Steen, Colaiacovo traded for Lee Stempniak

As per TSN.ca, the Toronto Maple Leafs have sent forward Alex Steen and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis in exchange for forward Lee Stempniak. It’s a surprising move, to say the least. Let’s start with the players’ contracts:

Lee Stemniak: Two years remaining at $2.5M/yr, pending unrestricted free agent.

Alex Steen: Two years remaining at $1.75M/yr, pending restricted fee agent.
Carlo Colaiacovo: Two years remaining at $1.28M/yr, pending unrestricted free agent.

Lee Stempniak is an interesting player, and has been for a while now. He is the kind of player that fans tend to undervalue, and guys like Ron Wilson place a premium on. According to Behind the Net, Stempniak played the 4th most difficult minutes of any Blues forward last season, and his scoring statistics (1.67 PTS/60) put him in the bottom nine of Blues forwards. Along with previously acquired Jamal Mayers, this gives the Leafs two of the Blues designated checkers from last season. Stempniak also struggled on the power-play’s second unit last season, scoring only 2.65 PTS/60, which put him second-last among regulars.

Looking at Stempniak’s last three games, it looks like Andy Murray has stayed the course from last season. In Minnesota, Stempniak played against everybody, seeing relatively even splits against Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Eric Belanger, while the Tkachuk line drew the lion’s share of minutes against Koivu and company. Against Anaheim, Stempniak played the most minutes against Chris Kunitz, Bobby Ryan, and Teemu Selanne, and against Montreal, he largely played against Robert Lang and the Kostitsyn brothers.

The picture of a defensively reliable forward who can score to some degree emerges; Stempniak has a positive track record against good, if not exceptional opposition. He is just below a point-per-game pace this season, but he hasn’t been any better at scoring at even-strength—his 1.76 PTS/60 is very close to last season’s rate, and he only has six even-strength points overall. The difference has been on the powerplay, where he’s scored 4.40 PTS/60, a much better mark than last season, and slightly better than his breakout performance in 2006–07 (4.35 PTS/60). Stempniak is a good, useful player who oscillates between second and third line duty, and can score on the powerplay. I think that he will fit in very well on a Ron Wilson coached team.

Alex Steen, on the other hand, has shown that he fits in very poorly on a Ron Wilson coached team. Wilson wasn’t using him very much at all, prompting comments like Ron Wilson Hates Alex Steen. There is certainly some truth to the notion that Wilson could have used Steen more effectively, but four points while averaging 15:37 a game isn’t exactly “earning your ice-time”.

Giving up on a player with Steen’s potential (1.70 PTS/60 at even strength and 4.22 PTS/60 on the power-play last year) says some interesting things about the Leafs. For starters, it’s a vote of confidence in Coach Ron Wilson, despite the fact that the General Manager situation has yet to be decided. Steen was a first-round pick in 2002, and has scored between 35 and 45 points in three NHL seasons, but is nearing 25 years of age and has yet to improve on his rookie point totals, so it could very well be that Leaf’s management has decided that his development has stalled. Given that Steen’s never been a tremendously efficient scorer (since posting 10.2 SH% in his rookie season, he hasn’t topped 9% and this year is sitting at 6.5 per cent), they probably aren’t trading away somebody who is ever going to be an offensive difference maker.

As for Carlo Colaiacovo, Wilson has publicly called him out on his conditioning, and despite flashes of good play from the former first-round pick, the story on him has always been health. Borrowing from Sportsnet, we have the following list of injuries since the lockout:

  • Missed 5 games, wrist injury
  • Missed 34 games, concussion
  • Missed 7 games, headache
  • Missed 3 games (head injury)
  • Missed 1 game (headache)
  • Missed 1 game (leg injury)
  • Missed 37 games (knee injury)
  • Missed 9 games (right knee injury)
  • Missed 8 games (groin injury)

On top of that, right now Colaiacovo is listed as “day-to-day” with an ankle injury. Colaiacovo has never played against tough opposition, and has been too brittle to ever effectively lock down even a third-pairing NHL job.

I’d say the winner of this deal is relatively clear cut, and it is the Maple Leafs. Colaiacovo and Steen are both at the age now when it is difficult to expect massive improvement; Colaiacovo’s 25, while Steen turns 25 this season. Stempniak’s actually younger than Colaiacovo, and he should be a supporting piece on this team for some time to come. St. Louis is gambling on Steen’s upside and Colaiacovo’s health, and neither is a particularly good gamble, although with Stempniak a known and somewhat pedestrian quantity already, they probably won’t look particularly bad even if Steen doesn’t improve.