The post Mike Brown-era did not get off to a good start in Toronto on Monday.
Yes, the Maple Leafs were fortunate enough to score three times in the final 20 minutes to register a 4-2 victory over the struggling Stanley Cup-finalist New Jersey Devils, who now have gone 2-6-2 after a fabulous 8-1-3 start.
But they were dismal in the first 40 minutes and didn't deserve to be down only 2-1 entering the third period. The Maple Leafs hung in there thanks to a fluky Nazem Kadri goal, the Devils' lack of finish and some uncharacteristic poor play from New Jersey in its own end. Then Toronto benefitted from some poor goaltending from Devils netminder Johan Hedberg and a costly turnover from Patrik Elias.
The 27-year-old Brown was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a conditional 2014 draft pick prior to the Maple Leafs' morning skate on Monday. If the Oilers make the playoffs Toronto will receive a third-round selection. The Leafs gain a fourth-rounder if Edmonton misses the post-season.
It's easy to gloss over the fact that this was nothing more than moving a fourth-line forward to make room for speedy Matt Frattin when he returns from his knee injury later this week. But Brown was a popular player with his teammates and the Maple Leafs coaching staff in the dressing room and on the ice.
What Brown did for the Maple Leafs this season was very much missing in Toronto's win at the Air Canada Centre. He provided energy. He provided fourth-line stability.
"If there is one player who demonstrated what we asked for it was Mike Brown," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who now has a 20-18-3 record in one calendar year behind the Toronto bench.
"As a coach it's hard to find those no-maintenance persons."
This was the last teammate the Maple Leafs wanted to see depart for another team.
"I was in Philadelphia and you learn there that anybody can be traded," said James van Riemsdyk, who set up linemate Phil Kessel for the final Toronto goal. "So I guess nothing shocks you. This is a business and all that.
"But he was a popular guy in this room. He would do anything to help us win on the ice. He was a good friend to a lot of us. You cheer for a guy like him."
Plenty of credit has been directed towards tough guys Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr this season, and that's what made Brown expendable.
Out of position
But it just so happens that McLaren and Orr were two of the worst Toronto players against the Devils. Alongside centre David Steckel, the Maple Leafs fourth line was out of position off a defensive zone faceoff on New Jersey's first goal from defenceman Marek Zidlicky. A McLaren turnover resulted in Zidlicky's second goal.
Neither Orr nor McLaren played a shift after the second goal.
Ironically, it was the play of McLaren since he was plucked from the San Jose Sharks off the waiver wire that pushed Brown out the door, according to Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis.
"There's no question about that," Nonis said. "[McLaren has] been able to play in all situations. Randy feels comfortable with him, not that he didn't feel comfortable with Brownie. But [McLaren] gave us another option, so it was definitely a factor.
"At some point in the near future we're going to need to create a roster spot. We have some players with the Marlies we want to give a look to and we have some players who are hopefully coming off the [injured reserve list] in the near future. That coupled with Mike's playing time, he had been in and out of the lineup. Randy had used different line combinations and we felt it was an opportune time to make the move for all those reasons."
Nonis was the Canucks general manager when they drafted Brown, a right wing, in the fifth round in 2004.
"Edmonton is getting a great character guy and a good teammate," Nonis said. "When I spoke to Mike this morning, I've had Mike twice, I said, 'Don't rule out a third time.'
"He's that kind of a guy that you'd like to have with you. That's the type of player Edmonton needs right now. [Oilers GM] Steve Tambellini was very clear about it. With the youth that they have and the teams that they play, they're facing certain players that need some attention and Mike knows his role and he's pretty good at it. I think he'll fit in very well in Edmonton.
"They're going to love him."
The Maple Leafs should be able to get along fine without him, but he will be missed in the short term.
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