Custom Search

Mark Fraser: a big-hearted Leaf leaves the blue and white

At this point in my life I won’t apologize for saying that, regardless of what others may think, there are just certain players I “like” for reasons all my own. This applies not just to hockey and the Leafs, but to athletes whose careers I’ve followed in many different sports. Some of those I like and follow fall into the celebrity category, I suppose, while others are much lesser known but stand out as worth paying attention to.

While I have worked with a number of athletes and NHL coaches over the years on a professional basis, by and large I don’t really “know” the players I write about and that we discuss here on this forum.  All I can do, and I guess all any observer can do from a distance, is look for cues and clues, little things that may be a “tell” in terms of the kind of character a person might have off the field of play.

When it comes Mark Fraser, traded by the Leafs on Friday to the Edmonton Oilers, I’ll start by saying I would not have known him from Adam a little over a year ago.  Until he surfaced after the lockout and the subsequent mini-training camp in January of 2012, I couldn’t have told you a single thing about his career.  He had evidently played for the Devils for a time, but I believe he was, for the most part, a defenseman who plied his trade at the AHL level.

When I wrote about the projected team roster prior to last season, he was not on my radar.  But I quickly became a Mark Fraser “fan”.

Why?  It’s very simple: setting aside his limitations as a player (slow afoot, not especially skilled) he displayed, in abundance, traits I have long admired in athletes and especially those who have donned a Maple Leaf uniform over the five plus decades I have followed this franchise.  He play with physical courage.  He has guts.  He blocks shots.  He defends and protects his teammates. Importantly, he made simple but often effective plays during a generally stellar 2012-’13 NHL season.

That off the ice he comes across in interviews as a well-spoken and thoughtful guy just added to the attraction for me.  He seemed to genuinely appreciate his opportunity to again kick-start his NHL career, this time in Toronto.

It’s easy to say that so and so is a “team guy”, especially if they are more of a role-player and aren’t seen as a star on their team.  But I can’t imagine there is anyone who played with Fraser last year, or this, who did not see him that way—and quite likely in the most glowing of terms in that regard. (I once compared him here with an old favourite of mine, long-time '50s and '60s Leaf defender Allan Stanley.  Stanley, who died recently, was nicknamed "Snowshoes" because he wasn't exactly the fastest guy on skates, but he was a wonderful player who knew how to use angles and got where he needed to go on the ice.  That's Stanley fending off Montreal great Jean Beliveau in late '60s action at right...)

His serious injury in the playoffs against the Bruins last May might have contributed to the fact that his play has not hit the same level as most of us thought we witnessed a season ago.  Maybe he gave all he had a year ago, and he simply could not quite replicate his success.  (He was, after all, something like a plus 17 or 18 a year ago. Even for someone playing “protected minutes”, that’s pretty darn good.)

At the end of the day, even Randy Carlyle, who clearly loved what Fraser brought to the team, determined that there was no longer room for him on the Leaf blueline.

I’m thrilled that Fraser will get a shot to play with someone who knows him, former Marlie coach Dallas Eakins.  I have no idea how he will do with the Oilers, but I know this: he will give everything that he has every shift he plays.

I’ll simply add this: I wish him only the best wherever he plays, for as long as he plays.  This is an individual who, if he wants to, will likely be an excellent coach in this league some day.


But that’s down the road.  For now, a class act has taken that act on the road.  I trust fellow Leaf followers wish him well. Yes, the Leafs save some cap room with this move, but good on the organization for giving a deserving guy a shot to play regularly in the NHL again.

That said, while the Leafs are on a roll these days, for me, at least, they are now a bit less "like-able". 

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this story, Michael. I loved Mark Fraser from the start. His family lives in Ottawa but they were originally from this area and were Maple Leaf fans through three generations. I often wonder what may have happened had he and Bozak been on the ice in game seven last year. He played for the Leafs like Gleason does now. Mark made a difference right from the start.

    I hope he can heal, throw the knee brace away and again play the way we saw him play last year. I'm happy he is going to the Oilers where both Eakins and Scrivens will welcome him. I wish him all the best. You're right Michael. He gave everything he had and was so very like-able.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Anon. It's not hard to appreciate a player like Fraser.

      Delete
  2. Mark Fraser was a warrior for the Leafs last season. He was not a skilled defenseman but he did not allow opponents to take liberties in the Leafs' defensive zone. He filled the role of an enforcer and fought on a number of occasions. He was also a fearless shot blocker. A lack of mobility and puck handling skills (although he was capable of making an accurate first pass out of his zone) kept him in the minors until Carlyle's desire for toughness on the back end brought him to the NHL.

    It is not surprising that a skull fracture has affected his limited skills to the point he could not compete at a big league level. I was more than a little apprehensive of him playing at all. It was apparent that his combativeness kept him in the league. A player with this mindset and a history of a fractured skull puts himself in peril every time he steps on the ice. I had really hoped that he would retire or at least sit out this season but I guess he is too much of a competitor for that.

    I wish him the best with Edmonton.

    I liked your reference to Allan Stanley. I remember the first time I saw him as a Leaf in the 1958-59 season. I thought Imlach was out of his mind trading Jim Morrison, a useful defenseman for this guy who could be described as an awkward skater at best. He spent ten years with the Leafs, was a three time all Star and helped win four Stanley Cups. He may have been one of the smartest players in the league. The thing I remember were his lumbering rushes with the puck. He looked like he was skating through molasses but he always seemed avoid the opposition and get the puck where wanted, whether it be a pass or a dump in. He was a great Leaf and epitomized all that those great Leaf teams stood for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad we see this one similarly, Pete. For me, players like Fraser are what make the Leafs. Yes, you need speed and skill, but every truly great Leaf team over the years has always also had heart, muscle and grit. Fraser won't be here when the Leafs reach that level again, it seems, but I'll remember and appreciate his time here.

      I'm with you on Stanley. Morrison was a very good skater and Leaf fans no doubt wondered what Allan would bring. He showed us all!

      Delete
  3. When I see Gleason, I see all the elements that endeared Fraser to us. I really hoped Mark would be able to recover from the serious head injury last year, but when you couple that with his knee issues, the emergence of Reilly, the addition of first Ranger, then Gleason... well, I guess it was not to be.
    A fan couldn't ask anything more of a player like Fraser, and he played an essential part in our team regaining a sense of self-respect. I wish him well!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I posted earlier for Fraser (forgot to add C.N.) I'm wondering what everyone is thinking about the news the Leafs are shopping Kulemin.
    I'd rather keep him myself but it opens up some interesting possibilities. If he went to Pittsburgh , who are in need of a winger, to play with Malkin (with no player coming back just a pick or prospect) that would open up cap space for re-signing Komorov who could fill the void left on the PK. The problem is that Leo wouldn't be available until April. Always fun to speculate. C.N.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have nothing to add to the positive comments about Mark Fraser, but I would be remiss if I did not say that I am a fan. He had a lot to do with making the playoffs last season and yes, he would have made a difference in game seven against Boston. No doubt, injuries cost him his roster place and I hope he recovers fully. All I can say is that he is already missed and I like the Oilers more today than yesterday.

    Regarding shopping Kulemin, I think that it has to do with making roster/salary room for Teemu Hartikainen who has an out clause in his KHL contract. Also, Kulemin is UFA this summer. They may want to go younger/cheaper with Hartikainen and could already leaning toward resigning Raymond. Just my two cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bobby C.- I think a lot of us respected Fraser's work and time with the Leafs.

      Yes, Colleen raised the Kulemin trade talk. Your suggestion makes sense.

      Delete
  6. Michael, you have captured the essence of why I like Mark Fraser, too. If you think of the kind of light-hearted, stalwart, always-got-your-back, faithful friend that I hope we've all had the opportunity to know, the same clues to such a personality are what I see in Mark. I'm sure he was like the protective teddy bear big brother type with his teammates and their protector and champion on the ice.

    I felt badly for his drop-off in play with the knee injury hampering his limited skill set that is responsible for removing him from the roster. He was so courageous coming back from the cracked skull and I know that the character in the Edmonton locker room has just grown with his pending presence there.

    The future coaching suggestion is an interesting thought... it made me think about Dallas Eakins as a good mentor for that possibility, too! Having a potential coach-in-training amongst a young team might be quite the benefit for the Oilers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've captured the qualities Fraser displayed here very well, InTimeFor62. He clearly gained a lot of 'fans' in his time with the Leafs.

      Delete
  7. Given that we're talking about a departure by trade, I've been pondering a bit more about what could make a trade like the Shea Weber idea a possibility. Here's what I came up with:

    It does not seem the Predators would gain anything by losing Weber before the end of the season, but as I said before, having him leave before receiving the (July 1?) $13 M signing bonus that his contract pays would make sense... how could a team like the Leafs utilize their financial clout to help the Preds while helping themselves?

    It finally hit me: "Future Considerations" on both sides of the deal, could start something now and end it after the signing bonuses for remaining Leaf players (included in the deal) had 'kicked in'.

    Clearly, some cap hit would have to go to the Preds, so someone with a signing bonus (like Lupul, Clarkson and/or a resigned, with a significant bonus, Franson) could be paid by the Leafs, then sent to the cash-strapped Nashville franchise.

    When trying to get the pieces for the deal in place, things could begin with a player with an expiring contract (like Mason Raymond with a small salary, or Nik Kulemin, as examples). If the Leafs don't have them in their plans, then the bubble team Preds might take someone before the Olympic break and still be able to 'trade them forward' at the deadline, if they are still out of the hunt (hence, providing an immediate and a longer term option for Nashville, while ensuring part of the deal is in place already).

    This is where the 'future considerations' would kick in, where the deal could be our expiring contract and a pick/prospect and 'Futures' going to the Preds for a pick and future considerations coming back to the Leafs.

    In this way, the Leafs could negotiate with Franson (in a sign-and-complete the trade after the signing bonus) and then add another piece (like Lupul, if Carlyle is that 'baffled' by his ability on the Left side :) OR Clarkson, if the big home stage is mutually agreed to be 'not for him' after all).

    Of course, prior to paying the bonus, Shea Weber could come our way, and we could have some say on how Leaf money is being transferred to Nashville (making Leiweke happier about such things that he humourously indicated were a sore spot recently).

    Nobody could argue that Raymond/Kulemin, a pick/prospect, Lupul/Clarkson and a re-signed Franson would be an insufficient price to pay for a stud right side D man and a good pick coming back. Sending Raymond at this point, is more like adding a pick to the deal, the rest is balancing cap hit (not salary). The benefit for Nashville is financial, while getting back a right side D man they couldn't afford and a good forward signed to a long term deal (both at a cut rate the first year).

    If Kulemin wants too much to sign for next year, I think he will be replaced with a lower cost internal prospect after a deadline deal (or Komorov, in the summer), so feel he may be gone somewhere in a separate deal, unless we get a bigger return from Nashville in such a deal.

    I do think this is the kind of 'big splash' that Leiweke will want and I'll be watching with interest to see how this all plays out (or if another player, like Philly, tries something similar)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deals can be complicated nowadays, for sure, InTimeFor62. So it makes sense, when speculating about possibilities, to consider the cap realities that all teams face. Weber is a significant player, to be sure. Komarov returning, as some has discussed here over the past while, is an intriguing thought as well.

      Delete