On this day in 2007, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquire goaltender Vesa Toskala
Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
3 months ago
On this day in 2007, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired goaltender Vesa Toskala alongside forward Mark Bell from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a first and second-round draft pick in 2007 and a fourth-round selection in 2009.
Everyone has a favourite movie or book that starts with the main character fighting their way to chase their dreams. That was much like Toskala’s NHL story; unfortunately, his didn’t end as most happy stories do.
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round, 90th overall in the 1995 draft, the Tampere, Finland native would play several years in the Finnish Elite League with Ilves before finally stepping into North America in 2000. His final year in Europe saw him on loan with Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League.
Over his seven years in San Jose’s system, Toskala found himself in back-and-forth battles with Mikke Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov. Due to the fact the Sharks had two talented backstops already, he spent a lot of time in the AHL with San Jose’s farm teams: first with the Kentucky Thoroughblades in 2000-01 — the team’s final year in the American League — and later the Cleveland Barons. In November 2003, he finally broke out with the big club after the Sharks traded Kiprusoff to the Calgary Flames.
After a slow start, he found his groove by posting similar records to the favoured Nabokov. The difference between the two became goal support. Toskala held a .915 save percentage, whereas Nabokov’s was .916, both had three shut-out wins under their belt. Still, the Sharks scored an average of 3.86 goals per game with Toskala between the pipes, and Nabokov was winning games with an average of 2.22 goals per game.
Having missed the playoffs the previous two years and having goaltending problems — among other issues — the pressure was already mounted by the time he stepped on the ice at the Air Canada Centre. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly pan out as any had hoped.
But at first, everything was as good as it could be.
“I think every player in the world wants to play in Canada at one point in their careers,” Toskala told the National Post‘s Michael Traikos.
“The fans, the media, people live for hockey in that country, especially in Toronto. I’m actually very, very excited to take on that challenge.”
The excitement carried into his first season; in 66 games, he had 33 wins under his belt with a .904 save percentage, but in 2008-09, things started to fall apart for the hopeful netminder.
Toskala was put behind a team of young inexperienced players, and he’d only had one season as the team’s number one.
The night of March 18, 2008, against the New York Islanders would become forever ingrained into the minds of Leaf’s fans. As the contest headed into the second period, the game was scoreless. Still, the Leafs had an opportunity after a penalty was called on the Islanders.
In an attempt to clear the puck from the zone, Islanders defenceman Rob Davison launched a bouncing puck toward the Maple Leafs net. Toskala was anticipating the low bounce when it jumped right up and over his glove, hitting the back of the net. The 197-foot goal would mark the beginning of rough times the netminder would face with the original six team and it became symbolic of his tenure as a whole. Injuries became an issue for Toskala as after that 2007-08 season, he had surgery to help deal with some groin injuries.
In 2009-10, he played 26 games with 23 wins taking a back seat to Jonas Gustavsson and the market had turned on him. He was traded in late January with Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Toskala never played a game for the Ducks, however, and he made waves soon after the deal as he wanted to wear the number 35. The only problem was that number was worn by the recently departed J-S Gigure — who was the most successful goaltender the franchise had seen. Toskala was refused, and got traded to the Calgary Flames months later for Curtis McElhinney, but only ever played six games there backing up Kiprusoff.
Despite that, Calgary offered him a contract north of $1-million for the following year, but he turned it down as he still wanted to be a number one goalie — something he couldn’t do with Kiprusoff there.
Toskala went back to the Swedish Elite League, then called Elitserien, but played in just two games. He signed with Ilves back in Finland for the 2010-11 season, but had a disastrous campaign posting a .885 save percentage in 22 games. He retired after that season due to his decline in play, and a lingering injury.
His time in the NHL definitely wasn’t the fairy tale anyone imagined, but at the end of the day he’s human just like everyone else.
As for Mark Bell, who was traded alongside the goaltender, he played 35 games in Toronto, scoring only four goals and 10 points. He was later selected off waivers by the New York Rangers in 2009.
The picks in 2007 acquired by San Jose were traded to the St. Louis Blues. The Blues selected Lars Eller in the first round and Aaron Palushaj in the second round. Eller played only seven games in St. Louis before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. In 2018, he became a Stanley Cup Champion after being traded to the Washington Capitals in 2016.
Palushaj had a similar path, although he never dressed for the Blues and was traded to the Canadiens in 2010 for Matt D’Agostini. He played 68 games in the NHL between Montreal, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 2009 fourth-round pick was traded to the Nashville Predators, and they selected Craig Smith. Smith played nine years in Nashville before signing with the Boston Bruins as a free agent in 2020. He was traded to the Washington Capitals before the NHL’s trade deadline in the deal that sent Dmitry Orlov to Boston.
Recent articles from Aleena Aksenchuk