbell’s new prized purchase, a sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul, to his own reticence to record a solo album, I got thinking about how much I admire Campbell’s playing.

Content for three decades now to stay in the shadows as Petty’s sideman, Campbell has nevertheless shared in the songwriting on most of Petty’s best-known work and laid some fantastic guitar licks and solos to tape. I watched an old episode of the British musical television show, The Old Grey Whistle Test, a couple years back and found myself stunned by the beauty, sparse tastefulness and all-around brilliance of Campbell’s playing.

The show looked to be from the late’70s, which would mean Campbell was still in his 20s at the time — a young musician with an incredibly mature command of his instrument. Whether  peeling off the famous pull-offs in the outro to the band’s first major hit, American Girl, or ripping through urgent classics like Damn the Torpedos, Campbell shone throughout the performance.

And he has maintained that level of precision and passion throughout the band’s career. Hats-off to Mike Campbell on the eve of another Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album. I’m sure his playing will, as always, be a major highlight throughout the disc.

It has only been nine days since the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs following a highly improbable cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Final.

But the good vibes that permeated the air in Montreal during the Habs’ run are quickly turning to feelings of despair, or at least concern. Last week, Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier cut six scouts from the team’s already limited scouting department.

He has indicated they may not be replaced.

The team made over $20 million in gate receipts from their playoff home games, but it’s cutting personnel? Troubling.

It doesn’t end with the slashing of scouting, though. Today, the Canadian Press is reporting that Guy Boucher, the head coach of the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Hamilton, and the presumed heir apparent to current Habs coach Jacques Martin, has accepted the head coaching position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Nine days, six lost scouts, one superb coaching prospect lost. Very troubling indeed.

Gauthier has indicated he doesn’t have plans to drastically alter the face of this team heading into the 2010-2011 season. But the changes within the organization have already been palpable.

Heading into the draft this month, the Habs look a bit like a ship with a broken rudder — sure, they might find their way back to dry land, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a plan in place for what they might do when they get there, and furthermore, they are going to be beaten to that dry land by a couple dozen other NHL teams.

I have no idea what Gauthier might have in mind — he’s very much like his predecessor, Bob Gainey, in playing his cards relatively close to his vest — but his work so far this off-season leaves me questioning where this team is headed.

The questions outnumber the answers in Montreal so far this off-season.

Kudos to Mark Schatzker, of the Globe and Mail, on one of the funnier bits of political satire I’ve read in a while.

In the June 4 edition, Schatzker wrote a column of mock phone conversations featuring some of the sideline dwellers in the current race for the City of Toronto mayoralty. Funny stuff. Lampooning everyone from current mayor David Miller, to outspoken former councilor Tom Jakobek, Schatzker not only made me laugh, but also underscored the pitiful lack of depth in this race.

You know things are bleak when people like Jakobek, Barbara Hall and John Tory look like better options than any of the declared candidates. The prospect of Rob Ford or George Smitherman as mayor doesn’t exactly set toes a tappin’ in the Big Smoke.

And so it is that behind the scenes, rumours continue that Tory is being begged by some factions to enter the race.

You know things are bleak when a man with a track record as poor as Tory’s is — Seriously, how many elections has the guy lost? — is potentially more sellable than either of the frontrunners.

But, even if Tory were to jump into the fray, what would Torontonian’s be left with: a pair of loud-mouthed brawlers and a guy with a weak-kneed public image.

Not exactly awe-inspiring. I don’t envy voters Toronto voters right now. Not at all.

Three cheers for Jim Joyce, Armando Galarraga and the baseball fans who’ve supported the pair through a very difficult past few days.

Galarraga, you may recall, was one out from pitching a perfect game on June 2, only to have Joyce rule Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald safe at first base on what would have been the game-ending play.

Replays across the continent over the past two days have shown that Donald was clearly beaten by a step to the bag and Joyce had, therefore, blown the call.

But a few amazing things happened on the way to Joyce joining long-chastised umpire Don Denkinger  — he of the call in Game Six of the 1985 World Series that screwed the St. Louis Cardinals — on the list of all-time umping goats.

First — and most importantly for Joyce’s credibility — the umpire watched the replay immediately following the game, recognized his mistake and made his way to the Tigers’ clubhouse, where he tearfully embraced Galarraga and apologized profusely.

The second amazing occurence is credited to Galarraga, who not only accepted Joyce’s apology whole-heartedly, but has repeatedly praised him over the past two days for being honest, humble and forthright about the call.

Finally, fans in both Detroit and Cleveland deserve credit for speaking out on Joyce’s behalf and crediting him for manning-up on his mistake. Sure, there have been the usual death threats, but fanatics are always going to exist, no matter what the sporting issue is. By-and-large, this has turned into a positive news story — something Major League Baseball could certainly use more of given its battered reputation brought on by years of ugly steroid scandals and poor player behaviour.

Hats off to Joyce, Galarraga and their supporters. It’s nice to be able to have something good to say about what could have been a large black-eye for Major League Baseball.

And I’ll leave the issue of increased use of instant replay in the majors that has risen from this for another day. For now, let’s allow Joyce and Galarraga to heal. This story is about more than just baseball; it’s about human fallibility and forgiveness.

Just call him Mr. Personality, Captain Charisma, The Most Interesting Man in Canada.

Okay, maybe I’m stretching a bit here, but Lawrence Martin is right, Stephen Harper does get an undeserved rap for dullness. Martin says, in today’s Globe and Mail, that the PM is often unfairly accused of being a bore, when evidence suggests he has a wealth of interests and an encyclopedia of knowledge to back them up.

He knows hockey, no doubt about it. He’s also a decent musician. Yes, Harper isn’t nearly as snooze-inducing as some Canadians might believe.

But, Harper’s problem has never been a lack of intellect or dearth of interests; it’s always been his inability to convey them that’s been his downfall. The PM has never been able to shake his cold, calculating public image, even during his most candid moments.

At the recent Vancouver Olympics, Harper sat down to talk hockey and the games itself with Brian Williams. During the interview, I caught myself several times thinking “You know, I want to like the guy” as he joked playfully and made several dryly humorous remarks.

But this is the thing with Harper. He’s as professional a politician as you will ever encounter. He has the sort of distanced demeanour that suggests that even when he is at his most jovial — if that word could ever actually be used in reference to him — he’s still as shrewd as they come.

So, it isn’t that Stephen Harper is dull. It isn’t that he isn’t occasionally likeable, either. The problem for Harper is that Canadians judge him by his actions, which have been cold, cruel in some instances, and just plain ruthless in many cases.

No amount of time spent jamming with Bryan Adams or belting out his favourite Beatles tune at the piano is going to change that.