Toronto Maple Leafs: Former Players to Follow in the Playoffs


Toronto Maple Leafs: Former Players to Follow in the Playoffs

It’s that time of year again where we’re forced as fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs to live out our playoff dreams by following another team.

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I admit it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one we’ve come to reluctantly accept over the past decade. There’s no other way around it: this is the price we must pay to watch some playoff hockey.

Fortunately, we don’t have to venture far beyond the Leafs – a small consolation. There are a number of former Leafs in the playoffs – some playing big roles on their respective clubs, some just enjoying the ride – and we can live vicariously through them.

Below are some of my favourite former Leafs in the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

My hockey pool team came to rely on the tandem of Alexander Steen and David Backes down the stretch so I have a deep appreciation for Steen’s skill and importance to the Blues. He’s quietly evolved into a consistent scorer, leading the team in points last season and finishing second in points on the team behind Vladimir Tarasenko this season, and it really makes you wonder where the Leafs would be today if they showed more faith in the dynamic winger.

Mar 17, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; St. Louis Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. St. Louis Blues won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Through three playoff games, Steen has already collected three points (two goals, one assist) and shows no signs of slowing down on a St. Louis club that could very easily find itself playing hockey in June.

Carl Gunnarsson is also enjoying the playoff ride in St. Louis. While I don’t regret the Gunnarsson for Roman Polak trade, it’s nice to see the steady if sometimes underwhelming defenceman reach the playoffs for only the second time in his six-year career. If he remained in Toronto, I’m sure the gap would’ve been much longer.

Calgary Flames

Tyler Bozak is a regular object of scorn in Toronto these days. “He’s not a true top centreman,” many people rightly claim. Before the arrival of Bozak, however, the same criticism was often launched against Matt Stajan, who now finds himself plugging away on Calgary’s third line. Stajan’s scoring days may have been left behind in Toronto, but he remains a favourite in my eyes. He’s overcome a ton of personal adversity and that alone demands respect.

Mar 27, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Calgary Flames forward Josh Jooris (86) celebrates his goal with forward Joe Colborne (8) and forward Matt Stajan (18) in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that lacks depth down the middle, the Leafs have certainly conceded their fair share of centremen to Calgary. Aside from Stajan, we can add Joe Colborne to the list. Colborne never quite lived up to his potential in Toronto, but he was also never really given the opportunity to succeed.

At 6-5 and 213 pounds, Colborne has all the making of a true power forward. He’s not overly aggressive, however, which limited his ice time in Toronto. The flames, on the other hand, are comfortable playing Colborne as either a centreman or a winger and he’s quietly coming into form away from the big lights of the centre of the hockey universe.

New York Islanders

There was a time when the future appeared limitless for the Leafs with Nikolai Kulemin riding shotgun to Mikhail Grabovski, but that quickly ended when Randy Carlyle came to town. Now both players find themselves adorning Islanders jerseys and are poised to make a deep playoff run for one of the most complete teams in the Eastern Conference. (How’s that for a good twist of fate?)

Feb 17, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Islanders forward Mikhail Grabovski (84) looks on against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The New York Islanders defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Kulemin’s and Grabovski’s scoring days are clearly behind them, but they provide some of the depth that makes the Islanders such a strong team. Although they’re undoubtedly secondary players on the Islander’s latest run to the Cup, I’m sure it’s a position that many of their former teammates in Toronto would gladly accept.

Ottawa Senators

There was another component to the Kulemin-Grabovski line in Toronto that made it so effective: Clarke MacArthur. I really think the Leafs made a huge mistake when they chased MacArthur from town, but that didn’t stop him from finding a new home in Ottawa where his talents are appreciated. MacArthur’s an underrated player who boasts a deadly wrist shot – he’s already scored twice for the Senators in their playoff series against the stingy Montreal Canadiens – and rightly wears an “A” in Ottawa.

Apr 17, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Ottawa Senators left wing Clarke MacArthur (16) celebrates his goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the first period in game two of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine that: a talented second-line player with offensive punch and clear leadership potential. It’s no wonder the Leafs chased him away.

Other Players

These are some of my favourite former Leafs in the playoffs. Who are your favourites? Did I miss anyone that deserves special attention?

With Daniel Winnik blocking shots for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Francois Beauchemin anchoring the blue line for the Anaheim Ducks, there are plenty of other players out there to support.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson