Tomorrow, I will launch (well, that's a pretty big word...maybe "start" is closer to the truth...) a new mini-series of sorts, called "The Leaf Legacy in my lifetime". It is designed to appeal to "newish" or first-time Leaf followers, or those who may simply be curious about the club's history.
To be clear, this will not be a historical piece in the sense of being detailed and researched. In keeping with the pieces I post here, it will simply be some personal reflections on what I recall as key moments in the team's history, from the 1950s to the present.
If you know young Leaf fans who might be interested in these types of stories, by all means spread the word. I'm hoping to post probably one a week or so over the next couple of months.
Leaf world seems to be waiting with baited breath for the puffs of white smoke to appear from the rooftop at the Air Canada Center any moment now. There has been so much talk about what management may or may not do in terms of possible trades. There are the usual big name rumors (Getzlaf, Stastny, Carter...) and then there is the belief that Burke will do something none of us expect, a la Phaneuf deal a couple of seasons ago.
Whether anything happens just after the All-Star break and before the end of January (which is kind of my guess, but it's an un-educated guess), well, we'll find out pretty soon. I sense most of us are in agreement that while the Leafs desperately want to make the playoffs (who's kidding who, the future is most important, of course, but there is an imperative to get to the dance this spring, too...) they will not make a move simply to make the playoffs in April. Any move will have a long-term benefit as its intention.
In any event, trades are a fun time for almost everyone—except the players involved and their families.
For the fans, mid-season deals invigorate hope (or get us off the ledge…) as their beloved teams make the mad dash toward the playoffs and hopefully more than just a token appearance therein.
Since Brian Burke is given much credit for so many of his moves during his three plus seasons in Toronto as General Manager (and in some cases, rightfully so), it’s only fair to look at how some of the guys he sent away or chose not to re-sign are faring. I think most of us agree he has done some nice things while re-stocking the system and building a faster, deeper and more entertaining team. I’m not as convinced as some that his record is virtually untarnished here (or before he got here), but that’s part of being fans—we all see things a bit differently…
I’m not, to be clear, trying to assess things within the “who got traded for whom” and “who got the better of the deal” context—simply providing some chit-chat about former Leafs and whether they have found fortune and a better (or worse) hockey life elsewhere.
I’m not going to go through every player move and every guy who has left town. I’ve just picked a few names that were significant pieces (or draft choices who turned out to be significant, in the case of Tyler Seguin, for example) in trades that Burke has made.
Some names that come to mind:
Ian White: White was the only guy in the Phanauef/Aulie trade that I was sad to see go. He was, I thought, a hard-working little defenseman who had skill and guts, too. He has somehow managed to move from Calgary to Carolina to San Jose and finally Detroit since he first played in the NHL as a youngster with the Leafs. Was he playing poorly in those places, or was he just always the “guy” that the next team wanted? I have no real idea, but I know that, from what I’ve seen and by most accounts, he has played awfully well with the Red Wings this season. We can credit playing with Lidstrom (and that sure doesn’t hurt) but he still has put together a very nice season as we reached the All-Star break. He is a plus 26 in 46 games, notching 24 points along the way on a solid Detroit team. So while the Leafs don’t miss White because they have plenty of depth on the blueline (and puck movers like Liles and Gardiner), we can’t just dismiss him. At 27, White should be in his prime and productive for a few more seasons.
Kris Versteeg: the much-travelled, shoot-from-the-lips ex-Leaf winger, like him or not, has helped make the Panthers competitive this season when people like myself certainly expected not too much from him—and nothing from his (current) team. His overall offensive numbers have dipped somewhat of late, but he still has 43 points in 47 games and is a plus player (plus 10) on a mediocre, at best, Eastern Conference team. Why the guy has been with so many NHL organizations, again, like White, I just don’t know. But he can be a good hockey player. As I’ve said in this space before, he is, ironically, one of the kinds of players the Leafs need—a strong third-line guy, who can play second-line minutes sometimes on a good team. At 25, if he stays healthy he can be a player for some time yet.
Tyler Seguin: has quietly been a strong contributor for the Bruins this season. We all understand the Leafs did not trade Seguin—they dealt the first round pick for Kessel and the pick turned out to be Seguin. But again, while some fans don’t want to discuss it, it is what it is: a major trade in Burke’s tenure that may, as time unfolds, be part of what defines whether he is/was successful here. Seguin is not a super-physical player (neither is Kessel, of course) but he certainly has skills that are, if not rare, not seen every day, even in the NHL. He sees the ice awfully well for a young guy. I will grant that his plus/minus (he is plus 34, the best in the league) has to be partly (largely?) related to playing on what so far has been the best team in the East, one with a really good goal differential. His line mates aren't too bad, either. But it can’t all be that. The kid can play at both ends of the ice already, and given that he is 20 years of age, should get better—and better.
Viktor Stalberg: Now here is a guy who went the other way in the original Versteeg deal. We were getting a young winger who could grind a bit, score and had a Cup on his resume in return for a young guy without those proven credentials. Now we have neither (but a young prospect to come for Vertseeg, yes). To be honest, while Stalberg showed a couple of flashes in his time here, I was nonplussed by his departure. It struck me at the time that the Hawks would take almost anything because they had to move some non-absolute core players to meet cap realities after winning their Cup. But it now looks as though Stalberg may (and I stress may) be finding a modest niche, and maybe more than that, with the Hawks. Half way and a bit through his second season in the Windy City, he has 29 points and is a solid plus player. It’s hard to say Burke will end up "winning" that deal, but we’ll see how Stuart Percy (part of the return for Versteeg), a fine junior player, develops here.
Nik Antropov: the long-maligned Antropov infuriated hopeful Leaf fans for seemingly forever. He was finally moved near the deadline in 2009. His “numbers” have generally been OK (he has something like 20 points with Winnipeg this season) but though the Leafs want a forward with size, he’s not a player fans are wanting to see back with the blue and white. The long experiment never quite worked out here.
Jay Harrison: He was seemingly never going to have a shot at a regular gig here. He’s carved out a nice career with the struggling Hurricanes, playing significant minutes. He’s a solid guy, a fine team player and this season, he’s putting up some fairly serious offensive numbers—with 19 points, including 7 goals, in only 41 games. That’s pretty good.
Tomas Kaberle: I've been a Kabby guy for years but he has pretty much floundered since leaving Toronto. He went from being a potential difference-maker to number-six defenseman by the end of the playoffs for the Bruins in 2010-'11. The Hurricanes gave him a ridiculous contract this past summer for a guy clearly on the downside of his career and they moved him elsewhere as soon as they could this season. With Montreal, his minutes some nights are pretty limited, but his basic numbers aren’t dreadful (after a horrible start in Carolina). With the Habs, he has 13 points in 20 games and is a plus 2 in mostly “protected” minutes.
Jiri Tlusty: is having a quiet year with the Hurricanes (18 points in 51 games and a minus 3 rating). Sounds like some Leaf third and fourth-liners.
Dominic Moore: Moore is a player that I really like, because he is an old-style industrious player. That said, he misread the market when he left Toronto, and after helping the Habs in that one playoff run and playing solid hockey for Tampa last season, has kind of slipped back under the radar this year because the Lightning have been pretty awful so far. He is a minus 8, probably not all his fault, but maybe not quite good enough for a player who makes his living largely as a checker. He will likely be moved before the deadline to a contending team that needs just what he provides.
Alex Ponikarovsky: Like Antropov, he was the young winger who showed eternal promise but always left us wanting more. He seems stuck in neutral still with Carolina, as his high "minus" total and poor offensive numbers suggest.
Francois Beauchemin: He has always been highly-thought of as a good NHL defenseman, though he never quite found his stride here. He is playing big minutes in Anaheim. He is a steady presence on a Ducks team desperately trying to find its way back in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. He cost Bob Murray a lot in that trade, and just signed a new long-term contract. They are happy with him, but the Leafs would never take that trade back, eh?
Nik Hagman: Modest numbers, modest career since he left Toronto.
John Mitchell: I realize the first reaction of many Leaf fans is to say he's not missed. And in truth, his tenure here was marked by occasional glimpses of skill and size with prolonged periods of largely invisible play. Yet he is a solid young guy and he is managing to hold down a job as a fourth-liner under a demanding coach in New York city. He's put up five goals on the season.
Tim Brent: A personal favorite, I thought he was a real team-guy last season, taking on the tough jobs. I’m not sure we are any better in his spot than when he was here. With Carolina, though, he has a sure job and a better contract. His numbers are what you might expect with the ‘Canes (15 points, even in the plus/minus category) but he’s a hard-working player.
Jason Blake: He has dealt with some very serious injuries and illnesses in his career. By all accounts he has played pretty well in Anaheim when he’s being able to suit up. But he was never a fit in Toronto, it seemed.
Matt Stajan: Popular guy in Toronto, his career has seemingly not taking off in Calgary. He has low point totals and is likely not quite the grinder Sutter wants.
Fabian Brunstrom: The former free-agent signing has played a handful of games with the Red Wings this season. Did the Leafs miss something? Likely not.
That’s a lot of “ex-Leafs”. I don’t know if fans would want any of them back, but we have to, objectively, acknowledge that some have done pretty well since leaving town.