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Stempniak Deal Continues Roster Overhaul

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Stempniak highlights | Fletcher | Colaiacovo | Steen

Ok. Anyone who knew who Lee Stempniak was before Monday afternoon put your arm up.

I didn’t think so. 

How about Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo?
Aaah. That’s my point. 

Maple Leafs General Manager Cliff Fletcher has cobbled together an intriguing deal that moves two assets who were unproductive but well-known in exchange for a more valuable, if anonymous, component. 

If we are talking name value, Fletcher got fleeced. Of course, you could say the same thing in 1994 when Fletcher traded Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin. 

Only in Toronto could the trade of a two-goal scorer and an oft-injured defenceman for a point-a-game forward merit condemnation. It’s what makes it so fun around here. 

Fletcher, who will keep on swinging until he hears the bell, and Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson have proven themselves completely unaffected by the reflexive mistakes that perpetuate losing. In other words, if you draft two players in the first round, and if you have a modicum of success with them (Steen scored 18, 15 and 15 goals in his first three years, Colaiacovo has often looked good), you consider them untouchable. 

That creates a whole new dynamic. If Colaiacovo is understood to be one of the pillars of the turn of the decade defence, if Steen is really a 25-goal player masquerading as a checking forward, people believe it and wait for it happen.

Plus, Steen and Colaiacovo have wonderful personalities. They’ve been here for several years. Why, any fan would ask, would you trade them? 

Because they are not going to get any better or, if they are, it’s not going to be here. 

“Both Carlo and Steener are great guys,” Fletcher said. “They’ve been here for quite a while and they were real Maple Leafs. They haven’t reached the prime of their careers and hopefully they will fit in St. Louis.” 

Ask yourself this question. What is more likely to happen? That Colaiacovo will stay healthy and score 10 goals for the first time in his career or that Steen will score 20 for the first time in his career or that 25-year-old Lee Stempniak scores 27…again. 

Fletcher saw it as a simple deal. Spare parts for a fixture. 

“We felt we were acquiring a top-six forward, someone who could play on our power play besides contributing substantially offensively,” he said. 

Stempniak, who hails from Buffalo, isn’t a flashy player. He is a little less than six feet and he is neither overly big nor fast. His goals are usually scored within a hand’s reach of a goalie. 

“He’s a very crafty player,” Fletcher said. “He’s under serious consideration for the United States Olympic team. We’ve been watching him play for quite a while. This was a unanimous decision of our whole organization.” 

Assuming all three players pass their medicals, Stempniak should be ready to play in Tuesday’s home date against the Atlanta Thrashers. 

Since he took over, Fletcher has moved Darcy Tucker, Andrew Raycroft, Kyle Wellwood, Bryan McCabe and now Steen and Colaiacovo. 

Fletcher, who took over in January and will soon give way, it would seem, told the truth on his first day. And he told the truth Monday. 

“Since I got here last January we said there had to be some major moves made,” he said.  “We have changed the chemistry in the dressing room substantially. As to whether that will continue, it will be up to you to ask my successor when that day comes.”

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