Allison a long shot to make the Leafs

Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke caught many observers by surprise this past week by announcing that the team will grant a tryout to 34-year-old Jason Allison, who last played in the NHL in 2005-06 wearing the blue and white Maple Leaf.

At first glance the invitation is a curious one, given that Allison lacks the pugnacity and belligerence on which Burke intends to model the team. Rather, Allison’s 66-game tenure as a Leaf was marked by his strengths as a finesse player and puck carrier, as opposed to the grinding and bruising style that was evident in his then linemate, Darcy Tucker.

With the NHL’s post-lockout anti-obstruction enforcement now entering its fifth season, it’s difficult to envision Allison being able to match the speed of either his teammates, or his opponents, after being away from the high caliber of play for over two years.

The Toronto native was much maligned after an inauspicious debut in front of a home crowd at Air Canada Centre when he participated in the NHL’s first ever shootout. With the Leafs and the rival Senators deadlocked 2-2 after overtime in the first game following the labor stoppage, Allison was called upon to be the first marksman to go one-on-one against goalie Dominik Hasek. The selection by coach Pat Quinn seemed reasonable, given that Allison showed deft breakaway moves in the pre-season, undressing a Detroit goalie with a series of head fakes on one occasion.

Instead, in what has become Toronto hockey infamy, Allison skated towards Hasek at an excruciatingly slow speed, only to eventually miss the net on the shootout attempt. The exhibition of sloth, broadcast to a nationwide audience in the first game after the sport had lost an entire season, became Allison’s trademark.

Nevertheless, the offer of a tryout to the former Washington first-round pick – who also toiled in Boston and Los Angeles – carries minimal, if any, risk. The Leafs remain offensively challenged in the center position, with Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Stajan, John Mitchell and Rickard Wallin leading the depth chart heading into training camp. Grabovski and Stajan are both effective, yet hardly lamp-lighters. Mitchell is embarking on his sophomore season after a year on the fourth line, while Wallin has yet to suit up for an NHL game.

It may be unrealistic to expect Allison, two years removed from the game, to return to his nearly point-per-game form that lasted throughout his nine full seasons in the NHL.

Yet with Toronto deficient at the pivot position, one of their native sons appears to be worth at least a second look.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and will be blogging at throughout the NHL off-season.