Leafs' Stempniak looking forward to Blues


When Lee Stempniak steps onto the ice at the Scottrade Center Friday night, it will be his first St. Louis appearance in a Maple Leaf jersey.

But will it be his last?

Fifteen months after being acquired from the Blues in exchange for forwards Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Alex Steen, the versatile Stempniak has heard his name bandied about in plenty of trade rumours.

And justifiably so.

If the veteran forward asks for anything near his 2009-10 salary of $3.5 million US when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, you can bet the Leaf reply will be “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For a guy who has registered just 60 points in 121 games as a Leaf, the price simply would be too high.

On the other hand, Stempniak might very well be a serviceable part for a playoff-bound team looking to add forward depth by the March 3 trade deadline. And, given the roster gutting Leaf management has been doing recently, dealing him might return Toronto at least a third-round pick, which is more than they would get if he walks come July 1.

“That’s completely up to management. It’s totally out of my control,” Stempniak said Wednesday. “I certainly like playing in Toronto. And my teammates are great.”

Of course, his teammates seem to be changing on a weekly basis.

With management vowing to alter the so-called “Country Club Atmosphere” it felt was permeating the Leafs dressing room a couple of years ago, one of the key moves in the housecleaning came on Nov. 24, 2008 when Colaiacovo and Steen were shipped out for Stempniak.

By acquiring Stempniak, the Leafs admittedly were looking for more offensive production than the half-a-point-per-game he has averaged since arriving here. While there have been flashes of brilliance, he, like the Leaf team he plays for, has been far too inconsistent.