When a player is traded away from the Maple Leafs, invariably his career trajectory tends to go in one of three directions.
If a player was acquired without much fanfare, and he wasn't ever really a major problem during his stay in Toronto, he's going to continue on with his career as if his stay in Toronto never happened (Examples include: Hal Gill, Dominic Moore, Nik Hagman)
If a player was acquired and considered a key component, but was turned into a scapegoat for all the teams' problems, he will immediately revert back to his level of play before he was scapegoated (Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, obviously Larry Murphy) or he'll never be heard from again. (essentially everyone John Ferguson Jr. acquired that wasn't Hal Gill).
And most Leaf prospects that are traded away will typically have one outstanding season where they show flashes of their potential. The media will then show this as proof of the Leafs inability to retain its best prospects. The media will also ignore the fact that this player will likely never again reach the level of play that they held up in such high regard (Brad Boyes, Alyn McCauley, hopefully Tuuka Rask)
In less than one year since his departure, Lee Stempniak appears to be on track to have fit into every single one of these categories.
Lee Stempniak is a player who burned us on trades coming and going. In a fit of what I can only imagine was Metamucil-fueled insanity, on the eve of Cliff Fletcher relinquishing the reins to Brian Burke he sent a pair of former first round picks, Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen to St. Louis in exchange for Stempniak. The former 27 goal-scorer was billed as a player who would take advantage of the top line opportunities provided to him and return to his 20+ goal form.
Instead, Lee became probably the most frustrating "offensive" player the Leafs have employed since Jonas Hoglund. No scoring chance was too great for Lee to completely whiff on. While it was probably foolish to expect him to return to his 16% shooting percentage that he mustered while scoring 27 goals for the Blues, we did expect slightly better than the 8.5% he managed while scoring 25 goals in 123 games for the Leafs. He was traded at the 2010 Trade Deadline to the Phoenix Coyotes for 4th and 7th round draft picks.
What happened next is why Lee Stempniak is to be grieved. Immediately Lee Stempniak began to score goals at an infuriating pace, potting 14 goals in 18 games for the Coyotes as they prepared to return to the playoffs. His shooting percentage, a wildly unsustainable 29.2%, should have shown anyone with half of a brain that Lee was in the middle of a nuclear hot streak.
Unfortunately, your average hockey reporter does not possess half of a brain, and so we were welcomed to a number of articles and subtle digs that effectively concluded that the cause of Lee Stempniak's sudden resurgence... was Ron Wilson. Yes, somehow the coach of the Maple Leafs was solely responsible for deflating the shooting percentage of a player acquired to provide offence, even though this was the same coach that was giving him the opportunities to provide that offence.
It's the sort of thing that infuriates Leaf fans, for multiple reasons. First off, we have to endure a player returning to his abilities that we all know are there immediately upon exchanging the Blue and White for another sweater. Second, Leaf management managed to simultaneously buy high on Stempniak and sell low on Steen and Colaiacovo, and then compounded this by selling low on Stempniak. It's this sort of asset management that has caused the Leafs so much heartache in recent years, not swinging for the fences on a Phil Kessel trade.
I have my own well-documented theory on why Lee found success immediately after leaving Toronto; Lee Stempniak is what's known as a contract player; a player who turns his play up only when it's time for a new contract. He finishes a season with a flurry of promise, and dupes some poor GM into offering an inflated conttact. The player immediately returns to their previous level of play, until the contract is about to expire when the player magically taps into his potential and scores on 29% of his shots again.
These types of players kill a team's chances of being succesful. When there is no pressure and the individual plays solely for themselves, they are unstoppable. But when the bread needs to be buttered and something is on the line, they are nowhere to be found. It's not a coincidence that the white-hot Stempniak suddenly went cold during the playoffs, failing to score in the 7 game series with Detroit, and registering just 2 assists. (A feat that Chemmy boldly and accurately predicted, and also doubled as my personal highlight of the 2010 playoffs)
Lee also almost managed to disappear in the offseason, as he was curiously unsigned for much of the summer before re-signing in Phoenix after a period of shrewd negotiation by Coyotes GM Don Maloney. Keep in mind that Phoenix continued to be owned by the NHL. This was like watching someone haggle with a homeless guy and lose.
So within the span of four months, Lee reached a level of play never before seen in a Leafs uniform, and the media got their shots in. He almost disappeared from the NHL entirely, possibly because everyone got wise to his contract run ways. Now that Phoenix has returned to being largely overlooked by the casual NHL fan, Lee Stempniak has (very) quietly scored 8 goals and 7 assists in 32 games. (An 82 game pace of 20 goals and 18 assists, or pretty much exactly what he was advertised as when the Leafs acquired him). The only real difference is that his shooting percentage is back up to approximately his career average of 10.1, and his ice time has fallen back down to the 15 minute range.
Not only did Lee subject us to ridicule by going on an insanely hot streak as soon as he left, he somehow managed to cost the organization two forwards that would provide secondary scoring support that the team desperately needs right now; Steen and himself. If either of these guys were still here, the Leafs would have had a third line forward capable of scoring 35-45 points and playing all situations. There also would have been no need to spend 3 million on Colby Armstrong.
For all these sins and more, fuck you Lee Stempniak.