The end of the Stempniak era is over in St. Louis. Being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, Stempniak will join his new team Tuesday night in Atlanta. What does this mean for both teams though?
The Blues brought in defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and center Alex Steen from the deal, two players that have been under fire in a Leafs sweater this season. Steen, racking just four points in 20 games, is known as a two-way center that can also kill penalties. After being drafted in the first round (26th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry draft, Alex has 126 points in 253 career NHL games. Not too shabby, but his former head coach Ron Wilson showed how upset he was when Steen was traded, being the only member of Leafs management to not say his goodbyes to the 24 year-old.
Colaiacovo is known as a puck-moving defenseman who can take a shot when needed and be a strong point-man for the power-play unit. Although he only has 33 points in 111 NHL games, Carlo possesses smooth skating attributes as well as crisp-passing abilities. The biggest downfall of Colaiacovo is his health though; missing many games due to many diverse injuries, most of them being head injuries. Carlo has played in just 86 games since the start of the 2006-07 campaign out of a possible 183 Maple Leaf games.
On the other end of the deal, fan favorite Lee Stempniak was the only man dealt to the Maple Leafs. Being reunited with former penalty-kill linemate Jamal Mayers, Lee has been heralded as a hero in the St. Louis area. During his rookie season in 2005-06, Stempniak notched 14 goals and 27 points in the Blues’ last-place season. Following a 52-point season in 2006-07, Lee struggled his junior campaign, when he added just 13 goals and 38 points in 2007-08. This was quite a disappointment to head coach Andy Murray, who bumped Stempniak back down to the third line with Jamal Mayers and David Backes a large portion of the season, as well as limiting his power-play time. After a slow start in 2008-09, Stempniak picked his game up and recorded 13 points in the first 14 games before the deal took place.
The Blues made the call when Lee was playing at his best, and really took advantage of what they could get. Stempniak’s trade value flourished after his streak of ten points in five games, and even more so when he scored the game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks last Friday. Trading a player when they are at a high is simply smart team management; you will get more for a player when he is producing. If the Blues tried to dump Stempniak last season, they would have come up losers in any deal. The Blues’ management team saw an opportunity and pounced on it.
Not only was this deal made to get a high value for Lee, but it was also made to fill some holes in the lineup. With injuries to centers Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and Patrick Berglund, the center position has been weak. Steve Regier and company have done well-enough jobs filling in, but management knew that they could not hold that up forever. Alex Steen is a former first-round draft choice who has an extreme upside offensively. He has been on the hot seat in Toronto, especially when he was bumped to the fourth line due to lack of production. But he will be surging to get a chance to be a number two guy again in a St. Louis sweater, and may even click better with some of the guys on the Blues’ roster. Bringing in Steen also means that Keith Tkachuk can move back to his more-comfortable left-wing position, instead of center. Tkachuk has proven to be more effective as a winger, but with the rush of injuries to centers, Murray had no choice but to change his position.
Colaiacovo was a strong addition as well, possibly being that man who could help push the Blues’ defensive scoring numbers. His 33 points may not look impressive, but he has raised some eyebrows over the years. Alex Simms of mapleleafsblog.info had this to say of the 6’1” defenseman last June:
“Carlo Colaiacovo is going to be an excellent d-man in the NHL for years to come. He has everything you want in a defenseman in the new, faster NHL. He has the speed, the grit, the toughness and the skill to succeed, and to excel.”
After being drafted 17th overall in 2001, puckjunky.com stated that Colaiacovo has “a good mix of offensive and defensive skills.”
Losing Stempniak will be hard for Blues fans to swallow, but this was a good move for the organization to make at this time. Those holes in the lineup are starting to deteriorate, and the lineup will be stronger now once the injured players start returning mid-season.
If Carlo can stay healthy and Steen can find himself in St. Louis right off the bat- advantage Blues in this deal.