In light of Sunday’s bombastic pair of trades between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames/Anaheim Ducks (and a decidedly light week on other ‘big issue’ NHL news), it struck me as necessary to dissect the re-landscaping nature of the deals pulled by Burkie and Co.
The facts: on Sunday morning, Brian Burke announced two trades: one shipping Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White to Calgary in exchange for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie; the other flipping Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to Anaheim for Jean-Sebastian Giguere.
My initial thoughts ran the gamut from excitement to bewilderment to, most of all, shock. Once you break the deals down, though, it becomes clear that these are two trades which are designed to bring in some high-impact players at the expense of murky depth on the roster, as much to shake things up as it is to bring in quality talent.
And things, they certainly shook up.
The Flamin’ Dame in Red
For Calgary, they get rid of their quizzically-under-performing prized D talent Phaneuf and some secondary scoring in exchange for a host of second-tier players. Initially, it seems a bit of a weird trade — not really a steal, not really a fleecing, just…weird — but trading away someone they previously valued as much as Phaneuf will certainly shake the dressing room down a bit and get the quizzically-under-performing team back on track. Stajan and Hagman are also two pretty good NHLers, so they get a decent return, but to me this smacks more of clearing out some deadwood and sparking the team a bit more — something the Flames need desperately (and, coincidentally enough, Burke’s reason for trading as well)
For Anaheim, they get rid of Giguere the day after Hiller signed himself into bona-fide-#1 status and bring in a perplexing scorer in Blake along with a moody backup in Toskala. The only real plus to them is that they needed to dump Gigeure for both contract length + cost reasons, and Toskala may be able to resuscitate his career playing behind a significantly improved team — in what few games he gets. Blake can have his good nights in his own right, but this deal from Anaheim’s perspective is just another bit of housework done
The Eye of the Storm
Toronto, meanwhile, completely shakes up a slowly-mutinying dressing room and brings in some top-notch talent — at the cost of offense and depth. Blake, Hagman and Stajan were, for better or for worse, three of the better offensive players in Toronto, and replacing them with only Sjostrom isn’t exactly tit-for-tat. Giguere’s presence in net — reunited with Burke, goalie coach Allaire and Beauchamin — gives Gustavsson a bit more time to develop and add in some consistency to his game. And the entire team is likely split between being terrified or elated that they could be traded out of town at any moment.
At this point, I have to give props to Burke — he may be doing a hackneyed job of rebuilding a team, stocking the team with a quality core of talented players in his time with the Leafs (Kessel, Komisarek, Giguere, Phaneuf, Beauchamin leading the way) while simultaneously lacking any degree of patience to fill out the rest of the squad by trading away draft picks (and yes, I’m aware the picks were a must to get a hand on Kessel), but if the man’s going down with the ship, he’s going down swinging and without hesitation. Throughout his career he’s made a habit of blockbuster deals, and this only adds to his personal legend of someone who’ll do whatever it takes. If the Leafs had been struggling for a few years before and managed to stockpile prospects both good and average, I’d feel a lot better with this strategy. But as much as I want to give Burke a round of applause for going out guns-a-blazing, there comes a time — and today’s trades weren’t necessarily it — when it’s time to stay pat and let time work its magic.
In short, all three teams may benefit in their own way, or they may be left exactly where they were before (at least in the case of the Flames & Ducks). The Flames and Leafs shook their rosters up, something that was desperately needed, and the Ducks dumped an unhappy memento of glory years past. The Flames gained a bit of depth, as it were, so even if they tank the losses weren’t significant. The Leafs, meanwhile…adding Giguere and Phaneuf should help the defense immediately — a must when Burke traded away a solid percentage of the team’s goals — in theory, but that was the thinking for Komisarek and Beauchamin. The trade may work out, and the team may actually play together as a team (something the Leafs have rarely done for the last decade), but the stakes are far and away much higher in Toronto with these deals. Live by the sword, die by the sword.