Back in November, Mike Boutlbee wrote about the positives and negatives of the Maple Leafs trade for Lee Stempniak. In the minds of most Toronto fans, Mike included, they thought they were getting the best of the deal. Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo were both huge underachievers for the organisation, Steen had at trade time only lodged two goals and two assists in his twenty-odd games and Colaiacovo due to his constant injury problems, the most dispensable of Toronto's packed blue line.
At the time of the trade, Stempniak was performing quite well for St Louis, 13 points from 14 games made up of three goals and 10 assists. However, since joining his new team, Stempniak has struggled to keep the momentum going. After 15 games with the Leafs, Stempniak has only two goals and five assists, an almost 50 percent decline in production in a similar time frame.
So what can be attributed to his loss of scoring fortune. Obviously, joining any new team can have its curtailing affects. New coach, teammates, strategies and location, all go hand in hand in settling a player. Finding a comfort level in a new organization is a huge hurdle to overcome, more so playing in hockey-mad Toronto.
The truth is though, that professional hockey players need to be mobile and ready for upheaval. Professional athletes can be traded and moved at any minute, and are expected to perform regardless of the shift.
Could it be that Stempniak is skating on a lesser line, God forbid, a lesser team? Stempniak started out on the second line with Grabovski and Hagman, displacing Kulemin. As much as Wilson hoped, the line just was not generating any chemistry.
Wilson gave Stempniak his fair chance up front and he now finds himself since the game against New York on the fourth. Since joining the Leafs, his shots on goal percentage has dropped to 0.063 and his shots fired to 32, 11 less than his time with St. Louis at the start of the season. Arguing that his skating partners are not the strongest is tough, as Hagman and Grabovski have been one of the better and most consistent of the Maple Leafs this season, combining 22 goals between them.
Before the game against the New York Islanders, Stempniak told reporters "It seems like I've been getting some chances, but I'm just not cashing them in." Stempniak is going to have start cashing in big time if he plans on having a future with the Maple Leafs. His $6 million, two-year contract is being paid for bigger things. The goals better start coming or he will find himself on Brian Burke's chopping block in the not-too-distant future.