TORONTO - Funny the way trades work out sometimes.
The Maple Leafs figured they were getting a prospective gem on the blue line when they acquired Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators, and werenít sure what they had in centre Matthew Lombardi, who was recovering from a concussion.
Now, Franson canít keep a spot in the lineup, while Lombardi has been a heck of a revelation.
Playing in his home town of Montreal on Saturday night against the Canadiens, Lombardi was instrumental on the Leafsí second and third goals, though he did not register an assist on either. Lombardi hounded Josh Gorges, enabling Phil Kessel to swoop in and score, and Lombardi then dug the puck out of the corner, beginning the play that led to Dion Phaneufís goal. Lombardiís speed through the first seven games has been a major asset for Toronto.
Lombardi got a shot with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul because Tyler Bozak was nursing a foot injury.
Franson, of course, could develop into a top-notch defenceman. For the time being, however, Lombardi has made the trade a solid one for general manager Brian Burke and his team of helpers.
Mikhail Grabovski finally is rounding into the form that produced 29 goals and 58 points last season. It was encouraging to see a Leafs win that didnít ride totally on the shoulders of Kessel. Grabovski originally was credited with the tying goal, though in the end it was Nikolai Kulemin who got his stick on the puck late in the third period. Still, Grabovskiís move in the overtime, a quick shift to his forehand, was not a play many players can pull off ... Jonas Gustavsson registered his first victory since Jan. 6, but it was not like he stood on his head in relief of James Reimer. Simply, the Leafs canít go long without Reimer and hope to rack up the victories. The hope should be that the whiplash-like symptoms Reimer had after a collision with Brian Gionta donít keep him on the sideline ... When Reimerís mask went flying after Gionta bumped into him, it appeared to be held on by Scotch Tape. Gionta didnít exactly barrel into Reimer, but the play demonstrated that even a fairly innocent hit to the head can be problematic ... The acquisition of David Steckel appeared to be little more than an afterthought when it was made toward the end of the pre-season. Steckelís faceoff skills usually are unequalled, but using him on the power play could lead to problems, as it did early in the first period when he could not catch Travis Moen, who scored a short-handed goal. Steckel is in the midst of making a fairly significant adjustment with the Leafs. He averaged 12 minutes 46 seconds of ice time a game in 309 NHL contests prior to this season, but is at more than 15 minutes a game in a Toronto sweater. Does not look like much on paper, but itís a lot in hockey time ... That was a nice save Reimer made on Tomas Plekanec in the first period. But the play wouldnít have occurred had Phaneuf not been knocked off the puck in the opposite corner by Mike Cammalleri. How does that happen? ... Phaneufís goal was his second of the season. He had eight last year, but did not score No. 2 until Feb. 7 ... Thereís no excuse for all of the four on-ice officials to miss the puck hit the netting at the end of the rink seconds prior to the goal by Kulemin. The play should have been whistled dead ... Rookie Jake Gardiner is making it too easy for coach Ron Wilson to alternate Franson and Mike Komisarek in and out of the press box.
From the hash marks
Though the rivalry between the Leafs and Canadiens still can get the blood boiling of fans on both sides, the actual on-ice intensity has been decreased to an extent by the failure of the teams to meet in the playoffs, but games between the clubs rarely are dull. Not since 1979, when the Canadiens swept the Leafs 4-0 in a quarterfinal, have the teams clashed in anything more than a regular-season game. Itís unfortunate the Leafs were ousted by the Los Angeles Kings in the spring of 1993, denying a Leafs/Canadiens Stanley Cup final. At least there would have been something a little more recent for the supporters of each side to draw on ... If the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, will fans wonder aloud whether a lack of Toronto-born players was the reason? No. If the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, will fans attend the parade and say, ĎYes, but they did it without any Toronto-born players.í No. The Leafs donít have any local products, which might be a little strange. But where players are born in Canada or anywhere else doesnít necessarily translate into success or failure ... For every kid who is told he is too slow to play in the NHL, he should remember Canadiens defenceman Hal Gill. The 6-foot-7 Gill never has had much speed, but he plays smart, and thatís a large reason why he recently played in his 1,000th NHL game. Gill was honoured for that milestone in a ceremony that included Henri Richard, with Jean Beliveau watching from his seat in the stands. No team ó not the Leafs or any of the other Original Six clubs ó has the storied history or puts it to such good use as the Canadiens.