It’s the middle of August which means, hockey-wise, there’s really not much worth talking about.
That’s why sometimes we rely on you, our beautiful and smart readers, to help us out. Occasionally, this is the type of #content of which you guys suggest:
Can auston Matthews make a burrito so hot even he could not eat it?
— kyle evans (@kyleevans11) August 7, 2017
Other times, however, you guys really come through and ask some pretty darn good questions. This one, submitted to us by Peri Strathearn, really got me thinking:
What's the best team you can make of ex-Leafs who remain in the NHL?
— Peri Strathearn (@PeriStrathearn) August 21, 2017
Outside of the 2016-2017 season, the Leafs had been terrible for a decade. Bad teams are comprised of bad players, and bad players don’t tend to stick around for too long (well, for the most part). The point that I’m trying to make is that the Leafs have employed a number of forgettable players over the years, which means only a small portion of them are still kicking around.
I began comprising a list of all currently active players who, at one point or another, played at least one game in the Blue and White. The list does not include players who were drafted by the Leafs then later traded (what’s up, Tuukka Rask), nor does it include players who were drafted using a traded draft pick (how’s it going, Brandon Saad). Again, all players considered for this exercise must be active and must have played at least a single game with the Leafs.
I warned you guys – this is a very, very sad list. Also, God bless www.hockey-reference.com.
Here are all the forwards that are currently active and have played at least a game with the Leafs (fun fact, Matt Stajan is the last remaining Leaf from the 2002-2003 team):
|Matt Stajan||Brooks Laich||Mikhail Grabovski||Brendan Leipsic||Nikolay Kulemin||Michael Grabner|
|Alex Steen||Brian Boyle||Shawn Matthias||Viktor Stalberg||Kris Versteeg||Phil Kessel|
|Joe Colborne||John Mitchell||Daniel Winnik||Milan Michalek||Richard Panik||Lee Stempniak|
|Peter Holland||Jay McClement||Byron Froese||Clarke MacArthur||P.A Parenteau|
Here are all the defensemen that are currently active and have played at least a game with the Leafs:
|Scott Harrington||Korbanian Holzer||Dion Phaneuf|
|John-Michael Liles||Carl Gunnarsson||Anton Stralman|
|Frank Corrado||Cody Franson||Francois Beauchemin|
|Matt Hunwick||Luke Schenn|
Finally, here are all the goalies that are currently active and have played at least a game with the Leafs:
|James Reimer||Jonas Gustavsson||Jonathan Bernier||Jhonas Enroth|
Alright, so, uuuuh… Yeah.
Now that we know what we’re working with, it’s time to construct a roster. That’s right – 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies will make up a roster that, uh, might be able to give the 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche a run for their money.
Actually, @yakovmironov put it best when he said, “Vegas would be embarrassed to have this team.” We agree, Jon.
Anyways, let’s get to it. Line by line, here’s how I would construct a team of ex-Leafs who are still kickin’.
L1: Alexander Steen – Peter Holland – Phil Kessel
First line: On a roster devoid of serious talent, this is a line that features two legitimately good-to-great NHLers and a guy in Peter Holland who still has loads of potential. Steen has hit at least 50 points in five of his last seven seasons and was on pace to hit 50 points in the two seasons in which he came up short. He’s a guy who was traded away in his early 20’s and is still only 33-years-old. Sure, 33 is old for a hockey player, but he was traded so long ago that I was shocked to find out that he’s still due for a few more productive years.
With Phil, we all know what he’s about. He’s one of the most offensively-gifted players in the game, has a hell of a shot, and don’t forget, he’s the 48th greatest Leaf in history (he’s easily top-30, by the way). He’s also a guy that has produced at a staggering rate in the playoffs and was robbed of a Conn Smythe two years ago. Plus, he’s funny as hell and I miss him dearly.
The last element to this line is Peter Holland. This is a guy that has always had a decently high ceiling, but for whatever reason hasn’t been able to put much of anything together. He would also be the only centre on this team capable of keeping up with Kessel.
L2: Kris Versteeg – Matt Stajan – Michael Grabner
Second line: I actually kind of like the idea of Grabner and Versteeg playing on the same line. They’re both pretty good offensively and can skate. Unfortunately, Matt Stajan can do none of those things.
Kris Versteeg is someone who got a really, really tough ride in Toronto. Remember that time someone keyed and spat on his Audi R8? I doubt he’d want to come back but dammit, I’d take him. I don’t know how much stock you guys put into HERO charts, but his rate stats are great. He’s still an extremely effective player given the right situation.
Michael Grabner is coming off of his best year in seven seasons in which he scored 27 goals. In Toronto, Grabner was known as the guy who couldn’t finish (as in score goals, with a stick and a puck, come on now). In New York, all he did was score, although something tells me that his career-high shooting percentage of 16.7% had something to do with his increased production. Still, he’s one of the fastest skaters in the league, can be somewhat dangerous offensively and has some cool tattoos.
Lastly, Matt Stajan would attempt to centre these two, which would be kinda funny. Stajan used to be a great depth piece but as time has gone on, his play has deteriorated significantly. He’s 33-years-old, and you’ve got to wonder if, after his contract expires after this season, he’ll be able to find another NHL job. Still, I’d probably rather take Stajan than Byron Froese or Jay McClement.
L3: Clarke MacArthur – Daniel Winnik – Lee Stempniak
Third line: C’mon, you really thought I wasn’t going to bring back at least a third of the greatest second line hockey has ever seen? That’s right, Clarke MacArthur will represent both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin on this team.
MacArthur is one of the best stories is pro sports. He has battled through multiple concussions and has missed countless games only to come back and prove that he can still play at the NHL level. He played very well in the playoffs for the Sens and, hopefully, figures to be a big part of their team going forward. If he stays healthy, he’s a good player.
Daniel Winnik is another guy who was loved in Toronto both for his determined play on the ice and the fact that he brought three draft picks (one of which being Carl Grundstrom) and Connor Carrick to the organization. He’s a gritty, somewhat dependable player who isn’t going to do much for you offensively but is an adequate NHLer.
Last but not least, we have the guy that Cliff Fletcher traded Alex Steen for: Lee Stempniak. Don’t get me wrong, Stempniak’s a very, very useful player but my god, what an awful trade that turned out to be. Regardless, Stempniak makes this team fairly easily. He has played on nearly a third of all NHL teams and just seems to keep plugging along at each stop. Sure, he may be old, but back to back 40+ point seasons is nothing to be ashamed of.
L4: Viktor Stalberg – Brian Boyle – Richard Panik
Fourth line: Remember when everyone thought Richard Panik was going to score 50 goals that one time? That was fun.
This is actually a pretty dependable line and would probably be one of, if not the best fourth lines in hockey. We saw what a difference a guy like Brian Boyle can make. I mean, sure, going from Ben Smith to Brian Boyle is obviously a massive upgrade but Boyle was #ActuallyGood, not just ‘he was better than Ben Smith’. Although he doesn’t provide anything offensively, Boyle is good defensively and can win faceoffs, if that’s your thing.
Richard Panik, meanwhile, is an interesting player. I remember when he was with the Leafs, it was apparent that he had potential to put up decent offensive numbers. Well, last season he was given a real shot to do something and do something he did, scoring a career-high 22 goals and 44 points. Are those numbers repeatable? Probably not, but they’re good enough to land him a spot on the team.
Finally, Viktor Stalberg rounds out the forward group. I was really having a tough time deciding between Stalberg and Brendan Leipsic for the final spot. However, after watching hours of game tape and meticulously breaking down the footage on each player, I decided to go with Stalberg. Why? Well, Stalberg is 6’3 per 60 minutes while Leipsic’s height-per-60 is closer to 5’9. Just kidding, that’s a really stupid way to analyze players. The decision came down to Leipsic having little to no NHL experience and not producing at an extremely high rate at 5v5 in the minors. Throwing Leipsic with Boyle and Panik wouldn’t be the greatest recipe for success.
D1: John-Michael Liles – Anton Stralman
First pairing: Listen, I love Phil Kessel, but Anton Stralman may be the most valuable piece to this team. He’s arguably the most underrated defenseman in the league and is *exactly* the kind of player the Leafs need right now. Another funny thing about Stralman is that the pick the Leafs acquired when they traded him ended up being Brandon Saad, but they traded that away, too. Anyways, Stralman is a true first-pairing guy and someone who I miss dearly.
Playing on Stralman’s left side is another guy who’s undervalued (albeit, to a lesser degree) in John-Michael Liles. Liles’ tenure with the Leafs was brief and filled with injuries, but he has gotten back on track and has been a steady contributor on each team he’s played for. He can skate and move the puck, two things that are borderline requirements in today’s NHL.
D2: Dion Phaneuf – Cody Franson
Second pairing: Yeah, I know Dion Phaneuf captained the team through one of its darkest stretches in franchise history, but, 1) he was pretty good for part of that stretch and, 2) he’s still a decent player given the right usage.
I really feel bad about the way Dion’s tenure as a Leaf came to an end. He seems like a genuinely good guy who was brought in with lofty expectations and thrown into a position where he was set up to fail. We talk a lot about players being whipping boys… Dion was a whipping boy. Regardless, he’s still a useful guy to have around and is easily a top-4 guy on this team.
Cody Franson is also someone who was run out of town (although not even close to the extent that Phaneuf was) but didn’t necessarily deserve it. He’s alright offensively, much better than he’s given credit for defensively, and loved playing for the Leafs. Plus, he’s a coveted right-handed defenseman. He’s someone that, as a free agent, I wouldn’t mind seeing Toronto go after.
D3: Matt Hunwick – Carl Gunnarsson
Third Pairing: It’s only fitting that these two end up on a line together. Remember when Roman Polak used to be Carl Gunnarsson? Ah, the good ol’ days… Instead of Hunlak, we could have had Hunnarsson or Gunnwick.
I wrote about how Hunwick is actually a pretty valuable piece back in June and I believe the Penguins made a smart move in handing the contract they did this summer. He’s a bottom pairing guy, sure, but an elite bottom pairing guy. Basically, when he’s not injured or playing with a carousel of partners, his numbers are stellar and he’s able to handle the competition. I would have been happy to have him back on a 2-ish year deal.
Finally, Carl Gunnarsson makes the team because, well, he’s better than Scott Harrington, Korbanian Holzer, Luke Schenn, and Francois Beauchemin. That’s pretty much it.
Starter: James Reimer
Backup: Jonathan Bernier
It seems like so long ago that this was Toronto’s goalie tandem. Jonathan Bernier was going to become the next great, young, number one in the NHL and James Reimer was going to be the best backup in the league.
First off, the most disrespectful thing that has ever happened in the history of professional sports is the Leafs trading for Bernier after Reimer straight up dragged the 2012-2013 Leafs into the playoffs. Also, the trade would have been even more of a disaster had the Leafs not re-acquired the pick they sent to Los Angeles in in the trade (Travis Dermott) from Columbus almost two years to the day later.
Anyways, not only is James Reimer a saint but he’s also a really damn good goalie. He played over 40 games for the first time this past season and posted an impressive .920 SV% while doing so. Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernier had an average season with the Ducks and will likely continue his career as a really good backup.
WOULD THIS TEAM WIN 20 NHL GAMES?
This team frickin’ sucks, but I’m fairly confident that they’d win 20 games.
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