It’s been a month since the trade deadline. The Leafs unloaded the likes of Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, and David Clarkson as the team took a look to the future. David Clarkson has been injured and his season is likely over. Daniel Winnik has settled in nicely in Pittsburgh. Franson and Santorelli, though, are interesting cases. Through 20 games each with Nashville, the two combine for just 7 points. That’s pretty bad. What’s weirder though is this is far from the first time the Leafs have had a rental player struggle mightily in their new home. So what gives? Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
Excitement was high when the Leafs traded for Versteeg in the summer of 2010. And while Versteeg wasn’t bad for the Leafs in his brief tenure in Toronto (he had 35 points in 53 games played), he didn’t seem to fit in. Still a pretty young player at the time, the Leafs were able to get good value for him when the Philadelphia Flyers agreed to trade a 1st and 3rd round pick for the forward. Things didn’t go too well for the Flyers or for Versteeg though. He totaled 17 points in 38 games (regular season and playoffs combined). Not great. Versteeg ended up having only a brief stint in Philly as well – he was promptly traded to the Florida Panthers in the offseason. And after one good season for the Panthers, Versteeg played just 18 games for them over the next two seasons before finally being returned to Chicago. The Panthers had to retain half his salary to move him.
On the surface, Tomas Kaberle looks to have worked out pretty well for the Boston Bruins. After the Leafs finally decided to move on from the veteran blueliner in 2011, the Czech native put up 20 points in 49 total games for the Bruins en route to a Stanley Cup. But anyone who remembers watching Kaberle in a Bruins jersey knows it didn’t go too smoothly. Kaberle was brought in to energize a stagnant Boston powerplay, but their powerplay clicked at a dreadful 11.4% in the playoffs. And Kaberle, while his numbers don’t look too bad, was a mess defensively and played exclusively on the team’s bottom pair down the stretch. Kaberle signed with the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason hoping to find his game once more, but after just 29 games he was offloaded to the Montreal Canadiens where he played parts of two seasons before being bought out when the 2012-2013 NHL lockout ended.
Who didn’t like this guy when he was a Leaf? He was a good puck possession player and a productive second-line winger. They even called him “Poni”. So when the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins traded for a guy who had 61 points the year previous, they were probably hoping he would put up at least good numbers going from playing with the likes of Matt Stajan and John Mitchell to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Ponikarovsky, though, tallied just 3 goals in 27 total games for the Pens en route to an early playoff exit. He would go on to play for 4 different teams over the next 3 seasons and has since had to leave for the KHL to find employment.
Dominic Moore has a good reputation around the league. You know what you’re going to get from him – penalty killing acumen, faceoff ability, leadership, and the occasional goal. But it looked for awhile like Moore was maybe more than just a role player when he put up 41 points in 63 games for Toronto during the 08-09 season. But after giving up a second round draft pick for the center, the Buffalo Sabres got just 1 goal in 18 games from the Ontario native. And it took Moore a long time to find a more permanent NHL home after that – he made stops in Florida, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and San Jose before finally settling down in New York.
SO WHAT GIVES?
The logical theory might be that the Leafs haven’t been a very good team for over a decade now. And when you have a bad team, lesser players might be given more minutes and perform above expectations in larger roles. As a result, these players look better on the Leafs than they would on most other teams. However…
Admittedly, this article takes some liberties. I said in the very first paragraph of this piece that Daniel Winnik has settled in nicely with the Penguins. And how about when Lee Stempniak put up 14 goals in 18 regular season games for the then-Phoenix Coyotes? Nik Antropov wasn’t too shabby during his brief stint as a Ranger, either, putting up 16 points in 25 total games. Still though, isn’t it a little weird that around half of the “big” players the Leafs move at the deadline end up doing far worse in their new homes?
Franson and Santorelli seem particularly mind-boggling. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that, while neither of those two were perfect players for Toronto, they were certainly good. So for them to now be in Nashville where they have settled in to minimal roles seems a little strange. Granted, both have pretty low PDOs (Santorelli is at 95.47 while Franson comes in at 98.68). So is it just plain bad luck? You’d have to lean towards that being the answer. But it’s not just the point totals they’re putting up. Franson is playing 15:48 per game in Nashville and Santorelli is averaging 12:46. Those are bottom-pairing and fourth-line minutes. So there does appear to be something more than just bad luck going on.
And what about the other examples? Versteeg, Kaberle, Ponikarovsky, and Moore didn’t just struggle in their new homes but struggled to find new ones after leaving Toronto. That sort of history is difficult to ignore. So I do think there might be some merit to the argument that lesser players are given more of a role on a poor team like the Leafs, thus inflating their perceived value. I still do think Franson and Santorelli are good players though.
Whatever the case is, I hope those guys start to find their groove again next season. As for now though, hopefully they struggle just enough so the Predators can have an early playoff exit. After all, the Leafs own Nashville’s first round pick.