Brian Burke (in)famously promised truculence. We got Colby Armstrong.
Armstrong was signed as a free agent by the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2010. The contract was worth $9 million over three seasons.
On June 30 of this year, however, the team bought out the remainder of his contract, ending their relationship with the oft-injured winger prematurely.
During his brief stint in Toronto, Armstrong dressed for a total of 79 games where he collected nine goals and 19 assists. This compares decently against his final season in Atlanta, which saw him score 15 goals and 14 assists in the same number of games.
A series of unfortunate injuries – a broken finger, a broken foot and a broken nose among others – limited Armstrong’s playing time in Toronto.
By the time Armstrong was healthy enough to rejoin the team at the end of last season, he found himself sitting in the press box on a near regular basis.
These factors led to Armstrong’s early exit from Toronto, but they don’t tell the whole story.
As a dedicated Leafs fan, I regret how management treated Armstrong, and I’m willing to excuse his rash of injuries as fluke. He deserves better.
Armstrong is no Colton Orr (and I mean this with the greatest respect for both players). He brought the Leafs a number of assets that his limited presence on the score sheet – and extended presence in the ICU – may disguise.
For one thing, Armstrong brought leadership and proudly wore an “A” on his jersey. He also brought experience, which when combined with his leadership skills represents one of Burke’s most coveted (and apparently elusive) off-season targets: a battle-tested veteran.
(I guess Burke never thought it necessary to consider the players already on the team.)
Finally, Armstrong brought a level of energy and an eagerness to play – in other words, truculence – that many of his now former teammates lack.
Armstrong is not adverse to the boards or corners, and he prefers to skate through opposing players rather than away from them. Imagine if Phil Kessel shared the same attitude.
Armstrong’s passion for the game is not perfect. It saw him try to hide a concussion from the coaching staff – an unwise and potentially dangerous decision – but it also made him a fan and team favourite.
Who knows? If Armstrong struck the right balance between passion and reason, he might still be wearing the Blue & White.
Unfortunately, fate and Burke’s general short-sightedness (see also the Kessel trade, the failure to re-sign Jean-Sebastian Giguere and the ludicrous decision to renew Ron Wilson’s contract before the end of last season) conspired against Armstrong.
(I can only ask: when will Burke become expendable?)
Au revoir, Armstrong.
I wish you the best of luck with your new team. I know you’ll surprise many and leave the Leafs brass upset.
This will put a great cap on your short stay in Toronto.
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