His three game suspension over, Nik Antropov returned to the Maple Leafs lineup with a bang yesterday afternoon. The lanky Kazakh tipped in Anton Stralman's shot from the point to give the Buds a 3-2 overtime win against the NHL's best Detroit Red Wings.
So, looking back to last Saturday, the Leafs have defeated the Ottawa Senators (#1 in the Eastern Conference), the Montreal Canadiens (#2 in the East), and the Detroit Red Wings (#1 in the NHL). Between the victories over rivals Ottawa and Montreal was an 8-0 shelling, on home ice no less, at the hands of Florida Panthers, the twelfth-best team in the Eastern Conference (or the third-worst, depending on how you look at things in life). Go figure. The Leafs are one strange hockey team.
What made the past week even more perplexing is that the Leafs were able to beat the Senators and Canadiens without their second-leading scorer, Nik Antropov.
Yes, you read that right. Antropov is second to only Mats Sundin this season, with 42 points in 54 games. Although I hate to think that I might be jinxing him, I think it is fair to say that Nik Antropov has, finally and mercifully, arrived. His goal against the Red Wings, to give the Leafs one hell of an improbable win, was his 19th of the season and a new career high. Last season, Antropov was limited to only 54 games because of injury, and potted a personal-best 18 goals.
It's kind of fitting that yesterday was his 54th game of this season. For once, and knock on wood (seriously, do it, please, for Nik), Antropov is healthy. The three games he missed while suspended were the first games he's missed this season. For Antropov, that's nothing short of a miracle. That's like Carlo Colaiacovo playing 30 games in a row. It's unheard of!
I've got to admit, I've got a little bit of a man crush on Antropov. He's always had so much potential and he seems to have finally developed. He's a big boy, strong on the puck, beauty down low in the corners, physical, and for a big man has a pretty sweet pair of hands, which he displayed early on in his career. He also shows emotion, even though this particular display got him suspended. I have enjoyed very much his success this season, especially after some people I know ridiculed the fact that he was signed to a two-year deal in the off-season for just over $4 million. At that price, the man is a bargain.
Of course in this town, where no one is ever satisfied, the calls to deal Antropov before the trade deadline have begun. I've heard people tell me trading Antropov is a great idea because his value has never been higher, along with the regular psycho's calling in to the radio shows saying that he must go.
Trade Antropov? I don't think so, Homey don't play that. Sure, his value has never been higher, but that's because he's finally performing and living up to the potential of a player selected 10th overall in the first round of the NHL entry draft. The Leafs selected Antro back in 1998 and, here we are, 10 years later, finally getting a decent return on our investment, and now we should trade him? I'm sorry but I don't understand that logic.
Antro should be one of the few guys the Leafs should hold on to. I waited 10 freakin' years, and through two devastating knee injuries, for this guy to become a decent NHLer. I don't want him to go anywhere. The point isn't to groom talent and trade it once it starts contributing. What are we, hockey's Montreal Expos ( RIP), or Florida Marlins? Antro is scheduled to make $2.15 million next season and for someone set to become a 25-goal and 65-point man, that is a steal. And he's turning only 28 years old next week. Considering all his injury problems and how long it has taken him to find his game, he's only entering his prime.
Antro's only three points away from his career high of 45, set eons ago back in the 2002/2003 season, when he played 72 games, another career high. While #80 does take the occasional moronic penalty - OK, occasional is being generous - he still brings a lot of positives to this Leafs team. This season, he's second to only Sundin in goals and points, and he leads the team in power play goals with nine, and in game-winning goals with four.
Nik Antropov is in the midst of his best season as a professional hockey player, and all a bunch of the Toronto faithful can think of is trading him. Don't do it, Fletch...