The Leafs made their first major deal of the season today by acquiring forward Lee Stempniak from the St. Louis Blues in return for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Stempniak has had a pretty solid season so far in St. Louis, scoring 13 points in 14 games. In fact, in the last seven games alone, he's scored 11 points. The guy is on a tear.
His consistency may be questioned though. He had a strong season in 2006-07, scoring 27 goals and 52 points. That performance, however, was not followed up strongly in 2007-08, scoring just 13 goals and 38 points. That said, his season so far makes me think that last season was an anomaly and this guy could be pretty reliable offensively.
That's not to say that I don't think Steen and Colaiacovo will never be any good. The problem, however, is in their time here, neither has been able to reach their full potential.
I don't necessarily blame Steen for his poor performance so far this season; Wilson has given him limited ice time, and who knows what a spot in the top six would have done for him? That said, he hasn't exactly produced the offensive ability that Leafs' coaches and fans alike have expected of him.
In contrast, Matt Stajan, who is the same mold of player with the same defensive capabilities of Steen, has seen his offensive game finally flourish. With that in mind, it does make some sense that the Leafs coaching staff was getting impatient with Steen.
As for Carlo Colaiacovo, he is a guy I truly feel sorry for. His career has effectively been defined by a series of freak injuries which have overshadowed his solid play in his own end.
His offensive upside could make him a Top four blueliner in the NHL if he ever stayed healthy. However, the problem has been just that: he doesn't. Since becoming a "full-time" NHL player in 2005-06, Colaiacovo hasn't played anything close to a full season; the most action he has seen was 48 games in the 2006-07 season.
Let me run that by you again: in three full NHL seasons, he has yet to play even 60 percent of the games in one season, due to injuries. If this guy's picture isn't next to the word "unlucky" in the dictionary, then Webster's got some 'splainin to do. But luck aside, a guy like Colaiacovo, regardless of what attributes he has, has proven too much of a risk to build a blueline, and a team around.
(For the record, I'm sure someone will, in turn, mention Antropov's injury history. FWIW, I think Antropov should be traded at the deadline or, failing that, at the end of the season. He's done enough to raise his value, and I think a decent draft pick or solid prospect could come of such a trade).
So, at the end of the day, who wins? These things are more retrospective, and we won't start seeing results until the end of the season, if we're lucky. But, as it stands right now, the Leafs get the player in the trade who has proven to be the best player so far; therefore, they win.
Steen has yet to live up to his potential, and Colaiacovo is stuck in a revolving door of injury, while Stempniak is a point-per-game player. It could be closer than it seems on paper, and I think it will, but we'll have to see.
The next question becomes, where does Stempniak fit into the lineup?
Well, one answer is a given. You want a guy like that on your Top six for sure. On one side, I think he'd be a welcome addition to a line with Hagman and Grabovski. With that said however, the Hagman-Grabovski-Kulemin line has been dynamic so far, and I'm reluctant to break up the chemistry of the line. I also would rather keep Kulemin in a Top six role for development reasons. Personally, I would like to either sacrifice Poni or Antropov to put Stempniak on a Stajan line.
Now, let's think about something that a Stempniak-Stajan-Poni/Antropov line would bring. If I told you five months ago the Leafs would have two PPG players on their top line, let alone one, would you have: a) laughed in my face, or b) had me committed to a mental institution?
In light of Steen being traded, It makes me wonder. If Steen's so expendable NOW, why the hell wasn't he, when the prospect of taking the second pick from Philadelphia and getting either James Van Riemsdyk or Kyle Turris in 2007 was available?
I know, I know. JFJ was GM, the Leafs weren't rebuilding then, whole different ball game. But still, if only we had recognized Steen's unfulfilled potential two years ago.
According to Alec Brownscombe of HockeyBuzz, should all three players clear physicals, Lee Stempniak will apparently be in the Leafs lineup tomorrow night against Atlanta.