Just say the name “Vesa Toskala” and you’re bound to get a reaction from Toronto Maple Leafs fans. You might have a four-letter word spit in your direction. You may watch the individual double-over with uncontrollable laughter. You might see them clinch their fist and glare at you. Whatever the reaction, it’s safe to say that the Vesa Toskala era in Toronto didn’t end like most fans wanted it to. Come to think of it—the majority of Toskala’s time with the Leafs was less than spectacular.
His North American career started with so much promise. The Sharks thought enough of him that when the team had Toskala, Evgeni Nabokov, and Miikka Kiprusoff—it was Kiprusoff who was traded to the Calgary Flames. His time in San Jose peaked during his last season with the club (2006-07) with 26 wins in 38 games for the Sharks. He was eventually traded to the Maple Leafs who hoped he would blossom as he got out from behind Evgeni Nabokov’s shadow. Needless to say, it didn’t really work out how the Leafs or Toskala hoped it would.
After wearing out his welcome in Toronto, he was traded to Anaheim. Before he made it into a single game with the Ducks, he was sent off to the Calgary Flames. All in all, he was a member of three teams, played 32 games for two teams, and earned only 9 victories. Even though his numbers looked much better in Calgary down the stretch, his .874 save percentage and 3.66 goals against average for Toronto will be how most people remember his 2009-10 season. Toskala included:
“The last few seasons haven’t been what I hoped for,” he said. “It will be nice to return to play for Ilves. I’m feeling strong, and I think we have a good team that can definitely go further than last year.”
Last season Toskala bounced around looking for a permanent gig even though he turned down a job with the Calgary Flames. Yes, really. He played in a couple of games with AIK in Sweden before his one-month contract expired. For fans who want to know what the end of the road looks like, this is it.
Instead of packing it in, Toskala is giving it one last shot to get his game back on track. He’s signed a one-year deal with Ilves Tampere in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga). In his last season with Ilves Tampere, he went 21-12-5 with a 2.14 goals against average. Both the team and Toskala hope he can recapture the magic that made him one of the most promising goaltenders last decade. At only 34 years old, there’s still time for Toskala to revitalize his career. All he needs to do is play a little better.
Well, all he has to do is play a lot better.