Toronto Maple Leafs: A Missed Opportunity in Chris Stewart


Toronto Maple Leafs: A Missed Opportunity in Chris Stewart

On Sunday, Chris Stewart signed a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks worth $1.7 million. It’s the exact same type of deal that the Toronto Maple Leafs have excelled at over the past few years: low risk, high potential.

Apr 2, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Chris Stewart (44) watches the puck during the second period against the New York Rangers at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Thus, why the Leafs failed to see a similar opportunity in Stewart is lost on me.

The addition of Stewart wouldn’t have fundamentally altered the team’s roster heading into next season. After all, the Leafs are now firmly entrenched in rebuild mode so the next few seasons promise to bring some birthing pains. Few players could change this over night and Stewart isn’t one of them.

Having said that, there is a need for some added skill on the wing with the departure of Phil Kessel this off-season and there’s also the need for some added toughness on the wing with the departure of David Clarkson last season. To some extent, Stewart could’ve satisfied both of these needs.

After recording a career-high 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 48 games for the St. Louis Blues during the 2012-2013 campaign, Stewart’s offensive numbers have declined over the past two seasons. Nonetheless, there was a hint of resurgence last season when Stewart recorded 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 20 games after being traded to the Minnesota Wild. He would add two more assists in eight playoff games before hitting the free agent market this summer.

Is this enough to say Stewart is back on track when it comes to the scorecard? No, but it’s something to consider. He’s only 27-years old and potential – whether seen as dormant or untapped – is one word that can still be used to describe him.

No one would question Stewart’s ability to get under the skin of his opponents and leave his mark on the physical side of the game. This is the one area where he definitely remains valuable.

The true value in Stewart, however, would likely come at the trade deadline. Minnesota sent a second-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Stewart. This is a feat the Leafs could’ve easily repeated had they taken a low-risk chance on Stewart. His potential value in future draft picks could be more important than anything else.

Feb 10, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Chris Stewart (80) during the game against the Ottawa Senators at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

This is essentially the same approach that the Leafs have taken in the past with Mason Raymond, Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel WinnikDavid Booth, Shawn Matthias and now Martin Marincin. There’s very little financial commitment shown by the team, but the potential return could range from a first-round pick and future prospect (i.e., the Franson-Santorelli trade) to a second-round pick (i.e., the Winnik trade). If the Leafs can’t find a trade partner, then they simply allow the player to walk at the end of the deal (i.e., Raymond and Booth). It’s a winning approach and it’s one that I hope the Leafs at least entertained.

We don’t know any of the key details – did the Leafs even talk to Stewart? did they make him an offer? – but it’s interesting to reflect on how this deal perfectly aligns with the current approach taken by the Leafs. In fact, it has the Leafs written all over it.

There was a real opportunity in Stewart as either a roster player or a future trade piece. However, the Leafs let this one get away.

Did the Leafs miss out on Stewart? Is there any value left in him? Does the Leafs’ current assessment management strategy work? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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