The intense rivalries of the NHL playoffs are soon coming to an end with the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins as the last two teams fighting for the Cup. This year, four former Toronto Maple Leafs are dispersed among these two teams, meaning at least one is destined to win the cup. The question is, will luck side with Pittsburgh Penguin Phil Kessel, or San Jose Sharks Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and James Reimer? Let’s take a look at how these players have adapted to their new teams.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs Competing for Stanley Cup
Roman Polak and Nick Spaling
Defenseman Polak and forward Spaling, were traded together in February from the Leafs to the Sharks. In this trade, the Leafs acquired forward Raffi Torres and the Sharks’ 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks.
As a new Shark, Polak has shown he can be a hard-hitting defenseman, however, he has not seen much action in regards to points from Polak during his time as a Shark. Along with a dismal 16 points in the regular season and no points in the playoffs, it seems Polak can’t catch a break with bad plays in the series against Pittsburgh. In Game 2 he sent a pass straight to Kessel in San Jose’s zone where Kessel was later given a perfect pass from Nick Bonino to put the Penguins up 1-0 and in Game 3 Ben Lovejoy‘s shot deflected off of him past Martin Jones. Luckily, San Jose came back to win this game in overtime, deterring his mistake from costing them another game. There is not much to say about his progress as a Shark since he has only played there for a short span of time, but certainly he’s hoping to turn his game around for San Jose to have a chance to come back in the Stanley Cup Final.
Spaling is another player who has only played as a Shark for just about half the season. When Spaling left the Leafs, he had a record of one goal and six assists in 35 games played. He started his time as a Shark impressively with two goals in his first four games. However, that was really the only highlight we have seen from him with only adding four assists to his two goals for the season. Entering the final, and playing against a team like Pittsburgh, who has a solid set of lines, Spaling needs to step up and score some points. The Sharks also have a solid team, but it could even be stronger if the players not known for scoring a large amount of goals stepped up to show what they can really do.
We saw another leaf welcomed to the Sharks on February 27th when Reimer was traded just two days prior to the trade deadline. With a move that most likely caught Reimer off guard, this didn’t stop him from showing he can impressively adapt to another team’s settings.
His new role in San Jose started out with a loss against the Vancouver Canucks, but this loss meant very little when he topped off the next three games with three wins, including two shutouts. Reimer continued to show his ability to be a starter, when he went 6-2-0 with just 13 goals against.
Despite his efforts in the regular season, Reimer has seen dismal playing time in the playoffs playing only once when he came in midway to relieve Jones in the series against the St. Louis Blues. This was only to be expected, as Jones has been the Shark’s star goalie all season, and that wasn’t going to change in the playoffs. It seems as though Jones’s little break paid off well, if we look at where the Sharks ended up. Unfortunately for Reimer, there’s no certainty in a future in San Jose, as he stands as a free agent as we get closer to July 1.
Finally, well-known former Leaf Kessel, who everybody, whether they admit it or not, can say they were sad to see him go, was traded to the Penguins on July 1, 2015, after playing six seasons in Toronto. He was traded along with forward Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon and a second round pick in the 2016 NHL draft, while the Leafs acquired forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and 1st and 3rd round draft picks in 2016.
Just as Kessel was the leading scorer for the Leafs, he has shown he is a strong asset to the Penguins with 26 goals and 33 assists in the 2015-2016 season. Jumping on a line with Bonino and Carl Hagelin, this trio has really shown what they can create together as they all racked up impressive double-digit points this season.
Now, we see Kessel in his first Stanley Cup Final after 10 season in the NHL. He has been a star for the Penguins in the playoffs with 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 22 games, and overall being that player who can pound the puck in when it’s needed. With his chance to finally shine in the playoffs, somewhere the Leafs only made it once in his six seasons he played for them, Kessel is showing everyone he is ready to win that Cup.
These four players left the team that was granted 30th place in the NHL, to making it to the place all hockey players dream of. So get your beers ready, your jerseys on and let’s see which former Leaf will be taking a skate with good old Stanley.