Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Worst Leaf Trades from Hockey Buzz

I've been desperate to get some more hockey news lately, and so I swung over to HockeyBuzz, which was my staple website during the NHL trade deadline this year. Let's face it, the one thing fans like more than neat trades (because it always marks the beginning of a new chapter when an unknown commodity might come in and turn everything around) is the rumours of a neat trade (which happens way more often than an actual trade).

In any case, HockeyBuzz.com has a new Leafs post reviewing the worst Maple Leafs trades according to Mike Augello. He posted the #14, #13 and #12 so far. Here they are, in that order.

#14 - November 24, 2008: Toronto trades Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for Lee Stempniak.
In November, 2008 the Toronto rumor mill was rife with speculation that Brian Burke, who had recently stepped down as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks was poised to take over as president and GM in Toronto. The club was being run by interim GM Cliff Fletcher, who had taken over in January after the dismissal of John Ferguson Jr.

Fletcher made a number of moves during his tenure, which included hiring Ron Wilson as head coach, trading veterans Hal Gill, Chad Kilger, the negotiating rights for Mats Sundin, as well as acquiring Mikhail Grabovski, Jamal Mayers, Ryan Hollweg and a swap of first-round draft picks on draft day that allowed Toronto to select Luke Schenn.

There were no great expectations of the club being a playoff contender, but they did manage to play over .500 in October before losing seven of nine games in November. With the team struggling, Fletcher decided to move two former first-round picks, 24-year-old Alexander Steen and 25-year-old Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for forward Lee Stempniak.

Steen was selected 24th overall in 2002 and was entering his fourth season in Toronto. Under Pat Quinn and Paul Maurice, he played with a level of maturity greater than his age and contributed solid offensive numbers (averaging 16 goals, 25 assists). Under Wilson, Steen's role was marginalized, which was clearly evident by his scoring output (four points in 20 games).

Colaiacovo was selected 17th overall in 2001 and had split time between the AHL and Toronto for five seasons. His tenure with the Leafs was the ultimate in frustration because he flashed the skills of a top-four defenseman, but constant injuries never allowed him to establish himself. He had only played 10 games before the trade, mostly due to Wilson believing he was not in top physical condition.

The justification on the part of Fletcher was that Toronto was getting someone capable of playing a top six forward role in the deal, but that assertion was based on circumstantial evidence. The 25-year-old Stempniak was selected 148th overall in 2003 and spent four years at Dartmouth before signing with St. Louis. After a decent rookie season, the Buffalo, New York native scored 27 goals for the Blues in 2006-07 playing on lines with veterans like Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk. The breakout season earned him a three-year, $7.5 Million contract extension, but he struggled the following year, scoring only 13 goals.

Ironically, this trade was made just five days before Burke took control in Toronto.

Steen struggled the rest of the season with St. Louis, scoring only six goals in 61 games, but rebounded with two consecutive 20 goal seasons and has matured into one of the Blues best two-way forwards. Colaiacovo’s injury problems have decreased slightly and he has been able to establish himself as a solid pro, averaging over 20 assists and 65 games played in the last three seasons.

Conversely, Stempniak was unable to produce in an offensive role in Toronto, with just 11 goals in 61 games. In 2009-10, he played effectively as a third line checker, scoring 14 goals before being traded to Phoenix at the deadline for minor-league defenseman Matt Jones and two low round draft choices. Once traded, he went on a scoring rampage with the Coyotes, scoring 14 goals in 18 games.

There is no doubting that Steen and Colaiacovo were not a good fit with their new coach and that trading them may have been inevitable, but if Burke made the transaction, he likely would have been able to acquire someone who fit into the team structure that he wanted to establish. The tragedy here is that less than three years after this deal was made, Toronto has virtually nothing to show for it.
#13 – March 13, 2001: Toronto trades forward Adam Mair and their 2001 second round pick(Mike Cammalleri) to Los Angeles for defenseman Aki-Petteri Berg
In the four years that Curtis Joseph patrolled between the pipes, the Maple Leafs received stellar goaltending that enabled them to enjoy a modicum of playoff success. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002 and lost two bitter second round matches with the powerhouse New Jersey Devils, who went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2000 and lost in Game Seven of the finals the following year.

As much as that era was marked for Joseph's acrobatics in net, it was also known for the metamorphosis of the Maple Leafs blueline. The club had a group of capable defenders, with veteran Dmitri Yushkevich, youngsters Tomas Kaberle, Bryan Berard and Danny Markov, but Berard's devastating eye injury in March, 2000 forced Leafs management to look for additional help.

GM Pat Quinn had some success in making improvements as he was able to fleece former Leafs assistant GM Mike Smith when he traded oft-injured Alexander Karpovtsev for Bryan McCabe, but the acquisition of Cory Cross from Tampa Bay was not an upgrade. As the 2001 playoffs drew near, Toronto was not satisfied with their depth of their defensive corps, as one of Dave Manson, Petr Svoboda, Nathan Dempsey or Wade Belak might have to play regularly. With that, Quinn traded 22-year-old forward Adam Mair and the Leafs second round pick in 2001 to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Aki Berg.

It was thought at the time that the 24-year-old Berg was in need of a change of scenery to reach his unrealized potential. He was selected third overall in the 1995 Draft behind Berard and Wade Redden and was thought to possess the size, skill and skating ability to become a good NHL defenseman. Being a high selection, the Kings determined that he could contribute right away instead of staying over in Finland to mature. He split time between L.A. and the minors his first two seasons and played regularly for another 2 1/2 seasons without having much of an impact.

As soon as he was acquired, you could recognize that this was not going to be a case where a player just needed a change of venue to jumpstart his career. Los Angeles had accurately determined that Berg was nothing more than a third pairing defenseman and that was all he was ever going to be.

The frustrating aspect about Berg and his tenure in Toronto is that Quinn relied fairly heavily on him throughout his 325 games as a Leaf and for no apparent good reason. He had the size to manhandle opposing forwards in the defensive zone, but never seemed to have the desire to do it. His offensive skills were literally nonexistent (10 goals, 32 assists in 325 games) and in spite of being able to skate, he was frequently caught flat-footed and was often made to look like a statue by opponents(I witnessed this personally in a game in Buffalo in 2005 when Mike Grier, who could never be confused for Gilbert Perreault, walked around Berg as if he wasn't even there).

After four seasons in Toronto, the club did not attempt to re-sign him and he returned to Finland where he played five seasons with TPS-Turku before retiring last month.

Adam Mair was Toronto's third-round draft pick in 1997 and played five playoff games in 1999, as well as 16 regular-season games in 2001 before being traded to Los Angeles. After two years with the Kings, he was traded to Buffalo and played seven seasons for the Sabres as an effective energy line forward. Last season, he played 65 games in New Jersey.

The true tragedy of this deal is that Toronto's 2001 second-round pick was used by the Kings to select forward Mike Cammalleri. After three years at the University of Michigan and three years splitting time between the AHL and Los Angeles, Cammalleri blossomed in 2005. Since the NHL lockout with the Kings, Calgary and Montréal, the Richmond Hill, Ontario native has scored 163 goals in 437 NHL games.

This is a trade would've been considered terrible solely on the basis of the pain and suffering it inflicted on the members of Leafs Nation having to watch Aki Berg play those four seasons, but the fact that Cammalleri ended up being the draft pick Toronto gave up makes it one of the worst deals in the franchise's history.
#12 - Jun 26, 1975: Toronto trades forward Doug Jarvis to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman/winger Greg Hubick.
The Maple Leafs used their first two picks in the 1975 Entry Draft to select centers, Don Ashby(sixth overall) of the Calgary Centennials and Doug Jarvis(24th overall) of the Peterborough Petes.

Jarvis was a stellar defensive forward who studied under the tutelage of Coach Roger Neilson for three seasons with the Petes. He blossomed offensively in his final junior year scoring 45 goals and 88 assists, which earned him 2nd Team OHA all-star honors. Neilson informed his friend, Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman that the 20-year-old pivot had superior work ethic and was one of the best face-off men in hockey.

Bowman pleaded with Montréal GM Sam Pollock to draft Jarvis, but the Habs scouts thought he was not big enough to play effectively in the league and they passed on him with each of their three first-round picks before he was drafted by the Leafs in the early second round.

About three weeks after the draft, Pollock contacted Toronto GM Jim Gregory about the diminutive center and negotiated a deal giving up 24-year-old defensive prospect Greg Hubick for Jarvis.

Hubick was selected by Montreal in the fourth round of the 1971 Entry Draft and played a year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before playing three seasons with their AHL affiliate in Nova Scotia. He was not considered a top flight prospect and during his four years with the Montréal organization, he never played a regular season game. When recalled during the 1975 Playoffs after an injury to winger Steve Shutt, he sat on the bench until the final minute of the game.

The Strasbourg, Saskatchewan native made the 1975-76 Maple Leafs after being shifted from defense to wing by Toronto coach Red Kelly. He played on a line with rookie Ashby and Jim McKenny, scoring six goals and eight assists in 72 games, but that was the extent of his career in Toronto. He failed to make the club the following season and was sent to the Leafs minor-league affiliate in Dallas. After two more years in the minors, he signed as a free agent with the Vancouver organization and played five NHL games for the Canucks in 1979-80.

Jarvis had a Cinderella-like path to success in the NHL. He impressed in his first training camp with the Canadiens, but only made the club due to an injury to Jacques Lemaire during the pre-season. He played seven seasons in Montréal, never missing a single regular-season game. He was an integral part of the Habs four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1976 to 1979 as a top-flight checking line center and penalty killer. He was traded to Washington in 1982 as part of the Rod Langway-Ryan Walter blockbuster and was moved three years later to Hartford.

He won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in 1984 and was also awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1987 for breaking Garry Unger’s consecutive games played record of 914 games in a row.

The irony about Jarvis's career path is that he could have made a significant difference for the Maple Leafs teams of the late 1970’s had he not been traded. Roger Neilson left Peterborough in 1976 to coach Toronto's affiliate in Dallas and took over as head coach of the Leafs a year later.

Jarvis would have likely excelled playing for Neilson, who would’ve used his great defensive abilities to attempt to neutralize some of Montréal's high-powered offensive stars.

Toronto did not win a game in their 1978 Semi-Final match against the Habs or in their Quarter-Final defeat a year later, but it is possible that the presence of Jarvis in Blue and White rather than Bleu, Blanc et Rouge could have been the difference between victory and defeat.

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