Blockbuster Breakdown – The Forwards

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    We have all had a few days to digest Sunday’s trades, but there is still a well of untapped implications.  Here’s a closer look at the forwards involved: both the outgoing Leafs and our lone newcomer.  Be sure to check out Garrett’s excellent pre-game analysis here before tonight’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils.

    Brian Burke shipped out four forwards on Sunday.  He brought in just one.  This has left critics of the Maple Leafs gleeful with suppositions that “all their offense is gone” and “there will be nobody to score goals for them next year!”.  But truthfully, how did these forwards actually fit into Toronto’s plans going forward?  What was their value to our team and how exactly will their absence impact this club?  Let’s take a look.

    Departures

    Jamal Mayers

    Age: 35            Drafted: Blues, 4th round (89th overall).  1993.

    2010-2011 Cap Hit:  UFA

    Jamal Mayers was signed to be a leader with a specific role on our Leafs. He was purported to bring grit, toughness, energy and penalty killing efficiency. Mayers did not even come close to meeting these expectations in his tenure with Toronto. He dropped the gloves on occasion and was a formidable faceoff man. However, he was never a true force on this team, on or off the ice.  Mayers was an extremely replaceable asset that was bound for unrestricted free agency this year and has been requesting a trade for two years now.  Brian Burke has said that he got the 26 years-old Fredrik Sjostrom included in the deal by throwing in the 35 years-old Jamal Mayers. Good job Burke.

    His Leafs highlight: Other than twice requesting to be traded?  A handful of decent bouts with other pugilists.

    Will we miss him? No.  My apologies for being blunt Jamal, but you did not work out here.

    His future holds: Likely a rotating spot in Calgary’s lower lines unless they do manage to rid themselves of Prust or McGrattan.  Will likely sign elsewhere this summer.

    Matt Stajan

    Age: 26            Drafted: Maple Leafs, 2nd round  (57th overall). 2002.

    2010-2011 Cap Hit:  UFA

    Matt Stajan has long been a contentious point for fans (especially here on MLHS). To be clear, the problem was never with his effort or dedication to the Leafs. Indeed, in his last presser, Matt was visibly shaken and upset that he was leaving Toronto. However, the big knock on Stajan is that he didn’t have the skill to truly optimize a top-six position. Neither did he have the physical strength or defensive excellence to warrant a bottom-line role. To be honest, a player like Stajan is easily replaceable through either free agency or from within the organization. Moreover, a replacement would be more apt to truly fit into a role on Brian Burke’s team. Matt Stajan could have stayed on with the Leafs and done an adequate job in a second or third line role. But ask yourself this: isn’t the purpose of a rebuild to put the right pieces in place that will allow a team to eventually achieve excellence? Accepting adequacy has put this organization where it is now. The Calgary Flames are hoping that Stajan will provide them with a reliable top center as they have now shipped out Olli Jokinen. Time will tell how that works out, but Stajan’s future in Toronto was at an end.  Brian Burke did an admirable job in essentially acquiring a prospect (Keith Aulie) for the long-time Leaf.

    His Leafs highlight: For me it has to be his first goal, as I was in attendance at that game and was still excited about our young second-round draft pick.  More generally, one had to stand up and cheer after this insane penalty kill by Stajan.

    Will we miss him? No.  It may take a year or two, but there will eventually be a replacement for Stajan that is much more capable.

    His future holds: The enticing possibility that he meshes with Jarome Iginla and earns himself a spot on the Flames for next year.  If not, somebody will take a chance on the very…adequate…center.

    Niklas Hagman

    Age: 30            Drafted: Panthers, 3rd round (70th overall).  1999.

    2010-2011 Cap Hit:  $3 million.  Signed for another 2 years.

    Niklas Hagman dazzled Leafs fans on a few occasions when he wore the blue and white. He will be the most missed forward from Sunday’s departures. When he was signed, we were informed we were getting a reliable two-way winger from Dallas that could chip in on offense (and was coming off a 27 goal season). We soon realized that the Finnish forward had talent to burn, but had difficulty showing up in the offensive zone every night. That’s not to say that Niklas ever quit on a game. Even at his worst, he played a relatively mistake-free style. These trends did result in stretches where Hagman would be a threat all night, alternating with periods where you hardly noticed that he was in the lineup. The overall picture is that Hagman is signed to a very fair 3 million and he should do well in Calgary.

    His Leafs highlight: Definitely this goal against the Florida Panthers.  He had another beauty early this year.

    Will we miss him? Absolutely.  While streaky, Hagman is good for 25+ goals at a very fair price.

    His future holds: Hagman will be a top-six fixture for the Flames and possibly top 30 goals if everything goes well for him.

    Jason Blake

    Age: 36            Drafted: Signed as FA by Kings.  1999.

    2010-2011 Cap Hit:  $4 million.  Signed for another 2 years.

    Let me be the first to say that I’ve been conflicted about Jason Blake for a while now.  I know it’s easy to criticize the guy for never living up to his salary.  And yes, I am beyond ecstatic that we actually managed to find somebody willing to take on the remainder of his contract.  Yet for the last season and change, Blake has been the epitome of hard work.  I have come to appreciate the fact that Jason gave it his all.  Watching Blake as he said his last words to the Toronto media, it was very clear that our city truly clamped the pressure cooker on the much-maligned American.  Think about it this way.  In his situation, how hard would YOU find it to pour every ounce of yourself into the gym and onto the ice?  You have off-ice health issues.  The fans tear into you.  The media never lets you forget that you aren’t meeting expectations.  Men of lesser mettle would have folded a long time ago. Jason Blake stuck it out.  He was granted this contract in good faith, and did what he could to fulfill it.  He never had the tools to consistently contribute at his salary level.  We will not miss his dizzying circles around the net, or is his frustrating long-distance shots.  However, we can only hope that future Leafs show the same unfettered desire to make a difference.  We’ll be a better team for it.

    His Leafs highlight: Blake had quite the shootout goal against Martin Brodeur.  He also lead the charge in a Leafs comeback victory over the Penguins last season with 2 goals in 19 seconds.  That second one’s a beaut.

    Will we miss him? No.  Simply put, Leafs fans should be jumping for joy that this contract is off our hands.  Blake had no future on a rebuilding team and was only taking a spot away for potential top six players.

    His future holds: A chance to win now with Anaheim.  Dan Sexton has been sent down and Blake will see some time alongside Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne.

    Arrivals

    Fredrik Sjostrom

    Age: 26            Drafted:  Coyotes, 1st round (11th overall).  2001.

    2010-2011 Cap Hit:  $750,000.  Signed for one more year.

    Sjostrom was a first round draft choice of the Phoenix Coyotes. He was largely selected for his blazing speed and his tantalizing potential as a big, quick winger. However, he has established a niche as an efficient penalty killer with Phoenix, New York and Calgary. This was more on display in Fredrik’s time with the Rangers. In fact, he received the second-most shorthanded ice time per game (amongst forwards) two years ago, barely behind Blair Betts. Sjostrom will likely never blossom into a scorer, as his hands are suspect. But at just 26, he has room to grow. If Burke and co. can develop Fredrik into the fast, defensive specialist they desire, Sjostrom will be a perfect third liner for a rebuilding team.

    His highlight: Sjostrom showed off his speed earlier this year with this goal.

    His future holds: A chance to prove to the Leafs that he deserves a spot on our rebuilding club.

    What Next?

    Let’s tally this up:

    -The average age of our departures was 31.75 years

    -We brought in the 26 year-old Sjostrom

    -1 forward (Hagman) with a relatively useful role in our foreseeable future was shipped out

    -2 UFAs and 1 ugly contract were sent packing.  That’s 3 players that the Leafs needed to get rid of anyways

    -3 roster spots permanently open for young players.  Think Hanson, Stalberg, Bozak and Rosehill

    You have all likely decided by now whether you thought the Leafs got fair values in their two trades.  Hopefully this piece has shown you the sweeping benefits these moves have granted us solely with respect to our forwards.  Older players with no true role on a developing team were moved out.  One young forward with third-line potential was brought in.  More importantly, space has finally been opened up to allow our prospects extended time at the NHL level.  It won’t be immediate, but in time, the scoring of Hagman could be replaced by a speedy Viktor Stalberg.  The distribution skills of Matt Stajan could be improved upon (and then some) by Tyler Bozak.  Jamal Mayers and Jason Blake’s contributions to this team are already on par with what players like Christian Hanson and Jay Rosehill can bring.  Yes, there is a short-term reduction in the caliber of your Toronto Maple Leafs.  But the future is now rife with potential.

    As always, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on these matters.

    Cheers,

    Nikhil


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