Where Are They Now: The 08/09 Leafs

In a rather forgettable fashion, Tomas Kaberle has signed a 1 year contract with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk. It remains to be seen if his NHL days are permanently behind him, but after being bought out by the Montreal Canadiens, one wonders if we’ll see him again. Anyway, this move made me think about some of the Leafs rosters he played for, which lead me to the 2008/09 roster. 

For those who’ve erased it from their memory by force forgotten, the 08/09 team would be described as "minimalistic" by an artist, and "FIRE UP THE TANKS, BURN IT TO THE GROUND" by hockey fans. The previous season, after several mediocre, not quite playoff quality post-Lockout years, John Ferguson Jr was fired, Cliff Fletcher was brought in as an interim GM, and his job was to gut the team out, get some youth and assets, and create darkness to turn into hope. Fletcher did what he could, but with the entire team basically having no trade clauses or being typically bad investments, this included holding on to some remains, and letting some walk via free agency.

Of course, the Leafs couldn’t make their tanking plan too obvious, and needed some assets to move forward with, so they remained active in the off season, making a couple of signings and trades, to varying degress of success. The commitment to Jeff Finger had people wondering who exactly he was, and the acquisition of Mikhail Grabovski for a 2nd Round Pick and Greg Pateryn worked out fantastically for the Leafs until they decided his contract didn’t fit in with the long-term plan in July of this year. The team was one of the worst put on paper in this city in years. When Brian Burke took the full-time job of GM midway through the year, he continued to slash it down to build back up. But the Ron Wilson coached roster put in their best efforts, played entertaining hockey, and ended up with the 5th overall pick. Er, they would have, if it wasn’t for Boyd Devereaux ending his NHL career with the game of his life. No worries though, that Nazem Kadri kid they picked at #7 is looking pretty good right now (if they pay him).

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Anyway, I felt like looking into where everybody that was a part of that team is today. Here’s what we have:

Name GP PTS Arrived By Departed By Last Seen (NHL) Status?
Jason Blake 78 63 Free Agency (2007) Trade (2010) Anaheim (2012) Free Agent
Alexei Ponikarovsky 82 61 Draft (1998) Trade (2010) Winnipeg (2013) St. Petersburg (KHL)
Matt Stajan 76 55 Draft (2002) Trade (2010) Calgary (2013) Calgary Flames
Mikhail Grabovski 78 48 Trade (2008) Buyout (2013) Toronto (2013) Washington Capitals
Nikolai Antopov 63 46 Draft (1999) Trade (2009) Winnipeg (2013) Astana Barys (KHL)
Niklas Hagman 65 42 Free Agency (2008) Trade (2010) Anaheim (2012) Parin Assat (SML)
Dominic Moore 63 41 Waivers (2008) Trade (2009) San Jose (2012) New York Rangers
Pavel Kubina 82 40 Free Agency (2006) Trade (2009) Philadelphia (2012) Free Agent
Lee Stempniak 61 31 Trade (2009) Trade (2010) Calgary (2013) Calgary Flames
Nikolai Kulemin 73 31 Draft (2006) STILL HERE Toronto (2013) Not Traded Yet
Tomas Kaberle 57 31 Draft (1996) Trade (2011) Montreal (2013) Dinamo Minsk (KHL)
John Michell 76 29 Draft (2003) Trade (2011) Colorado (2013) Colorado Avalanche
Ian White 71 26 Draft (2002) Trade (2010) Detroit (2013) Free Agent
Jeff Finger 66 23 Free Agency (2008) Free Agency (2012) Toronto (2010) Free Agent
Jamal Mayers 71 16 Trade (2008) Trade (2010) Chicago (2013) Free Agent
Luke Schenn 70 14 Draft (2008) Trade (2012) Philadelphia (2013) Philadelphia Flyers
Anton Stralman 38 13 Draft (2005) Trade (2009) NY Rangers (2013) New York Rangers
Mike Van Ryn 27 11 Trade (2008) Retirement (2009) Toronto (2009) Retired
Boyd Devereaux 23 11 Free Agent (2006) Free Agency (2009) Toronto (2009) Retired
Jonas Frogren 41 7 Free Agent (2009) Free Agency (2010 Toronto (2009) Skelleftea (SHL)
Jeremy Williams 11 7 Draft (2003) Free Agency (2009) NY Rangers (2011) Vasteras HK (SHA)
Jeff Hamilton 15 6 Free Agency (2009) Free Agency (2009) Toronto (2009) Retired
Jiri Tlusty 14 4 Draft (2006) Trade (2009) Carolina (2013) Carolina Hurricanes
Alexander Steen 20 4 Draft (2002) Trade (2008) St. Louis (2013) St. Louis Blues
Christian Hanson 5 2 Free Agency (2009) Free Agency (2011) Toronto (2011) Peoria Rivermen (AHL)
Ryan Hollweg 25 2 Free Agency (2008) Free Agency (2009) Phoenix (2011) HC Plzen (CZE)
Brad May 38 2 Trade (2009) Free Agency (2009) Detroit (2010) Retired
Jaime Sifers 23 2 Free Agent (2006) Free Agency (2009) Minnesota (2010) Mannheim (DEL)
Phil Oreskovic 10 2 Draft (2005) Free Agency (2010) Toronto (2009) Toledo (ECHL)
Tim Stapleton 4 1 Free Agent (2008) Free Agency (2009) Winnipeg (2012) Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
Jay Harrison 7 1 Draft (2001) Free Agency (2009) Carolina (2013) Carolina Hurricanes
Andre Deveaux 21 1 Free Agent (2008) Free Agency (2010) NY Rangers (2012) Free Agent
Carlo Colaiacovo 10 1 Draft (2001) Trade (2008) Detroit (2013) Free Agent
Kris Newbury 1 0 Free Agent (2005) Free Agency (2009) NY Rangers (2013) Adirondack Flyers (AHL)
Ben Ondrus 11 0 Free Agent (2003) Free Agency (2010) Toronto (2009) Free Agent
Martin Gerber 12 0.905 Waivers (2009) Free Agency (2009) Edmonton (2011) Koten (KLA)
Vesa Toskala 53 0.891 Trade (2006) Trade (2010) Calgary (2010) Retired
Curtis Joseph 21 0.869 Free Agent (2008) Retirement (2009) Toronto (2009) Retired
Justin Pogge 7 0.844 Draft (2004) Free Agency (2009) Toronto (2009) BIK Karlskoga (SHA)

Looking back at this team, I have the following observations and thoughts:

  • Nikolai Kulemin is the only player on this entire team that is still Leafs property. Mikhail Grabovski is the only other one who’s last NHL game was this past season, for the Leafs.
  • Eight of the thirty nine players on this full-season roster never played an NHL game after that sesaon, versus sixteen who played this year.
  • At the current moment, five players have officially retired, eight are free agents (Jeff Finger is effectively retired due to concussion issues and a lack of NHL interest but hasn’t confirmed it), ten are on NHL rosters, two have NHL contracts but are expected to play in the AHL, four will spend next year in the KHL, two in the second tier Swedish league, and one each in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, the ECHL, and the Swedish Elite League.
  • To simplify that: 12 of 40 have NHL contracts, six are retired, seven are free agents, and fifteen are committed outside of the NHL.
  • The turnover of this roster wasn’t exactly gradual, either. Over half (20) of them were gone by July 1st.
  • The team was built with free assets. Sixteen players were drafted, fifteen through free agency, and two through waivers. Most of the trade aquisitions were cheap. Grabovski, Mayers, and May were acquired for peanuts. Van Ryn was part of a cap dump move to get rid of Bryan McCabe. We must never speak of the Stempniak and Toskala trades again.
  • Speaking of Stempniak, I always found it hilarious how he finished the year he was traded away in by scoring 14 goals in 18 games. Toronto never saw a hot streak even close to that out of him.
  • You look at these four goalies and the results they brought, and it makes you feel better about investing assets and money into Johnathan Bernier this year, if you weren’t sold already. What an awful foursome.
  • Jason Blake’s contract will never be mistaken for good, but in hindsight, Brian Burke managed to make lemonade with Ferguson’s lemons. The Leafs got two good years and a mediocre one out of him, and his performance probably surpassed the dollars paid to him.
  • I’m actually impressed that Ryan Hollweg is still playing somewhere. He wasn’t good at all when he was here, and seemed like a throwaway player more than anything. I guess something is to be said for work ethic.
  • I really thought that Jeremy Williams would be more successful. The reality? He’s a player that neesd big minutes and needs talented players to get him the puck. He was definitely able to finish, but never really was able to get in the right position or play a two way game.
  • The Marlies roster was equally devoid, full of veterans and easily forgotten prospects. Only one player stuck around in the Leafs organization: a goalie nobody thought much of at the time, by the name of James Reimer.
  • The Leafs didn’t really get much in return for the players that left, minus Schenn (for James van Riemsdyk) and the players sent in the Phaneuf trade. It’s impressive how far the team came so quickly, while effectively using players acquired after the fact.

It was certainly an odd time in Leafs history, one where the team realized that the cap-era NHL was about depth, youth, speed, and developing talent. One can be disappointed with this offseason and not be particularly wrong, but it’s crazy to think about how much better the team’s situation is across the board compared to just four years ago.

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  • What is even stranger is the leaf Fenwick Close was much higher and about league average. The 2007 team was even better. The 2008 leafs was a such a terrible team for those that watch hockey but most every advanced stat details that team should out compete the leafs and were just unlucky. Well in reality, they had below average goaltending SV%.

    For us advanced stat supporters we have to deal with the fact that Wilson/Carlye coached leaf teams and Burke/Nonis managed leaf teams and their associated players are apparently not that good at puck possession.

    The simple answer is to say we have Reimer now and Carlyle is dumbo but that completely ignores that advanced stats are not kind to current leaf team.