Editor's Note: Drake15 wrote a good post wondering if today's trade might be a last minute show of power to the MLSE board to keep the status quo (Fletcher plus protege Nieuwendyk) in place rather than go all in with Burke.
It is being reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a trade with the St. Louis Blues to acquire forward Lee Stempniak. Stempniak is nearly a point-per-game player so far this season, having tallied 3 goals and 10 assists for a total of 13 points. He has played in 14 games so far, so those numbers are encouraging for Leafs fans. In exchange, the Blues will receive the man made of glass (d-man Carlo Colaiacovo) and our biggest underperformer (forward Alex Steen).
On the surface this appears to be a great deal by Cliff Fletcher. The Maple Leafs have a surplus of defensemen, and of all the blue-liners in their roster Colaiacovo is the most injury prone. This certainly makes him expendable, and another plus to this is that Jonas Frogren will likely be the player that replaces him in the lineup. I have made it known on more than one occassion that I believe Frogren is deserving of more ice time than the Leafs are currently giving him. His punishing hits and shot blocking abilities will be an upgrade over the fragile Colaiacovo in my opinion.
Alex Steen has shown some promising potential in the past, but this season he has been a disappointing underachiever for the Leafs. He has a meager 2 goals and 2 assists in 20 games played-which pales in comparison the the numbers Stempniak has been putting up so far. Steen's most promising season was 2005-06 where he tallied 18 goals and 27 assists for a total of 45 points. Compare that to the best season of Lee Stempniak where he put up 27 goals and 25 assists for 52 points in 2006-07. Looking at those numbers, it certainly appears the Leafs have made a big upgrade to their forward lineup. Steen may turn his game around in St. Louis, but for now Lee Stempniak is the more proven player and is the better match for the Maple Leafs future plans. He is only 25 years old which means he can be around well into the future of the Leafs and fits in with their plan of a youthful, speedy team. He will be a great addition to Fletcher's rebuilding plan.
In my opinion, the timing of this move suggests to me that Cliff Fletcher wants to make a final case to MLSE to remain on as the Leafs permanent GM. It is expected that talks will begin soon with former Anaheim GM Brian Burke to bring him on as the new General Manager. Personally, I hope MLSE is paying attention, because changing the direction of the team yet again could end up being a step backward for the Leafs. Fletcher has done a remarkable job giving this team a new identity and a new direction in which to build for the future.
Already, the Maple Leafs are one of the youngest and fastest teams in the league. The acquisitions made by Fletcher during the offseason have resulted in surprising success for the offense of this team. The Leafs are sitting in the top 10 in the NHL for total goals scored. This unexpected offensive flare has made them exciting to watch, and Fletcher deserves alot of credit for bringing in players like Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski. Now add Lee Stempniak to the mix of exciting youth on this team, and its clear that Fletcher has a plan for the future. The early signs of success are showing already. In fact, if the Leafs only had slightly better goaltending they would likely be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Therefore, would it really be wise for MLSE to change General Managers right now? They certainly risk destroying all the progress that has been made in the rebuild, and hiring Burke is a risky gamble. It is well known that he is not a fan of European players (most of the Leafs are European) and I fear that could result in the departure of exciting young talent like Mikhail Grabovski, Anton Stralman, Nikolai Kulemin, or Jiri Tlusty. Certainly trading those guys now would garnish little return, and they could be key players to the future success of this team.
My point is: this team is on the right track. Not to mention the fact that Cliff Fletcher has shown a good ability to get the better end of a trade deal with other General Managers in this league. Remember Grabovski being acquired for only a 2nd round pick? You can bet Bob Gainey is kicking himself over that one, and the Blues will probably be doing the same thing over the Stempniak trade. The Toronto Maple Leafs need to stay the course, so please MLSE let Cliff Fletcher do what he knows how to do, and dont ruin the future of this team yet again.
Just say no to Brian Burke.