Will Leafs bring Wallin back?

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Rickard Wallin looks at the numbers on the stat sheets and admits there's a bit of a gap between them and expectations.

His expectations. The Toronto Maple Leafs' expectations.

He also would like to believe that the numbers don't tell the entire story of his first, and he hopes not his final, season in blue and white.

"I know to be effective in this league I have to contribute more offence. But, I think I have created more chances than I have stats for and I hope I have helped the team in other ways."

Wallin has scored twice all season, once against arguably the best goalie in the league, Martin Brodeur, and once last Tuesday into an empty net. Those are decidedly underwhelming numbers. The Leafs knew they weren't getting another Peter Forsberg but when he was signed last July, general manager Brian Burke described him as a "solid, two-way player who is going to be good in the dressing room."

The Leafs got two of those three attributes: He has been a diligent checker who has contributed to the penalty kill and when it comes to communication skills, let's just say that if you walk away from a conversation with Wallin without a smile, then it's your fault -- not his.

The guy is pure gold. There is no more engaging, forthright, amiable professional athlete anywhere. Plus, he has a lovely sense of humour. He's not a rah-rah screamer, yet captained Farjestads for two years and led them to the Swedish League championship. He has been a stabilizing personality for Toronto's inexperienced Swedes, Jonas Gustavsson, Viktor Stalberg and Carl Gunnarsson.

There have even been suggestions -- media and publicly generated and never confirmed by the club -- that the main reason the Leafs signed Wallin to the $800,000 US one-year deal was because it would help them land the more coveted Gustavsson, his friend and teammate with Farjestads.

"I've never heard that from anyone," Wallin said.

But at 29, with previous experience in North America in Minnesota and Houston, it's understandable why people might see it that way. And, he has been mentor and guidance counsellor.

"I have been in the American League and a bit in the NHL. There is some comfort in having someone to talk to if a situation comes up. It's easier to talk about it in your own language. We've had a good group of Swedish guys that have helped each other through the good and bad times. And, there have been some tough times, especially with Jonas and his heart problems. It's more being a good teammate than being Swedish but it's probably a good thing to have a countryman around your first year."

When Gustavsson, whose parents have both died, underwent two heart procedures, it helped that Wallin was there.

"There are little things, too. Like at Christmas he and all the (Swedes playing with the Marlies and Leafs) got together at our place," Gustavsson. "We had a party -- we got Swedish food and family and friends over. It was nice because everyone else has family to go to but there isn't time for us to go home."

That isn't the kind of stuff that shows up on a scoresheet. And, Wallin knows it may not be enough to get him back into the blue and white next season either. He's an unrestricted free agent, and as checking centres with two goals who don't fight go, there are cheaper options for the Leafs.

"With all the changes, everybody is trying to figure out where they fit in and find a role here. Ultimately," Wallin said. "I'd like to find a place on the third line and killing penalties. I'm not stupid enough to think I can compete with the best defensive players in this league. I do think I can be effective that way and I believe I can get more goals."

He's hopeful management might give him a mulligan on his offensive production. He has scored in Houston, he had 43 points in 79 games and he led Farjestads last year with 18 goals.

"I've never played an NHL playoff game and that's the one thing I'd like to do before my career is over. If I could come back and do that here, I'd be happier than anybody."

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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