Time's up on potential

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:34 PM ET

Going quietly into the night isn't Cliff Fletcher's style.

With the possibility quite real that he is in his final week as general manager of the Maple Leafs, Fletcher continued to shake up the roster yesterday, acquiring winger Lee Stempniak from the St. Louis Blues for forward Alex Steen and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo.

"I have yet to know a player trade in any sport that does not have an element of risk in it," Fletcher said. "The rationale behind the trade is we felt we were acquiring a top-six forward, someone who can play on our power play besides contribute offensively. We're very happy."

It's expected Stempniak, who has three goals and 10 assists in 14 games, will be in uniform against the Atlanta Thrashers tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

Stempniak was born and raised in the Buffalo area and used to come to Toronto to play in minor hockey tournaments.

"It was a shock at first," Stempniak said last night. "But I'm very excited. I grew up not too far away and watched Hockey Night In Canada. The first thing my dad said when he found out was 'An Original Six team? How nice is that?' "

Fletcher said he has no other irons in the fire but if he can make another move to improve the club before the bombastic Brian Burke takes over, he will do it. The surface of this deal says the Leafs are giving up a pair of former first-rounders (or, in other words, plenty of potential), but there's more to it. Stempniak brings a badly needed right-handed shot up front, and neither Colaiacovo nor Steen were in coach Ron Wilson's good books. You know it's not great when Wilson last week publicly chastised Colaiacovo for being out of shape after Colaiacovo suffered an unavoidable foot injury in practice.

The writing was on the dressing room wall for Steen when Fletcher in September declared Nik Antropov the only top-six forward on the team. There aren't many third-line players who are untouchable. And to think that Steen was a player former GM John Ferguson reportedly refused to include in a swap that would have brought Chris Pronger to Toronto barely two years ago.

But Fletcher insisted this was not a further purge of players from the previous regime. Since taking over in January, Fletcher previously jettisoned Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood, Andrew Raycroft, Chad Kilger, Wade Belak and Hal Gill.

"I want to be careful how I handle that," Fletcher said when asked if he was just dumping more bodies. "Both (Steen and Colaiacovo) are great guys. They're young and have not reached the prime of their careers yet and hopefully they will find that in St. Louis."

About an hour after the deal went down, both Steen and Colaiacovo said they were shocked by the trade -- though given how their talents were viewed in the organization, how could they be? Yet both joked with reporters and weren't leaving town in tears.

"We were part of the future of this team and that has changed," Colaiacovo said. "Things did not work out the way I would have hoped. I want to thank (Wilson) for the time I had with him. I wish it could have been better."

Said Steen: "There were some frustrating times this year but you try to keep your head up. Now it's a fresh start and I have to go to St. Louis and show them what I can do."

-- with files from Mike Zeisberger


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