Every once in a while, your team makes a trade that you wish they hadn’t. Sometimes you know it right away. Other times, it takes a while to realize the move didn’t work.
A few months ago I posted a piece suggesting early 1960s Maple Leaf winger Dick Duff should always have remained a Leaf. Punch Imlach traded Duff and Bob Nevin in a major move to acquire Andy Bathgate from the Rangers. Bathgate helped the Leafs win a Cup in 1964, and Marcel Pronovost, who the Leafs later acquired for Bathgate, was key in the 1967 Leaf run to the Cup.
That said, I liked Duff. He was later flipped to Montreal where he found great success. The Rangers got lots of mileage out of Nevin and the young Leaf prospects they acquired in the Bathgate deal- Arnie Brown and particularly defenseman Rod Seiling. I would have preferred the Leafs stick with what they had at the time.
More recently, a few months back I posted a column entitled, Does anyone miss Alexander Steen?
At the time, Steen was having a decent but unspectacular season with the St. Louis Blues.
Leaf fans will recall that early last season, Ron Wilson’s first with the Leafs, he seemingly didn’t like the attitude of some players, and Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo were dealt to the Blues for Lee Stempniak. (Stempniak, we know, was traded a few weeks ago to Phoenix for Matt Jones and two mid-to-late draft choices. He has since played like the reincarnation of Rocket Richard, with 13 goals in 15 games as Phoenix has clinched a playoff berth.)
Now, the Blues are unlikely to make the playoffs, and there have been ongoing reports that the Blues tried to move Colaiacovo before the deadline. He has been a 5-6 defenseman this season, usually playing 15+ minutes a game. But he has 28 points in 63 games, and is a +6 on the year. (That may not seem like a significant achievement, but fellow Blues defenseman Eric Brewer, for example, is -15.) Colaiacovo scored a game-winner on the weekend with some outstanding extra effort, to keep St. Louis’ dim playoff hopes alive.
As for Steen, he has blossomed in the second half of the season. He just turned 26, so he’s not much older than the young core Leaf fans are excited about for next year- Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg, all 24. Steen has 24 goals in 64 games, and is a +9.
There is much more to the game that statistics, of course. And perhaps there were issues that fans are not aware that led Cliff Fletcher to make the trade.
I also didn’t hear any Leaf fans complain when Stempniak was moved to the Coyotes a few weeks ago.
It’s easy to criticize a move after the fact, of course. And I know that sometimes it’s a case of improvement by subtraction, when moving players creates an attitude shift- and opportunities for new players. But so far, it’s hard to see how the Leafs helped themselves by trading those three assets.