June 29, 2010
Leafs free agent hits and missesA look at some of the awful, good and indifferent signings the Leafs have made since '94
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
The July 1 unrestricted free agent pool and the first few days that follow have been an unpredictable time for the Maple Leafs, who seem to dip their toe or jump in with their clothes on.
Here are some of their hits, misses and 50/50 results as they get ready for another shopping excursion this Thursday.
1994: F Mike Craig — MISS
Convinced they would strike gold with the former Oshawa junior (he’d scored in the 15-goal range for Minnesota/Dallas), Craig always did well in camp, but ended with 20 goals in 180 Leafs games. Worse still, the Leafs had to give up Peter Zezel and Grant Marshall as compensation.
1996: F Scott Pearson, F Daniel Marois — MISS
Noble attempt to give former high Leafs draft picks a new start, post-Ballard, but neither hung around too long.
1997: F Derek King — MISS
King had been in the 40-goal range as an Islander and it was hoped the Hamilton native would thrive close to home. Had a couple of 20-goal years influenced by Mats Sundin. Became a Marlies assistant coach.
1997: F Kris King — EVEN
This King was more handy with his dukes, ironically at a time when new boss Ken Dryden maintained an anti-fighting stance. Great in the dressing room, he now works in the NHL under his ex-Leafs coach Mike Murphy.
1997 G Glenn Healy — EVEN
Was the ideal part-time sub for Felix Potvin and later, Curtis Joseph. Parlayed his exposure in the Toronto media to a second career as a TV analyst.
1997: F Igor Korolev — HIT
Scored 20 with the Winnipeg Jets, but it took him three years to match that as a Leaf. Could play different positions that enhanced his value and wasn’t moody like some Russians who followed.
1998: F Steve Thomas — EVEN
Described his chance to come back to the hometown Leafs as “getting out of jail”, a joke about playing three years in the Devils’ restrictive trap system. His return was good timing as he came close to 30 goals and new coach Pat Quinn’s team was the highest scoring in the NHL in ’98-99, making the Eastern Conference final.
1998: Curtis Joseph — HIT
A chance meeting in a Toronto ice cream store between Dryden and Joseph’s agent Don Meehan led to the signing. Buoyed by Joseph’s wish to be a Leaf, Dryden and GM Mike Smith decided to sign Joseph and trade Potvin, rather than wait to deal The Cat and risk losing a shot at Cujo.
Joseph would back-stop Toronto to three straight 30-plus winning seasons and 29 in his last full year. He still sits fourth in club victories with 138.
1999: F Jonas Hoglund — HIT
The Sundin factor worked here, too, as the former Flame and Canadien fell to the Leafs and promptly delivered 29 goals. But he spent a few frustrating years attempting to get back in that first-year zone.
1999: F Jason Bonsignore — MISS
The Leafs have made a number of attempts to grant second chances to former NHL first-rounders from other teams from the 1990s through trade or tryout such as David Cooper and Ryan Sittler, but like most, this was short-lived.
2000: F Gary Roberts — HIT, F Shayne Corson — EVEN
Toughness and scoring in one swoop as the two local products came home with an eye to give Quinn’s Leafs belligerence to match team offence. Roberts had his moments, including a huge leadership role in the drive to the 2002 conference final. Corson was slowed by injuries and was caught up in dissent about dressing room cliques.
2001: F Alex Mogilny — HIT
Mogilny would break Sundin’s eight-year hold as the team’s leading scorer in 2002-03 and remained one of his best wingers. But he was not a go-to guy in times of trouble and was hurt at the end of his Leafs term.
2002: G Ed Belfour — HIT
The Leafs made the best of Joseph’s unscheduled departure that summer. Though age, injuries and off-ice behaviour were huge question marks surrounding The Eagle, he won 71 games his first two years, then lost momentum after the lockout and ended up in a contract wrangle with new GM John Ferguson.
2003: D Bryan Marchment — MISS
His best years were behind him.
2005: F Eric Lindros — MISS
This was actually a late August signing (nothing is ever conventional with this guy) that ended years of long-distance dancing between the Leafs and Flyers and then the Rangers. Bottom line was one year, 33 games, 22 points and not worth all the fuss.
2006: D Hal Gill — HIT, D Pavel Kubina — EVEN, F Michael Peca — EVEN
New man Ferguson was determined to show himself a man of action on Canada Day where the old school Quinn often let the best UFAs get by because of objections to wild spending by his peers.
Fergie landed a good penalty killer in Gill, a mobile scoring threat in Kubina and some abrasiveness up front in Peca and size all around, but it was not enough as the Leafs were weakening overall.
2007: F Jason Blake — MISS
Blake was coming off 40 goals as an Islander, but that was with Alexei Yashin as his centre. He never found stability, with or without Sundin, but had a better second season and won the 2008 Bill Masterton Trophy after a health scare. Incoming GM Brian Burke managed to rid the team of his onerous contract.
2008: D Jeff Finger — MISS, F Niklas Hagman — EVEN, G Curtis Joseph EVEN
Virtual unknown Finger had a huge pay day with the Leafs, $14 million US over four years, but was barely used by the end of last season. During ’08-09 Hagman reached 20 goals to become just the 13th of 50 Leafs acquired via free agency or trades since 1990 to get that many after achieving it with another club.
Joseph mended fences with fans who were ticked off by his ’02 exit in a feud with Quinn about the club’s direction and got his wish to retire a Leaf.
2009: G Jonas Gustavsson, D Mike Komisarek, D Francois Beauchemin, F Colton Orr, F Rickard Wallin
Burke can often justify his rainmaker reputation and made big changes to start his first full year on the job. Gustavsson looked better at the end after heart issues and a trade for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Komisarek and Beauchemin had early adjustment problems, before Komisarek ended the year on IR. Orr gave the club its first legit enforcer since Tie Domi and Wade Belak, but Wallin’s lack of goals was a letdown.
Too early to give full grades, so call Wallin a miss and everyone else even.