Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on Brian Burke's Weekend Trades...


Despite the flurry of trades on Sunday, we now officially have proof for Leaf Nation that Brian Burke is not God - Look at all the work he did on Sunday...

Yes, the trade winds have begun to blow through the National Hockey League, far ahead of the March 3rd trade deadline. What was expected to be a quiet Sunday morning, became a frenzy of Twitter activity as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks did the unthinkable in the salary cap era; they made trades at mid-season. The New York Rangers have now taken the plunge too, making a Monday night deal with Calgary.

Brian Burke was in need of some positive news, as fans lamented the loss of a potential lottery pick to the Boston Bruins in the Phil Kessel trade. By acquiring a two-time all-star in Dion Phaneuf, the heat is temporarily off Burke and the Leafs management team. Luckily for Burke, he found another GM as desperate as himself, in need of changing the atmosphere in the dressing room. While the Leafs are near the bottom of the standings, a surprise to some observers but not all; the Calgary Flames were to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this year and their nine game losing streak was the final straw, forcing Darryl Sutter to make his move.

The Maple Leafs are a work in progress but they certainly look better today then they did on Saturday evening, blowing a 3-0 lead, eventually falling to the Vancouver Canucks 5-3. With the addition of Phaneuf, the Leafs now have a defenceman for the power play with a howitzer slap shot. Taking passes from Kaberle or Beauchemin, the hard shot from the point will force defending teams to pay closer attention to the D-men, leaving a forward unchecked near the slot area.

While there are questions about Phaneuf’s play as of late, and why Sutter was willing to part with the 24 year old, the answer is quite simple. In need of a change and a shake-up in the dressing room, Phaneuf is their most valuable commodity. With the emergence of Mark Giordano and the steady play of Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr, Phaneuf found himself as the fourth defenceman on the team; at a price tag of $6.5 million per year, he became expendable. For Calgary, it is a more prudent move to bring in a player like Ian White. One of the hardest working and dedicated Leafs, White is a restricted free agent at season’s end and Calgary could lock him up for three or four years at $2.5-$3 million per year. Savings that can be used to re-sign pending free agent Rene Bourque (if that is the direction Sutter is leaning), or re-signing the newly acquired Matt Stajan.

Regarding the Toronto - Anaheim deal, there are several factors at work here, and no, it has nothing to do with Ducks GM Bob Murray doing his old boss a favour. In J.S. Giguere and Jason Blake, both teams were dealing with what could be described as “unmovable” contracts. Giguere is set to make $7 million next season, with a cap hit of $6 million... Blake is set to make $3 million next year with a cap hit of $4 million. Ducks television analyst, Bryan Hayward, mentioned on the Fan 590 in Toronto that Anaheim has an internal cap on their spending. Trading Giguere will actually save the team $4 million dollars, leaving cap space to re-sign Bobby Ryan, a pending restricted free agent that is third in team scoring with 41 points.

In Toronto, there is little doubt that The Monster, Johan Gustavsson, will be the number one goalie in the future. Bringing in Giguere, demonstrates living proof for the Swedish goaltender every day, exactly what goaltending coach Francois Allaire is preaching. I do not have access to the Maple Leaf dressing room, but it is not a secret here in Toronto that recently departed goalie, Vesa Toskala, did not even speak with Allaire, let alone learn anything from him (that explains a lot doesn’t it folks?). Giguere could return to form working with Allaire (Hayward commented that a “fresh start” would do the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner a “world of good“). We could see Giguere carrying the bulk of the workload this season and perhaps next as well. All the while, Allaire and Gustavsson can work on the technical aspects of life in the NHL. When Giguere’s contract is up at the end of next season, The Monster can emerge as the number one.

With strength in goal and a defence that includes Kaberle (keep him, don’t trade him!), Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Schenn and perhaps newly acquired Keith Aulie or Carl Gunnarsson as the 5th and sixth D-men, Burke can concentrate on adding the missing elements at the forward position. Schenn could be the next Phaneuf, traded away to add some scoring help - just a thought. There is no doubt Phil Kessel is a top-six forward, now he just needs someone to keep up with him.

Next season, Toronto and Burke are hoping to win on the strength of their defence and goaltending (which was supposed to be the plan this year). Look for some trap style play next year; while boring, it could result in more victories. The following season, with added offensive threats, the Maple Leafs could very well be back in the contention for a playoff position.


Photo by FrenchKheldar on Flickr

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