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Maybe Colby Armstrong is what we have been looking for


Over the past fifteen months, on occasion I’ve written about certain old-time Maple Leafs that I wish were on this Leaf team.  Or someone like them, at least.

I’m thinking in terms of Bert Olmstead from the early 1960s, Brian Spencer from the very early 1970s and Scott Garland from the mid-later ‘70s (click on their names to read my stories about them).  They were all different players, of course, but the bottom line was, there was precious little smooth or fancy about them.  They mostly brought attitude, sandpaper and grit.  Of the three I mentioned, Olmstead was the most skilled (he played, in his 'hey day', alongside stars like Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau in Montreal) but he had an egg beater style, and was hard to play against.

Each of Olmstead, Spencer and Garland had another thing in common:  they were agitators.

Which brings me to a current Leaf, who after an early-season injury is still more or less getting his feet wet, as it were, with the blue and white.  Now 28, Colby Armstrong joined the Leafs this summer with some pedigree.  He was a first-rounder with the Penguins back in 2001 and was instrumental as the team climbed from the depths of almost leaving town to the Crosby-Malkin Cup era. 

He missed out on the Cup experience, as he was part of the package that brought superstar Marian Hossa to the Penguins in 2007-’08.  Buried in Atlanta, another re-building team, he was nonetheless a significant offensive contributor on a mediocre team and a plus player.

When Burke signed him as soon as the free-agent doors opened this past summer, we wondered about paying as much as the team did for a third-line winger who has only played in five NHL playoff games, much as we wondered about Clarke MacArthur’s late-summer signing (which, so far, was not a mistake).

Now, it’s easy to canonize Armstrong with a short-term view, given the Leafs have twice, with him back in the line-up, come from behind to beat top Eastern conference foes in successive games, including Washington on the road.  (For the record, the Leafs worked to get those points, but they also enjoyed some good bounces that weren’t often coming their way in some previous games.  As I’ve posted recently, sometimes winning or losing is not about how you play, but whether a particular shot finds its way to the back of the net.)

But it’s hard to deny that, since his return, he has provided a vocal presence on the bench, and on the ice has been an annoyance- and here’s that word again, an agitator.  He went back and forth with Chara Saturday night, and was a pest against the Caps.  In fact, he went to that area where the Leafs had not spent a lot of time this season—the front of the net—including on a third period power-play against the Pens, and that seemed to get the Leafs going.

In pure statistical terms, in the ten games he has played, he has but one point, a goal.  And, he’s a minus 4.   But right now, Leaf fans will take it, because he seems to provide not only that annoying, hard to play against presence, but some intangibles that simply make a team better.
           

3 comments:

  1. Armstrong is the best checking agitator the Leafs have had since Shayne Corson.

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  2. Long suffering Leaf fanDecember 8, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    I have to agree that the Leafs are a different team with Colby Armstrong than without him. I can think of four other Leafs who served the Leafs in the same role, Jerry Butler in the 78 and 79 playoffs-would the have Leafs knock off the Islanders without him? Brad Smith was not a very good skater, but he was instrumental in the 87 playoffs. And how about Bill Breg in the 93 and 94 playoffs? Nobody got under the skin of his opponents more than he did.

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  3. Long suffering...I would agree on all the players you mentioned...Butler, for sure. Brad Smith as I recall was less able offensively than Armstrong but an agitator nonethless who provided a spark. Berg, absolutely. Played his "role" with (for the opposition) annoying consistency.

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