The Toronto Maple Leafs will return home from their four-game road trip for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes Monday. The team comes back having gone 0-4-0 and scoring just one goal on the trip. The team has played better defensively, but the offence has dried up.
When things go awry, as they seem to have lately, it is always suggested that changes be made to the team, referring to trades mostly. However, it seems that the team might be doing better not just with new players, but could also be thriving if they had some previous players back.
Here are is a list of players that looking back now, the team might wish to have back. But for sake of argument note this list includes only players who still play in the league and only players who have played for the team, not hypothetically drafted players the team may have possibly picked if trades had gone differently.
The Maple Leafs drafted Steen 24th overall in 2002. He played 253 games with the team and recorded just 50 goals and 126 points during his team with the Buds. He played three and a bit seasons in Toronto before he was traded to the St. Louis Blues along with defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo for winger Lee Stempniak.
Steen didn’t start scoring at-will right after making the move to St. Louis, but after his breakthrough season last year, he’s continued to have success this season. It seems that the Leafs might have given up on the left-wing too early.
The 30-year-old racked up 33 goals and 62 points in 68 games, nine goals more than his previous career-high last year. This season he has 15 goals and 38 points in 43 games and has three game-winning goals. He is on pace to hit 60 points with the Blues this year.
Like Steen, Stralman is another Maple Leafs draft pick that might have been let go too soon. The Swedish native looked to be a diamond-in-the-rough pick for the Leafs, who scooped up the blueliner in the seventh round back in 2005. The 28-year-old played only 88 games with the Leafs during which he recorded 22 points for the team.
The Buds traded Stralman in 2009 in a deal for tough guy Wayne Primeau. The defenceman was then shipped to Columbus where he spent a few seasons, then landed in New York playing with the Rangers, and now this season finds himself on the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
During his time outside Toronto, Stralman has 112 points in 353 games. His career-high came in 2009-10 when he had six goals and 34 points for the Blue Jackets. This season he has three goals and 22 points and is a +13. He is on pace for a career-best 38 points. Only Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf of the Leafs’ D-core are on pace for more points and only Korbinian Holzer and Stephane Robidas have a better plus-minus amongst Leafs defenders, than Stralman. He would be a nice addition to the Leafs blueline.
The Maple Leafs defence over the last few seasons has been the biggest crutch of the team. The Leafs have always been able to score, but keeping the puck out of their own net has been another story. So what hurts is knowing that the Maple Leafs were in procession of a defender who was recently considered a candidate for the Norris Trophy.
The Maple Leafs brought in Beauchemin from the Anaheim Ducks back in 2009-10 hoping he could be a stable force on the backend while adding an offensive boost from the point with his canon-like shot. However, the experiment just didn’t seem to work out. The 34-year-old didn’t seem to be a good fit with the team. He recorded nine goals and 31 points in 136 games with the blue and white and was a -17.
He looked slow on the back-end and at times looked more like a liability than an asset. The Leafs traded the 1998 third-round pick back to the Ducks during the 2010-11 season and it wasn’t long until he got back to playing the way Leaf fans were hoping he would in Toronto.
Beauchemin had 22 points during the 2011-12 season, but had his best year during the 2012-13 lockout shortened campaign when he finished with six goals and 24 points in 48 games with a +19 rating. The veteran played so well that he even finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting at the end of the year. He finished behind winner P.K. Subban, Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, and Penguins’ Kris Letang for the award. Beauchemin did have his struggles with the team, but if he could have gotten through them, it hurts to know the Leafs would have had a Norris Trophy candidate on their hands.
Versteeg is another interesting case, he was never terrible as a Leaf, but seemed to be ultimately shipped out in a somewhat rebuild. The 28-year-old joined the Maple Leafs coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, as the Hawks needed to cut salary to get under the cap.
He joined the Leafs for the 2010-11 season and had 14 goals and 35 points in 53 games, not terrible numbers. However, the Leafs knew they were not going to make the playoffs and in a move to look toward the draft, the team traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers for a first-round and third-round pick. Those picks turned out to be two of the Leafs most aspiring prospects, Stuart Percy and Josh Leivo.
After leaving the Leafs, Versteeg had some up and down seasons, with his best coming as a member of the Florida Panthers where he put up 23 goals and 54 points in 71 games during in 2011-12. This year Versteeg has nine goals and 27 points in 34 games. He is on pace for 57 points which would be a career high.
Like almost everyone on the list above, MacArthur was a victim of being on a short leash with the Leafs. The 29-year-old had the best year of his career in his first season with the team in 2010-11. He played alongside Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin where he had 21 goals and 62 points in 82 games. It had been his highest point total and the first time the left-winger had reached the 20-goal plateau.
Unfortunately he was never able to replicate those totals the next two years with the team. He had 43 points the following year and then just 20 in 40 games during the 2012-13 season. MacArthur was picked up before the beginning of last season by the Ottawa Senators. He finished the year second on the team with 24 goals, just two behind Kyle Turris, and second with a +12 to go along with 55 points.
This year MacArthur has 24 points in 43 games and is second on the team, behind rookie Mike Hoffman, with 13 goals. He is on pace to only hit 45 points, but is still expected to have another 24 goals, on a Senators team that is struggling to produce offence. MacArthur can still contribute a solid 20+ goals playing on a second-line role on a team lacking many offensively gifted players. He wouldn’t be a bad player to have back in a Leafs uniform.
It’s hard to say that these players would have the Leafs back in a playoff spot and it would be hard to have kept them all. Obviously trades at different times don’t pan out as expected and variables such as the salary cap also change the mindset of who to keep and let go. But looking at these five players it would be interesting to see how they might have fared if some of them had been given a little more time with the Leafs.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.