Stempniak looking forward to Blues

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

When Lee Stempniak steps onto the ice at the Scottrade Center Friday night, it will be his first St. Louis appearance in a Maple Leaf jersey.

But will it be his last?

Fifteen months after being acquired from the Blues in exchange for forwards Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Alex Steen, the versatile Stempniak has heard his name bandied about in plenty of trade rumours.

And justifiably so.

If the veteran forward asks for anything near his 2009-10 salary of $3.5 million US when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, you can bet the Leaf reply will be “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For a guy who has registered just 60 points in 121 games as a Leaf, the price simply would be too high.

On the other hand, Stempniak might very well be a serviceable part for a playoff-bound team looking to add forward depth by the March 3 trade deadline. And, given the roster gutting Leaf management has been doing recently, dealing him might return Toronto at least a third-round pick, which is more than they would get if he walks come July 1.

“That’s completely up to management. It’s totally out of my control,” Stempniak said Wednesday. “I certainly like playing in Toronto. And my teammates are great.”

Of course, his teammates seem to be changing on a weekly basis.

With management vowing to alter the so-called “Country Club Atmosphere” it felt was permeating the Leafs dressing room a couple of years ago, one of the key moves in the housecleaning came on Nov. 24, 2008 when Colaiacovo and Steen were shipped out for Stempniak.

By acquiring Stempniak, the Leafs admittedly were looking for more offensive production than the half-a-point-per-game he has averaged since arriving here. While there have been flashes of brilliance, he, like the Leaf team he plays for, has been far too inconsistent.

“I spent the first 3-1/2 years of my career in St. Louis, so I’m excited to be going back and see some of my old friends,” Stempniak said. “I have great memories of my time there. At the same time, I was more excited about coming here to Toronto.

“I think my time here has gone fairly well. I think I’m a more complete player now, playing the power play, killing penalties, just things in my overall game.

“I do wish I had more goals and more points.”

Because he hails from the Buffalo area, Stempniak’s family often comes up for Saturday night games, making it very convenient that he plays in Toronto.

For now.

Alex Steen can relate to what Stempniak is going through. He, too, was the target of trade scuttlebutt for a number of seasons before finally getting dealt as part of the Stempniak transaction.

Having been Blues for slightly more than a year, Steen and Colaiacovo have watched many of their former Leaf teammates dealt out of Toronto just like they were. That certainly was the case two weeks ago when Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Mayers, Nik Hagman, Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala were all unceremoniously given the heave ho as part of trades that brought J-S Giguere, Dion Phaenuf and Fredrik Sjostrom to the Leafs.

Steen might actually need a game program to identify all those Toronto players wearing blue-and-white jerseys when they meet his Blues Friday.

“After those sets of trades the other weeks, they sure have a lot of new guys,” Steen said in a phone interview from St. Louis. “Other than (Tomas Kaberle) and Alex (Ponikarovsky), we didn’t play much with the guys they have there now, if at all.

“We knew the Leafs were going in a different direction when they traded us. Fortunately, St. Louis has been great.”

Not so long ago, Stempniak came to the Leafs for Steen and Colaiacovo. Now he soon might be following their footsteps right out of town.


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