Nikolai Kulemin's Demotion Is Puzzling

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Nikolai Kulemin's Demotion Is Puzzling

You know, it's funny.  That some people still don't understand that the NHL has role players is beyond me.

Yesterday, the Maple Leafs made a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, obtaining veteran Brad May in exchange for a conditional sixth round pick.  

And then the hounds came.

The same people who were saying the Maple Leafs were too soft on Tuesday were now laughing at the team for its addition of a gritty guy who will fight.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard "plan the parade" yesterday, I wouldn't have enough to buy a cup of Starbucks coffee.

But that's not to belittle how many times I heard it yesterday, it's just that Starbucks is really expensive.  Heck, it's going to cost me $3.50 for using the name twice in this piece.

Still, it's a move that, for a rebuilding team, is irrelevant to the future. Nonetheless, the move was one that had to be made. The Toronto Maple Leafs lack toughness and are better off with the added leadership that this deal gives them.

While Brad May's five assists won't put the Maple Leafs over the top, it addresses the club's need that's taken its foot off the "intensity pedal."

To make room for the incoming May, the Maple Leafs made a move to send rookie forward Nikolai Kulemin to the AHL's Toronto Marlies, a move that seems a tad puzzling. 

Now, it's not as if Kulemin is lighting the lamp as much as fellow rookie classman Kris Versteeg, nor is he playing such an integral part of his team's success as first year backstop Steve Mason. But to say Kulemin was playing badly isn't a fair assessment either.

In his first year in the National Hockey League and his first in North America, Kulemin has just 14 points in 40 games, but he is by all accounts adjusting well to the style of play. He has also formed a formidable line combination with Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski.

While it will be intriguing to see how the move affects Kulemin's play, it might be interesting to see how this affects Grabovski. Grabovski, who not only had a good bit of chemistry with the fellow Russian speaking Kulemin, seemed to form an off ice relationship with him, which has helped both get comfortable in Toronto.

Still, and with no ill will toward the man, it seems like the most obvious choice would be to demote tough guy Andre Deveaux back to the Toronto Marlies in favour of Kulemin.

May should fill the role of Deveaux as the tough guy and shift disturber type player, which is something GM Brian Burke clearly feels Deveaux hasn't done a good enough job of. And, truth be told, his play has steadily declined since his first game with the club back in Ottawa.

In that game, Deveaux was agitated.  He was all over the ice, slamming into the opposition, and came within inches of scoring his first goal. All that stopped it was the sliding pad of Alex Auld, which came all the way cross crease to take away the sure goal.

In the meantime, he has been rather quiet, picking his fights carefully and missing the last few games with a foot injury.

So while I applaud the trade that brings in Brad May, or at least see no problem with it, I fail to see how time with the Marlies can help Kulemin, as he was already in the top six when it came to playing time for the Leafs.

One could bet that perhaps Jeremy Williams will take over his spot in the top six.

Kulemin now joins young Leafs Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty in the minors.  There, they will hone their skills as they try to get another crack at playing for the big club.

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