Last night's shellacking at the hands of the Canadiens was Toronto's 41st game of the year, officially marking the halfway point of the season and an obvious time for mid-term report cards.
Nik Antropov – When Cliff Fletcher was still GM I was so afraid of waking up to a “Leafs extend Antropov for 5 years/$30 Million” headline that I was literally terrified to turn on my computer each morning. I would hesitate, hit the power button and then jump back a few steps, close my eyes and visualize good things. Needless to say I’m now salivating at the thought of receiving the standard currency for a rental player of a pick and a prospect. Who knows, maybe the Leafs re-sign him again in the summer?
Matt Stajan – Don’t let the points fool you (31 in 35 games), Stajan is putting up 2nd line numbers on first line minutes…and he’s a third line player. But he has played well.
Mikhail Grabovski – I’m still not sold on the Russian rookie. He definitely has considerable skill and speed, but he shows up about as often as Amy Winehouse. He reminds me of Alexei Zhamnov and I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or not. I’m leaning towards not.
Jason Blake – Blake has played significantly better since half-demanding a trade in November after Ron Wilson benched him for a couple games. I think it would be better if Leaf fans totally forgot about his contract (drinking excessively helps sometimes I find) and just pretended he was a scrappy little guy with speed and little understanding of when to shoot or how to play a team game.
Lee Stempniak – Next year Toronto will pay Stempniak and Jason Blake a combined $8 million to score 30 goals and 60 points. Not good times.
Alex Ponikarovsky – Slightly overpaid but a big body who goes into corners and is a consistent 20 goal scorer. Over his history he’s taken a lot of careless stick penalties, but appears to have corrected that under Wilson’s tutelage.
Kyle Wellwood – His 14 goals lead the team…or, wait, they would lead the team if the Leafs hadn’t decided to get rid of him for nothing. (Although as the picture to the right indicates, Wellwood wasn't always in 'game' shape during his Leafs tenure.)
Niklas Hagman – A very questionable signing by Fletcher, and eerily similar to the Finger deal (more on that shortly). Both are average players and veterans that don’t seem to fit into a sensible re-building plan.
Dominic Moore – One of if not the most consistent Leaf day-in and day-out: always shows up and works hard. The problem of course, is that he’s a fourth line player who can only do so much.
Jamal Mayers – Was brought in to provide leadership and stability in the dressing room and toughness on the ice. I have no sources inside the Leafs dressing room, so I can't confirm what his presence has meant behind closed doors, but on the ice he's doing his job: hitting guys and dropping the gloves when needed. For the most part, it's just really hard to look good or bad when you have 10 bottom six forwards.
Nikolai Kulemin – I guess it’s not officially a Brian Burke team until Brad May is on it, but I don’t particularly agree with sending down Kumelin to make room for him. Kulemin was playing solid two-way hockey and now we’ve potentially robbed Kumelin of some confidence. Kulemin deserves better.
Ryan Hollweg – He’s stopped nailing guys from behind. Ahh, well, you know what I mean. Other than the exceedingly cool moustache, Hollweg really doesn’t bring anything to the table. I’d be surprised if he got another contract to play next year…from any NHL team.
John Mitchell – He was just starting to come on, receiving more and more ice time when he injured his shoulder, and hasn’t been able to get back to that level. Still up for debate whether he’s a legitimate NHLer.
Tomas Kaberle – Since the lockout and through this morning, only two defencemen in the National Hockey League have accumulated more points than Kaberle (Lidstrom and Gonchar). That’s it. Two guys. Is Kaberle a great defensive defenceman? No. But he makes a great first pass and is terrific on the powerplay. At $4.15 million and with two more years still to go on his contract, he is one of the best bargains in hockey. The only way he’s getting moved is if somebody meets a steep price. The Marian Hossa deal from last year (a former first-rounder in Esposito, a future first rounder and a roster player) should be the starting point.
Pavel Kubina – The demanding Toronto media has eroded Kubina’s perceived value, continuing to position him as the overpaid and inadequate defenceman who struggled mightily in his initial season with the Leafs. But since then, Kubina has quietly played really well and was excellent at the end of last season. In my mind, a Kaberle/Kubina/Schenn top three defensive core (at a very reasonable cost) wouldn’t be a bad group to build around.
Luke Schenn – A very solid rookie season for the 18 year-old, but watching the World Juniors I couldn’t help but wonder what being an integral part of a championship team would have done for his development.
Jeff Finger – Unfortunately for Leaf fans, his contract (4 years/$14 million) doesn’t make any more sense now than it did this summer, when rumours circulated that Toronto mistakenly thought they had signed Kurt Sauer and ended up with Finger (http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=16043). Finger is a decent player, an average player, awww dammit, I can’t continue with that. He’s a lottery winner. Cliff Fletcher was Willy Wonka and Finger had the golden ticket.
Mike Van Ryn – Has looked pretty good when he’s played, but on the heels of missing 60+ games last year and another 24 games already this year…well, you have to wonder if he’ll ever be a full-time player again.
Ian White – If White is dressing every night, your team is not making the playoffs. He had a decent little streak earlier in the year, but so did One Republic. He would look great on the Marlies. Or bagging my groceries.
Jonas Frogen – The only acceptable transaction Fletcher made was signing Frogen, who is tough and cheap. He kind of reminds me of a Swedish Vinnie Jones.
Vesa Toskala – He ranks 44th in the league in goals against average and 45th in save percentage and has started 35 of the Leafs first 41 games. He hasn’t stolen a single one. In fact, he’s allowed four or more goals a league high 14 times.
Curtis Joseph –Yeah, bringing back Joseph for $850,000 makes a lot more sense than keeping Scott Clemmensen for $500,000.