The Toronto Maple Leafs once thought very highly of Keith Aulie as a future top-four defender
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Aulie was acquired by the Leafs in the same trade that landed captain Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames. At 6-6 and 222 pounds, he has all the makings of your classic Burke-era defencemen (hence, the hyperbole). Unfortunately, all that size didn’t translate into skill or an extended stay in Toronto.
In fact, aside from Burke, it looks like no one has really taken the bit on Aulie; he’s already bounced around between three different teams in his short (167 games) NHL career.
Apr 4, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Keith Aulie (22) skates against the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
His time in Toronto spanned 57 games across two seasons. He put together four points (two goals, two assists), 48 penalty minutes, 46 shots (a zero per cent shooting percentage in 2011-2012 on 14 shots over 17 games) and a minus-three rating while averaging between 19 minutes (2010-2011, 40 games) and 16 minutes (17 games, 2011-2012) of ice time per game. It would be an understatement to say these were disappointing numbers; Burke had to eat his own words.
Toronto traded Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline in 2011-2012, but the results were similar. He recorded one assist in 19 games with a zero per cent shooting percentage on four shots. His minus-five rating and 13 penalty minutes also reflected a defenceman of limited value; he averaged just 11 minutes in ice time per game for the Lightning that season.
Aulie would linger in Tampa Bay for two more seasons, but he was never a regular player in the lineup. His career as a member of the Lightning, like his career as a member of the Leafs, was unmemorable and short. He dressed for a total of 79 games across three seasons for Tampa Bay.
Feb 4, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenceman Keith Aulie (22) keeps a close eye on Pittsburgh Penguins Center Sidney Crosby (87) in the first period at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Chris LaFrance-USA TODAY Sports
The Edmonton Oilers were the last team to take a chance on Aulie. He played in 31 games for them last season, collecting one assist on 25 shots (zero per cent shooting percentage). His 66 penalty minutes might speak to some value depending on your perspective, but it’s hard to ignore a -95 rating in Shot Attempts and -68 rating in Unblocked Shot Attempts (all according to NHL.com). Edmonton eventually waived Aulie and he remains an unrestricted free agent today.
In the end, it may not be the case that Aulie is a bad player per se. It’s just that the NHL has evolved over the last nine seasons. The role of the traditional stay-at-home defencemen is gone. Now you’re expected to bring something else to the table besides size and toughness; you must be able to skate, shot and score the occasional goal.
If Burke had been managing the Leafs in the 1960s, Aulie would have been a great addition to the team. (In fact, Burke’s whole philosophy to hockey would have made sense.) Instead, in today’s game, Aulie is just a lingering reminder of hockey’s rough ‘n’ tumble past and a fading signpost on the road of evolution.
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