Leafs Cut Steve Thomas

The Toronto Maple Leafs have let go of Steve Thomas who was with the team on a tryout basis.

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I understand why the Leafs decided to go in this direction. Thomas is 42 and his best days are behind him. He did not have a guaranteed deal and with the Leafs having limited cap room, simply could not afford to add yet another guaranteed contract. And in exhibition he was simply not as productive as hoped, especially compared to the team’s younger players. I do not have a problem with this move as there is a chance he could be brought in at a later time if injuries hit.

The problem is that for a player who worked his tail off, provided needed leadership and did a fine job mentoring some of the youngsters there during training camp, I think he deserved to make the team. Unfortunately the team is saddled with contracts for Clarke Wilm, Nathan Perrott and could not afford to add yet another bit player. I think he would have been a great player to have around. Though his production may be limited on the ice, i think Thomas would have been a great mentor to many of the young players still trying to establish themselves in the NHL. His experience and leadership are undeniable. The other problem I have is that though he worked hard, played decent hockey and proved to be an asset in many areas, he was cut, but players who take penalties, play inconsistently, dont work hard every shift will get to be placed on the top line playing with the team’s top player.

There are some who think highly of Nik Antropov and Alex Ponikarovsky but for them to be on the Leafs top line is insulting. The arguments are plentiful. They are young still, they are big, Antropov has skill and was a former top 10 pick, Pony has decent speed and uses his size, etc ,etc. But the problem I have is that we have seen simply too many poor plays and lazy penalties from these two to warrant top line status. These two were given this opportunity to play on a scoring line a couple of years ago along side Joe Nieuwendyk. The results were Antropov with 13 goals and Ponikarovsky with 9 and a combined 1 goal in the playoffs.

I understand the Leafs lack of depth on the wings warrants their place on the 23 man roster. I understand that they at times bring some good things to the table. But I as a Leaf fan have had enough of them playing significant minutes and similar minutes to the team’s top players like Mats Sundin. After 7 years, Antropov has proven nothing. Ponikarovsky unfortunately does not have the hands to play a top line role. Why the coaching staff shows the kind of loyalty to these two is a mystery in itself.

Coach Pat Quinn mentioned on Thomas that it was a difficult decision from the heart to let him go. But at the same time, the coach shows a soft spot in his heart to play Antropov and Ponikarovsky alot and in key situations. You could also say the same about blueliners Aki Berg and Wade Belak who seemingly have won over the hearts of the coaching staff despite being ill-equipped to take on significant minutes.

This has also meant that Kyle Wellwood will not start the year with the Leafs. That is unfortunate as he was one of their leading scorers during exhibition and showed the kind of skill that is tailor made for the new opened up NHL. He certainly has to work on things like strength and defensive play but is he really any worse than the likes of Antropov and Ponikarovsky who are regulars in the penalty box for lazy penalties?

Quinn is a great coach and really i should not be questioning what he is doing. However when you see a former Hart Trophy winner like Eric Lindros playing with Tie Domi and Chad Kilger and the likes of Antropov and Ponikarovsky skating with Sundin and getting some special teams minutes, it makes you wonder.

I understand all coaches have different philosophies, but I always thought ice time was earned and not just handed to players. There is little to no evidence that warrants the kind of loyalty that the coaching staff shows to players like Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Berg and Belak.

Unfortunately management is to blame with their poor draft record, foolish spending habits and their ineptitude in developing home grown talent. It has left them with an abundance of average to below average players. Antropov is going to need a big year to not only stay on the Leafs top line beside Sundin, but to stay in the NHL altogether. If after 8 years, the players still doesnt get it, that is the time to part ways. For Ponikarovsky, it isnt all bad because if he doesnt keep pace on the top line, he can fit in as a energy role forward who can kill penalties. But he still has to produce something if he is going to get the ice time. I was disappointed to see him get roughly 15 minutes a game in the playoffs and do nothing within that time to warrant it. Berg I have nothing against. He is a decent player on your 3rd defence pair. It is how defence coach Rick Ley uses him that bothers me. Berg is a player easily exposed but Ley loves to use him anyway. After the debacle with Jason Smith, Ley is to me a poor judge in talent. Even after mistake after mistake, Berg is out there regularly at the expense of younger players. And as for Belak, I will be disappointed if he lasts 5 games playing regularly on defence. At the rate he takes penalties, that could simply kill Toronto’s chances at a playoff berth. It isnt just that he takes penalties at a high rate, he takes the same ones over and over again and continuously complains to the refs about it.

I am however very happy to see other youngsters like Alex Steen, Andy Wozniewski and Steffan Kronvall make the club. Those were spots well deserved. And it is nice to see Matt Stajan pick up his play and he too should get some decent playing time. And the time is now for Carlo Coliacovo to prove he is worthy of full time duty in the NHL. But I hope that these youngsters are up with Leafs to play and not caddy for those who seemingly get 5th, 6th and 7th chances to stay in the lineup. I think in order to move along the transition of the Leafs from free spenders to a team that procures and develops their own assets, if the kids make the team, they should play. I would much rather see their mistakes, their bumps in the road and them learning on the fly than players who have already been given that opportunity several times over.

These kids are the ones who beat out veterans Bryan Marchment and Thomas for jobs. Suffice to say they earned their spot with the big club. Now with that, this should mean they get to prove their worth on a nightly basis when the games really counts. Obviously the Leafs are trying to win but at the same time, for the greater good of the team, the kids should play, be allowed to learn and really push the franchise to a better future. If the team decides against that and continues to stick with players who are not earning their keep and keep the kids twisting in the wind, then “the plan” that is so often stated by management is nothing more than a charade to mask their Ballardesque ineptitude.


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