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Some ex-Leafs: Fun with numbers on a Monday morning

Hey, most Leaf fans give Brian Burke all kinds of credit for the work he has done in re-shaping (gutting, really…) the Maple Leaf organization on and off the ice over the past three plus years.  And that’s only fair, as he has constructed and assembled a solid front office (plenty of advisors, for sure, with strong backgrounds) and a young, fast and often exciting team.

As I’ve tried to point out here, (and I’m not alone in making this observation) they are still a few pieces away, it would seem, from being a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.  But they are surely moving in the right direction, and that is a credit to Burke.

In the same breath, it’s always reasonable to not automatically applaud every time he makes a move, or just assume that he has made only brilliant decisions in his time running the Maple Leafs.  He certainly “won” the Aulie/Phaneuf deal, there is no question about that.  And even if Joffrey Lupul had retired by now, there isn’t a living, breathing Leaf fan who would undo the Beauchemin for Jake Gardiner trade.  That young man (as I— and many others!—have pointed out) has Scott Niedermayer written all over him.  He should be a pleasure to watch in a Leaf jersey for many years to come.

All this glowing stuff said, it’s not exactly accurate that everyone that Burke has shuffled out of town is a bum.  Now, those of you who know this site well will also know that I’m not exactly a “stats” guy.  Others handle that aspect of assessing teams and players much better than I.  But I happened to be leafing through some NHL leader boards on the weekend, and couldn’t help but be drawn to one particular statistical column—the one relating to individual players and their current “plus/minus” numbers.

Now, we all recognize that stats can be deceiving, and this particular stat sometimes is.  But it can be something of a barometer for how an individual is contributing in an overall sense to his team.

Lo and behold, the boy who got away, Tyler Seguin (though slumping a bit in terms of offensive production recently and apparently a late sleeper—but hey, he’s a teenager…) was among the league leaders with a plus 19.  Not far behind him was ex-Leaf rearguard Ian White at plus 17.  (VLM followers will know I was—and still am—a White “fan”.  He was the one guy we lost in the Phaneuf deal that I had really liked as a Leaf.  He gave tons of effort and had skill, too.  I’m happy to see him settling in with Detroit as a key guy after being shuffled around the last few seasons.)

Right alongside White was none other than Kris Versteeg, he of the briefest of Leaf interludes last season.  He was also a plus 15, a pretty nice total this far into the season.  Whether he can keep that up (and whether the Panthers can keep up their surprising play), I have no idea.  But the much-travelled 25 year-old winger also has 30 points in 28 games, so while he perhaps didn’t fit for some reason in Toronto, he’s not exactly doing nothing these days, skating in anonymity in Florida.

I’ll throw one more name into the ‘stat hat’, even though this was a Fletcher move, not a Burke transaction.  Alexander Steen, who showed so much promise in his early days as a Leaf, continues to find his stride as a Blue.  He is now a plus 14 on the season, and is managing to put up a few useful points as well, despite playing in Ken Hitchcock’s well-know defensive “system”.

And just for fun (because I know Leaf enthusiasts are clearly not asking for Kabby back...we are looking at Colborne and Biggs as key guys now or in the future...) I will throw in Tomas Kaberle.  Yes, I've written here acknowledging his generally less-than-stellar play in Boston and Carolina, but in his last three games (two with the 'Canes, one with the Habs) he has 6 assists. At still only 33, is a re-born Kabby a possibility?

I don’t raise this to criticize Burke (or Fletcher, for that matter).  It’s simply a matter of being fair in assessing what management has done with the team.  A lot of us like what the team is doing with its present personnel.  Few Leaf fans would un-do the Kessel deal, for example.  But we shouldn’t just blindly say “what a great deal” when Kessel is hot, and ignore the ramifications of what could have been, alternatively.

Fans would surely rather have Phaneuf than White, but we don’t see White play all the time and by all accounts he has been very good for Detroit.  The Leafs received a high draft choice for Versteeg and that may work out well.  But he has not exactly been a bum with the Panthers, eh?

Again, it’s just looking at things objectively, and not just through the blue and white lens of a Leaf fan, which most of us tend to do.

Burke’s done some tremendous things, but some of the guys he sent packing—or could have had—are doing not too badly, either.


  1. Interesting thoughts Michael. I too was a Versteeg fan and was disappointed he was let go. Maybe there was a dressing room issue but on the ice I thought he could be a player for us (even though he did take some pretty dumb penalties at times). I also was, and still am, a fan of Ian White, I still wish him well even if he is playing for Detroit (argh!)
    As far as Kaberle is concerned, I liked his tenure in Toronto but he had reached his "sell buy" date and I think we have replaced him ok with a younger guy in Gardiner. I am not sure why he didn't do particularly well with Boston but with Carolina I expect he didn't get any assists because the guys he passed the puck to couldn't score! I think he will do well in Montreal on their power play because when he sets up their guys, they know how to put the puck in the net.
    I regret the loss of draft picks but appreciate the value of Kessel. Burke rolled the dice on that one and I think he made out OK but it was not a steal like the other deals.
    I think Burke has done pretty well on balance and although the above mentioned guys and draft picks we gave up were valuable, I think we got good value in return. For all the other guys he traded, I think the Leafs made out like bandits!

  2. You provide a very balanced perspective on this, Ed. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Burke has talked about having to give something to get something, and how the best trades are the ones where both teams "win". That's what we're seeing here.

  4. I hope Kaberle can turn it around in Montreal. I was very surprised to hear that he had been traded given his miserable start (including being a healthy scratch a few games), and that he has two more years @4.25 million on his contract. He looked like he was about to become the next Wade Redden. I'm still not quite sure how things have gotten so bad so quickly for Kaberle.

    I like Ian White, but I'm betting some of his numbers may look a little rosier because of his defense partner, some guy named Lidstrom. I also hope he manages to stick around in Detroit and find continued success. Not to take anything away from Burke, but it was Nonis who played the big role in this trade from what I understand.

    I thought Beauchemin was given an unfair shake when he played in Toronto, but I giggle when I think about that trade. Getting Gardiner/Lupul for what amounts to a free agent signing is pure genius.

    To add to that, it's even scarier when you think he pulled it off twice, to a lesser effect when he traded Lebda(!!!!) for Lombardi and Franson. I still can't believe that one.

  5. LOUDNOISES...Thanks for the comment. You always hear GM's say that. I do wonder if the private objective is different!

    Hogie...yes, some trades are baffling. The Phaneuf deal made little sense (and I mean at the time, not in retrospect) for Calgary. As for Franson/Lombardi, I guess the Predators had to move salary. But to give away a young defenseman, when they are faced with losing two important defensemen, was puzzling.

  6. I like White too, but Detroit signed him as an unrestricted free agent.

    It's not like the Leafs could not have gotten him back or had to trade something to get hinm back.

    Put Liles, Gardiner, Gunnarson or Franson with Lidstrom and they might look just as good or even maybe better than White.

    Liles and Lidstom or Gardiner with Lidstom are probably very impressive.

  7. I was delighted and touched this morning to read Michael’s “shout out” yesterday about my term “muckulence”. Sometimes, I have to take time not think about hockey and the Leafs in particular, and catch up a few days later. For much of my life, I was a Leafs fan in exile, living in Montreal of all places. What this meant, in the pre-internet era, was almost no Leafs information. Instead, what I got playing hockey in the streets and in the arena dressing rooms was a steady diet of Nos Glorieux, to which I responded with bemused silence. You would have to experience the bizarre blend of deficient critical abilities and hyper-critical passion that rattles around in a Habs fans brain to understand what I am writing about. For the most part it was alright, but to this day Danny Gallivan’s voice, music to a Canadiens fan’s ear, sounds like fingernails running across a blackboard to me. Now, with the Barilkosphere, Leafs news and opinion is like a feast to a starving castaway, something I am sure that younger readers could never grasp. I particularly enjoy reminiscences of Michael and Gerund for example, about sitting in the Gardens and watching Leafs history unfolding. To appreciate the contrast, while these guys were actually there, I was sneaking peeks into the Toronto Star for snippets of Leaf news at a Montreal news stand, while an annoyed clerk wondered if that bum was ever going to pay for one of those Toronto newspapers he looked at every day. Truth is, I never did. Fast forward to life in Saskatchewan, a province so small that I made the chance acquaintance of a former Leafs scout and they actually show the Leafs on Saturday nights. Throw the Barilkosphere in with the marvelously real winters where you can skate outside late at night in the crisp minus forty air without a soul to be seen, discovering the intellectual sophistication of VLM, my wife’s early Christmas gift of NHL Center Ice, and it can be a little much. Hence, I sometimes take a few days off to think about the sorry state of the world and how I should respond to it. The only hockey thought that enters my mind is when my four-year-old grandson Tippy asks why, on Saturday night, we aren’t watching his delightfully mispronounced “Leaf-es”. Like most, I figure there’s not much I can do about the state of the world, beyond living life as well as I can and hoping for the best. Similarly, I suppose, at the end of the day, we won’t have much influence here on whether Mr. Kessel, Lupul and Phaneuf’s names are etched on the silver mug. Then again, it is meaningful, on a personal level, to participate in that endeavor in those modest ways that we do here. So, we keep at it. But, isn’t that the essence of muckulence”? It doesn’t matter what the odds are or if we get a pay cheque for it or not. Like Gary Roberts, no matter what the score, we just keep playing.

  8. Bobby C...I just wanted to acknowledge your post today and extend my thanks for your valued contributions here. I'm glad you "found" this site, and appreciate your support.

    P.S- My wife is from Montreal, so you are forgiven for your required time in hockey exile in that otherwise beautiful city!

  9. White is a +24 and Phaneuf is a -7