This column is hard for me to write, because I've been one of Cliff Fletcher's biggest supporters since day one.
However, sending Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday for Lee Stempniak was the worst decision Fletcher has made since returning to Toronto, and possibly the worst trade he's ever made.
Don't get me wrong, Lee Stempniak is a talented player who probably has second-line sniper potential. He brings some goal-scoring ability that the Leafs have been lacking.
But the Leafs will regret giving up on Steen so quickly. There are less Leaf fans who think this way now, but I believe as strongly as ever that Steen will become an outstanding defensive forward who can put up 70 points a season.
Not only that, he is already a strong leader in the dressing room and on the ice. Toronto has just lost a player who would have been an incredible asset in teaching their prospects how to carry themselves in the NHL.
You'd think the organization would have learned their lesson after trading Brad Boyes, another excellent two-way player who, ironically, also wound up in St. Louis. It's hard to imagine Boyes and Steen not leading the charge for the Blues over the next decade or so, with help from Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, and Erik Johnson.
Let's put it this way: I wouldn't trade Steen straight up for Stempniak, who has been wildly inconsistent early in his NHL career. So throwing in Colaiacovo makes the deal even worse.
It's true that the Leafs were overloaded on the blueline and that Colaiacovo has been extremely injury-prone. So they probably won't miss him much. But speaking in terms of value, I'd bet my brand new car that Larry Pleau and John Davidson are laughing it up over cigars as we speak.
Let's hope that Stempniak can prove me wrong and become a top offensive threat for the Leafs. But if Steen and Colaiacovo realize their potential, even that may not be enough.
Farewell, Alex Steen. I know how much it meant to you to wear the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Knock 'em dead in the Midwest.
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