Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who's Your Larry Murphy Now?

This post, like many others, is inspired by a comment on PensionPlanPuppets. From the Good Doctor Steve, who also writes an excellent blog at

Can we give Stajan the Larry Murphy treatment this year? Make it official and such?

I don't really agree with this statement and I'm not sure I agree with the whole idea. But it did get me thinking about who on the Leafs might be a worthy and legitimate target for our collective scorn if the team underwhelms and underperforms. Again, I'm not sure I agree with the whole principle of the concept, but nevertheless, here's my list of candidates:
Jason Blake
Best season: 2006-7; 40G 29A 69P
Last season: 25G 38A 63P
Salary: $4,000,000
Blake rebounded from a horrible first season with the Leafs to put up impressive numbers. He led the team in goals and points and provided a few highlight-reel moments as well. Still, it's hard to shake the perception that Blake carries a "me-first" attitude and there's no denying his sense of entitlement: "Here I am, a 10-year vet ... I just don't know what he's trying to do," he mused to reporters in response to his dust-up with teammate Grabovski during a practice in March. Blake was fortunate to find chemistry last year with Dominic Moore but this season he'll have to find new friends to razzle-dazzle with or his popularity could quickly plummet.
Jamal Mayers
Best season: 2007-8; 12G 15A 27P
Last season: 7G 9A 16P
Salary: $1,333,333
Jamal didn't impress much last season and really struggled to look comfortable, especially early on. He redeemed himself somewhat with the Kostopoulos fight and a decent second half, but overall his numbers were disappointing and his contribution uninspiring. With the recent addition of Primeau (not to mention Orr, Bozak, Wallin, and Hanson), it's hard to see where Mayers will fit into the bottom six this year. If he continues to look uncomfortable again this year and the team struggles early on, I doubt Leaf fans will have much patience for his ice-time when it could be going to a developing asset. Slow and worn-out is a dangerous thing to be on a losing team in Toronto.

Matt Stajan
Best season: 2008-9; 15G 40A 55P
Last season: 15G 40A 55P
Salary: $1,750,000
I don't really understand the hate that gets directed towards Matt Stajan. I suppose if you're from Port Credit and you happen to hate everything that's from Mississauga it makes sense, but otherwise it seems a bit unfair. At the beginning of last season I thought Stajan was a longshot to hit 25 assists. He finished the year with an astonishing 40, despite missing 6 games. I think the greatest knock against Stajan is the perception that he's soft, and certainly getting bounced out of the line-up by a soccer ball doesn't change that view much. Having rookies repeatedly coming to your rescue doesn't look so good either: "Luke’s been there for me... It seems like every time I get hit, he jumps in." It sure makes Schenn a popular guy, but I don't think it's all that flattering for Matty. Here's a serious suggestion for Stajan that'd be guaranteed to turn him from a zero to a hero in Leaf-Nation forever: Simply beat the crap out of Jason Spezza once and for all.

Lee Stempniak
Best season: 2006-7; 27G 25A 52P
Last season: 14G 30A 44P
Salary: $2,500,000
Lee seems to have been a diligent understudy to Matt Stajan's early "Invisible Man" act and is now running away with the lead role. Stempniak (or Suckniak as I call him, also known by others as Stempnisuck) needs to find his comfort level in Toronto and start producing consistently or I fear the patience of the Blue and White faithful will be very short. Maybe some fans just miss Carlo and Steen and find Stempniak's, er, lack of presence to be a haunting reminder of their absence. This year, I think Stempniak will be under a lot of pressure to make things happen right away.
Jeff Finger
Best season: 2008-9; 6G 17A 23P
Last season: 6G 17A 23P
Salary: 3,500,000
Last season's big free-agent splash may be feeling the squeeze on a crowded blueline and will need more then just a really impressive last name to distinguish himself. His enormous salary draws immediate negative attention and doesn't leave much room for sloppy play or indifference. Fortunately for Finger, he's yet to make a glaring error or stand out , but the new-look Leaf defence has added some serious moxy, mojo, and sandpaper, and some people might begin to wonder why we're paying 3.5 million for quiet consistency. One thing is for sure, being the least popular Leaf defender is not a comfortable ride.
Mike Komisarek
Best season: 2006-7; 4G 15A 19P
Last season: 2G 9A 11P
Salary: $4,500,000
Will it be difficult to accept a former rival wearing the Blue and White? Are expectations high for a free-agent defenceman earning 4.5 million? What happens if the Leafs go 3-7-2 in October and Komisarek bangs the puck into his own net to conclude another 3rd period collapse? Just wondering... I think Komisarek is a good signing and that the Leafs defence has improved but that doesn't mean I like him just yet. If he can help us forget Kubina, he should eventually find plenty of fan-support.

Ian White
Best season: 2008-9; 10G 16A 26P
Last season: 10G 16A 26P
Salary: $850,000
Are there still Ian White detractors out there? White had a remarkable season last year but it still might not be enough to guarantee him a spot on the blue line in October. Some of the knocks against White are that he's small, he's not a fantastic playmaker, he's better as a forward, and that he hides his insecurities with facial hair. His effort is always solid but there's only so much a man with a mustache can do. Just talented enough to be a trade-able asset, but not so talented that we shouldn't be able to get something better in return. Funny how that works. My advice to Ian White: keep improving. Leaf fans are not always so subtle when it comes to a player and his diminishing trade value.

Vesa Toskala
Best season: 2006-7; 26-10-1 2.35 .908
Last season: 22-17-11 3.26 .891
Salary: $4,000,000
I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Toskala right from the first drop of the puck to look sharp and focused. Save percentages around the .880 mark will not be tolerated for long with the Monster ready to step in. Last season was a mess for the Vesa as he struggled right out of the gate and all through December and January, and then just as he seemed to be finding his groove, had his season shut down in favour of a bio-technology upgrade. Will it all be worth it? I think of any Leaf on the team, Toskala has the most to lose or gain from this upcoming season, and I think he'll also be the most influential factor in determining our failure or success.

So there you go. If I've missed a Leaf on the roster that you think deserves to be the target of our organized wrath feel free to let me know in the comments. There's a good chance I'll make this topic my next poll in September. Hopefully we'll have a season with a lot of positive vibes and not too many negatives. It'd be nice to be without a McCabe or a Hollweg or Raycrap, a Wozniewski or Mike Craig, Jason Allison, or Larry Murphy. Just a Leaf team that we all love from top to bottom.
Still, if you had to choose one...?


blurr1974 said...

As a card carrying member of the Finger Fan Club, I kindly ask you to stop the hate!

Matt Stajan had the same season as Moore. He put up points thanks to the time afforded him. Is he really a number one center...?

I get the Mayers hate, and the Stempniak hate, but for some reason, find myself rooting for these underdogs all the same.

I'm not a Komisarek fan, and Toskala has the most to lose I agree completely.

Ian White's mustache would like a few words with you...

So to answer your question. No one deserves it. I don't think Stajan will make it through the summer as a Leaf anyways.

As always, great post general!

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Stempniak. He's shit.

And the leash on Toskala is crazy short.

furcifer said...

If we're talking Larry Murphy treatment it'll be Finger. A decent defenceman who people will blame for the Leafs woes because he has a big contract.

Hungry Leafs Fan said...

Depends whether White keeps the moustache or not. Didn't he shave it for the world championships and ended up getting concussed? The power of the moustache must not be underestimated!

I think Blake will get the Larry Murphy treatment. Sure, he had a bounce back year last year but this year he'll be a year older a step slower and a bit grumpier (which will probably produce more practice scrums). I think we will see more fluttering shots to the chest from the side boards than his first season as a Leaf and as a result I do not expect to see him get above 20 goals. Prove me wrong, Blake.

Down Goes Brown said...

I think guys like Mayers and even Finger are safe. Leaf fans rarely turn on guys who play physical.

Stempniak has to be the leading candidate right now. He's soft, makes a lot of money, cost us two players, and is completely invisible.

He and Toskala are the odds on favorites.

blurr1974 said...

@ DGB - I thought Stempniak was our leading hitter last year...? Maybe he's perceived as soft, but I don't think he plays soft.

The easiest way to tell is to see who the MSM decides to feed to the wolves.

puckbuddy said...

lets not forget kaberle and i think a dark horse would be exlby because when he tries a hit and misses, i dont know, maybe we'll be ok on him when he goes back to fish the puck out of the net.

general borschevsky said...

This was not an easy post to write because basically I want to like all the Leafs, and for the first time in years that might actually happen. I'm not sure anyone deserves the Larry Murphy treatment yet.

@blurr: I think Finger is safe. Komisarek is the guy I can see receiving a lot of heat if things don't go well, but if he's good and the team doesn't suck it'll be no worries. Cheers.

@eyebleaf: A vote for Stempniak, eh? I was expecting you to say Stajan. I actually had you in mind when I included him.

@furcifer: Finger certainly fits the Larry Murphy profile the same way McCabe did.

@HLF: Interesting that you said Blake. I thought someone might. He had a really good season last year but it wasn't without its ups and downs. Hopefully Wilson can keep pushing the right buttons.

@DGB: Leaf fans may not turn on players that play an effective physical game, like Tucker, Domi, or Belak, but if they're not quite up to snuff - think Hollweg, Bell, Newbury, - can become unpopular very quickly. I think I agree with your assessment that Stempniak and the Vesa will likely face the most heat if they struggle. Always a pleasure when you drop by.

@blurr again!: According to's stats, Schenn led the team in hits by a wide margin followed by Finger, then Stajan, White (?), Stempniak and Poni. All had over 100 hits. Not being "soft" isn't just about hits though. Is there a will to drive the net? Can they carry the puck through the defence? How hard do they battle in the corners? Grabovski doesn't throw a lot of hits but no one calls him soft.

@puckbuddy: Y'know I thought of Kaberle, but I couldn't include him because while he may have a lot of detractors, he also has way too many supporters like myself. It's can't be the Larry Murphy treatment if half the audience still has undying love for him.

Cheers, y'all!

bkblades said...

...and that he hides his insecurities with facial hair.

I laughed out loud with this one.

As for the question in hand, I don't think there will be one, at least out of this group. Jason Blake is probably the closest one because he plays significant minutes and is the closest player the Leafs have as a front-line player. Players like Larry Murphy, Nik Antropov, and Bryan McCabe all played a big role on the team. Their struggles were magnified because they were on the top line.

So my vote is Jason Blake, but players like Grabovski, Kulemin, Kaberle, Ponikarovsky (again) are all prime candidates.

SBurtch said...

Well since my comment inspired the post I think I should explain my distaste for Stajan... and my perspective on the "Larry Murphy treatment."

I think back when Larry Murphy originally received the treatment he did that preceded is departure from Toronto, said impetus was driven by the MSM and faithful at home games booing the crap out of him as a lightning rod for the overpaid but underperforming Leafs - the irony being that Murphy himself was far from underperforming.

Now that we've moved into the digital age, I don't think the "masses" of Leaf fans lack for energy that needs to be directed. I think those of us that provide some of that direction are doing them a service by providing them with an excuse to vent their frustrations in a specific direction.

So why Stajan? Well let's see. Once upon a time the Leafs had 5 World Junior Luminaries in their lineup, Stajan, Colaiacovo, White, Wellwood, and Steen.

Of that group I initially was enticed by Wellwood's skill, Colaiacovo's future as a top 4 D man, and Steen's all around game. White and Stajan were the two that I saw as likely lower tier performers (specialists if you will).

White was a future PP QB that had little else to offer at the NHL level... still with holding judgement on that one.

Stajan was a likely Penalty Killer who had a soft shot that he hardly ever used. His production was PURELY dependent on his line mates, and he frankly was never going to generate offense on his own.

Nothing I've seen has done anything to dissuade me from that belief. He still depends on his line mates for offense, and his production last season stemmed almost entirely from his placement on the top line with the superior skilled Antropov and Ponikarovsky.

Most of his goals were of the garbage variety in front of the net, and he is never going to become a "sniper" in the NHL.

What worries me more is his regression defensively, which has become fairly noticeable the past two seasons. His year alongside Blake and Tucker was a huge step backwards, and frankly I hope he turns that aspect of his game around.

What ruined it for me was probably the declaration last off season by the MSM that we should consider Stajan a likely candidate as a Captain of the Leafs, all because well... he wears the same number Dave Keon wore... and well... you know he grew up in Mississauga so that's kinda neat.

Woopity Crap... don't think that means anything to me personally. He could have grown up on Mars, as far as I'm concerned talent and leadership count for a lot more than his place of birth. His talent level is NOT up to snuff, and these days I think he's expendable.

I don't think he's likely to take another huge step forwards in the production department, and unless you play him with top line forwards, his production won't even rise to last season's not so lofty heights. He's never going to be capable of putting up 70 points, so he's not a legit #1 Centre and captain for Toronto.

For that reason, I just don't think we should keep him around. He's "clogging" up development as much as a player like Blake or Stempniak is, and I don't think he's going to develop into something he isn't at this point. We need top line forwards, not 3rd line forwards playing top line minutes.

general borschevsky said...

@bkblades: Thanks for dropping by. Another vote for Blake. I don't think Grabbo or Kulemin have anything to worry about, and Poni only if he really struggles or if he has an empty net and looks around for Sundin again.

@SBurtch: Thanks for the great comment Steve, and welcome. Can't really argue with any of that. Just to add a point: I think the reason Stajan was being touted as a potential future Captain was because many of the "leaders" on the team - Tucker, Raycroft, McCabe - were avoiding responsibility for the team's failures, and even Sundin began answering questions with a heavy sigh, or by shrugging his shoulders, or mumbling "I don't know...". Stajan meanwhile faced the media openly and honestly during some really shitty times, and for that I think he earned some of their respect.