Talk about a bomb being dropped on the Leafs dressing room. After last night's ugly loss, 5-3 to the Canucks after blowing a 3-0 first period lead, many Leafs fans were feeling like this team had reached rock bottom. Brian Burke responded today by pulling off a pair of major trades.
Great work by Darren Dreger on Twitter to be the first on these trades. He said big changes were coming and within hours, the first trade was made with the Calgary Flames.
D Dion Phaneuf
D Keith Aulie
F Fredrik Sjostrom
D Ian White
F Matt Stajan
F Niklas Hagman
F Jamal Mayers
This was the bigger of the two deals. Obviously the big piece here is Phaneuf. I've been critical of Phaneuf in the past; he's had some very bad moments the past few years and his defensive lapses are far too common for him to be considered a top defenseman in the league. However, that huge potential remains, and one has to think that the price of acquiring said potential was worth it.
Keith Aulie could be the wildcard in this one. If he rounds into a legitimate top-4 defenseman, as Hockey's Future believes is fully possible, that could be enough to solidify this one as a win for the Leafs, even if Phaneuf doesn't live up to the hype of his rookie year.
I don't confess to know much about Freddy Sjostrom but my understanding is that he's a speedy bottom-6 forward who can bring something to the penalty kill. That alone makes him more valuable than Mayers.
I'm still uneasy about the idea of giving up White. He's been the Leafs' most consistent defender the last two seasons, and is more reliable than Phaneuf. You know what you're getting out of him night in, night out. However, he's really the only loss here. Stajan and Hagman, while solid offensive players, were not likely part of the plan and would have been trading chips at the deadline. I'd rather them go in this deal than for a mid-round pick in return.
This deal works for the Leafs in the sense that they get another solid building block for, mostly, scraps in return. On the Flames side, while no doubt the fans will not be pleased with the return, it's not as bad as it looks. Sure, they could have held out for a first line forward in exchange for Phaneuf, and they may have gotten him. But, they may not have. Phaneuf's value isn't exactly sky-high right now. Instead, they flipped him for a couple of solid top-6 guys who can chip in offensively, making for a more balanced attack, along with a defenseman who is more suited to being a #3 or #4 guy than Phaneuf, and a mucker for the fourth line. They opted to fill a number of smaller gaps in the roster, rather than go for the home run, and it may end up working out better in the end.
Burke wasn't done there, wheeling a deal with his old club, the Anaheim Ducks.
G Jean-Sebastien Giguere
F Jason Blake
G Vesa Toskala
This is nothing short of a fantastic deal for the Leafs. Burke unloads two of the biggest scapegoats, worst performers, and biggest contracts on this edition of the Leafs in one fell swoop. Blake was not getting the job done here after signing a big UFA deal, and Vesa Toskala has been Vesa Toskala. Giguere was clearly the odd-man out after Jonas Hiller signed a four-year extension yesterday.
This trade raises some questions for me. Obviously the Ducks needed to shed themselves of Giguere's cap hit, as he's down for $6mil this season and next. They get Toskala to do his job for $2mil less this season, and he's off the books come summer. That makes sense. What doesn't is taking Blake's salary back. His cap hit is $2mil less than Giguere's and he's under contract for an additional year. I suppose he's not as much dead weight as Giguere as he will be playing while the puckstopper wouldn't be, but it seems strange. There's also the fact that despite Blake being signed an extra year, he'll earn $1mil less than Giguere by the time both contracts are up.
My guess? Burke said "Give me a pick with Giguere, or take Blake's salary." They opted for the salary rather than the pick, and I can't say I'd fault Bob Murray for that. Even without the pick, Burke managed to wash his hands of two rotten contracts, and he may have partially fixed his goaltending situation in the process. Giguere may not bounce back to Stanley Cup-form, but the chance that he could be decent is worth acquiring him because he simply cannot be worse than Toskala was.
With a couple of bang-bang moves, Brian Burke has improved the Leafs' fortunes. Maybe not right now, but that makes no difference. The 09-10 regular season will not end with the Leafs in playoff position. These moves will provide a quick fix for the present, designed to prevent the Bruins from drafting a superstar, and the hope is that they'll pay off down the road if Phaneuf fulfills potential and Aulie develops well. Either way, good to see Brian Burke finally doing something about this dreadful club. It's about time.