January 31, 2010
On the seventh day, Brian Burke did not rest.
OK, that may only serve to feed the god complex, but credit where it's due: The Toronto Maple Leafs' trades for Dion Phaneuf(notes) of the Calgary Flames and Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) are exactly the audacious, risk-taking moves that seem synonymous with the Burke brand. It's Burke, even more red-faced than usual, pounding the reset button as his team dropped to last in the conference. They make the Phil Kessel(notes) trade seem like a swap of fourth-round picks during the second day of the draft.
After giving these trades some time to settle, thoughts on the principles and the moving parts ... before we get to some clear winners and losers.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Phaneuf trade): Obviously, there are two very different ways to read these deals from a Toronto perspective -- who's coming to the Centre of the Hockey Universe, and who is leaving.
The Phaneuf trade -- forwards Matt Stajan(notes), Niklas Hagman(notes), Jamal Mayers(notes) and defenseman Ian White(notes) to Calgary for Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom(notes), and minor league defenseman Keith Aulie(notes) -- is drawing comparisons to the Doug Gilmour trade, which is a little understandable yet a little odd.
Odd in the sense that Gilmour was 28 and much more of a sure-thing than Phaneuf at the time of the trade; plus, he was a No. 1 center, instead of yet another high-salaried blue-liner, as Spector reports the Leafs "now have over $22 million tied up in Phaneuf, Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Finger for next season." Plus a nice prospect in Keith Aulie ... another defenseman.
Yet the Gilmour nostalgia is also understandable in the sense that the 1992 trade of Gary Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Jeff Reese, Michel Petit and Craig Berube represents the same level of roster reshaping as Burke's attempted here, which should be applauded.
Stajan's been to the playoffs once. Hagman, Mayers, White ... their efforts on some bad teams should be commended, but what are we really looking at here? Spare parts on a good team, expendable roster players on a bad one; and, in three cases, expiring contracts that have been flipped for a former all-star on the blue line.
Dion Phaneuf: Gets change of scenery, puts on big-boy pants and earns the opportunity to prove he has de-evolved into an enigmatic hunk of raw talent whose presence his now-former team felt hurt more than helped.
"[Phaneuf] is an elite player. I know him personally. I'm not worried about that at all," Burke says. "He puts a big weapon on the blueline and makes us a lot more difficult to play against."
The Brian Burke Seal of Approval aside, Phaneuf is a player who needs to find his game, and now needs to find it in the ultimate hockey media pressure-cooker. But for every Calgary fan that's happy to see the big lug move on, there are probably three chewing their finger nails about him reclaiming the mantle of elite status with a Leaf on the front of his sweater.
Calgary Flames: In the short term, they add some offense to a roster that desperately needs it; at the very least, there are now a couple of new options for Brent Sutter to shuffle on and off Jarome Iginla's(notes) line.
The addition of Ian White shouldn't be ignored; if it weren't for the stargazing inherent in the acquisition of Phaneuf, the loss of White might be downright depressing. A 25-year-old gamer whose offense is improving, he's a heart-and-soul crap-disturber with locker-room character that goes beyond the 'Stache. Assuming he's re-signed.
In the long-term, they clear Phaneuf's lengthy deal off the cap and can jettison Stajan and Mayers as UFAs in the offseason. So cue the "hey, they're making a run at Kovalchuk this summer!" emails that, amazingly, have already started pouring into our inbox -- even though the savings aren't exactly at that level.
Should Dion Phaneuf become the defender many envisioned when he burst onto the scene as a rookie, the Maple Leafs have added a future cornerstone to their roster. The Flames, on the other hand, have Jay Bouwmeester(notes) signed long-term and is a more proven hard minutes option besides. They also have a bunch of quality defensive prospects waiting in the wings, to say nothing of the emergent Mark Giordano(notes) and, now, Ian White. In short, this probably doesn't do the organization much damage, even if Phaneuf does fulfill his promise. On the other hand if he has truly plateaued and is more Jovo than Pronger, then the Flames have moved a millstone of a contract for a decent value return. The downside from Sutter's perspective is limited.
And, as the blog noted, kudos to Sutter for placing his how-do-you-do on the chopping block by trading a player with Norris potential to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
J.S. Giguere: As we said yesterday, Giguere's reunion with goaltending coach Francois Allaire makes this trade a better-than-decent gamble for the Leafs and a solid spot for Giggy. He hasn't been the same player for the last two years in Anaheim, but would be an obvious upgrade for the Leafs if he regained even half his championship form.
Giguere is a classy guy who has had to deal with a lot of difficulties off the ice, including a congenital condition that left his oldest son blind in one eye and the death of his father last season.
Giguere might have lost his touch in net but he never lost his dignity, and his playoff exploits in 2003 and 2007 earned him a huge place in the Ducks' history.
We said there were two major obstacles in trading Giggy: His no-trade clause, which he waived for the Burke/Allaire reunion; and his $7 million base salary in 2010-11, which is money the Leafs executives could probably find between the couch cushions.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Giguere trade): Vesa Toskala(notes) and Jason Blake(notes) are off the Leafs roster, and they've received an NHL roster player who isn't in a wheelchair in exchange for them. Next!
Oh, you wanted more than that? Down Goes Brown, hardly an easy Leafs mark, lauds the deal:
Great deal. Fantastic deal. A perfect deal. Forget about whether this trade works for the Ducks or not. From the Leafs perspective, it's a masterpiece.
The Leafs improved their weakest position and their cap situation in one deal. Yes, they take on an extra $2M next year. But this team won't be good enough to compete until at least 2011-12, and having a 39-year-old Jason Blake and his $4M off the cap that year is a huge win.
What's the absolute worst-case scenario here? If Giguere is every bit as bad as Toskala, the Leafs are stuck with him for one full year. If he's borderline average, the Leafs will have a cup-winning goalie to dangle at next year's deadline.
Agree with everything here save for the "next year's deadline" part; it's not as if Giguere's going anywhere next season besides the Leafs' bench is yet another student goalie outplays the teacher.
Anaheim Ducks: Toskala spot-starts for Hiller, and then either takes an epic pay cut or shuffles off into the UFA pool. Blake's $4 million cap hit lingers on the cap through 2012, although his base salary actually dips under that to $3 million over the next two seasons. In other words, they'd be paying $1 million less for two seasons of Jason Blake than one season of Giguere.
Blake is 36, and the best his new GM could muster up is "Jason brings veteran leadership and offense to our club." He immediately helps on the left side for the Ducks ... if he can find an offensive game that's slightly better than his January output. Which is to say an offensive game that can produce two goals.
At the very least, the Ducks can buy him out, because it's a minor miracle the Leafs hadn't yet.
Brian Burke: The Environmental Protection Agency should have started its investigation of Burke by the time you read this, because there has to be something criminal about his massive dumping of toxic assets on Sunday morning.
The only valid concern here is that Burke has overspent on his blueline while Phil Kessel skates without another offensive player at his level. Burke was able to get away with this sort of roster in Anaheim, because Ryan Getzlaf(notes), Corey Perry(notes) and Chris Kunitz(notes) all made under $1 million and Dustin Penner(notes) made a pre-offer-sheet salary as well. The Leafs would have had a young player on that level making peanuts next season ... but now the Bruins will.
OK, one more snark: If you were the GM of the Leafs, would you have added Komisarek for $4.5 million per season through 2014 last summer if you knew Phaneuf would be there at $6.5 million annually for the same term? Of course not, especially with the current state of Toronto's offense. Ah, sweet blissful hindsight!
J.S. Giguere: Gets the opportunity to resurrect his career with his old goalie coach and general manager, and doesn't have to even have to carry the majority of the starts to do so.
Bob Murray: Return on the deal be damned, he cleared a backup goalie making $7 million next season that had a no-trade clause, one day after signing his starting goalie to a long-term deal. Granted, Burke gave him the opening; but completing this deal for two NHL roster players is a win.
Niklas Hagman: Along with Ian White (an RFA), he'll be a Flame beyond this season. He's going to be an essential secondary scorer for the Flames, and any contribution to that end is going to be appreciated. He's a good fit for that system, too.
Robyn Regehr(notes): Conventional wisdom was that one of the Flames' high-salary defensemen were being shipped out. It wasn't going to be Jay Bouwmeester. It might have been Regehr had it not been for the Phaneuf trade. So Robin remains, and he and the Flames are probably better for it.
(UPDATE: A commenter makes the point that Stajan could gobble up points with Iginla. Perhaps, but we'd like to see that in practice before believing it.)
Darryl Sutter: For the moment, at least. Ryan Kennedy explains the stakes:
Calgary gave up the best player in this deal, not to mention a prospect in Aulie who was very strong at the world juniors last year, but change had to come and in trading Phaneuf, Sutter has thrown down the gauntlet to this team: It's time to perform up to expectations, because no one is untouchable.
Whether the rest of the team wakes out of its slumber now is up to them.
It's a loss for Sutter because he presided over a roster that reached this level of ineffectiveness; one that needed the trade of Dion Phaneuf to the Maple Leafs to reinvigorate its playoff chances. That's an enormous fall from grace; but with some salary cleared and without Phaneuf's contract through 2014, Sutter now has a second chance to build a champion.
Dion Phaneuf: Face it -- he played himself out of Calgary, because he didn't want this to happen. Burke can throw around the word "elite" all he wants, but Phaneuf was exchanged for (a) cap space and (b) second-line players (on any other team). This isn't meant to disparage White or Hagman, who are both solid. But the Ducks got more for Pronger, and he's not exactly 24 anymore.
John Ferguson, Jr.: After they were traded for a $7 million backup goalie, we're guessing Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala didn't work out the way the ex-Leafs GM intended they would.
So that's that. Let the real Battle of Ontario begin, Ms. Underwood and Ms. Cuthbert ...