Sunday, January 31, 2010
Last night the Leafs lost after striking an early 3 goal lead against one of the best goalies in the league. My dad pondered aloud how they would blow this one. As the eternal optimist, I suggested Kessel had another 5 goals in him, so the night was over. Did I believe it? Well, certainly not the 5 goals and I was even skeptical about the win at that point. When Raycroft came in I outwardly proclaimed domination (inwardly, I was very scared for Razor’s wrath). The Leafs ended up losing 5-3 and I hardly cared, just another day in Leafs Nation. At this point I accepted the ex-Leafs pick will be in the top-5 and in all likelihood the Leafs will win the draft lottery when they no longer own the pick. I’ve soured on pretty much everyone on the team. I was apathetic. Then I woke up this morning to the sounds of trades. My dad was listening to the radio, I was scouring the internet for information, Rick called me jubilantly, and texts from friends flew rapidly. Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.
I was excited for the trade deadline when I assumed the Leafs would receive a bag full of second round picks for their “assets”. Thankfully, Brian Burke aims a little higher than that. Pulling off the first trade is very impressive, especially in a cap world. The Calgary Flames trade Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom (pronounced shoe-strom), and prospect Keith Aulie to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers. Wow.
First, anytime when you can add a player of Dion’s calibre you have to like the trade. Dion has fallen a little bit over the past two years (47 points and -11 in 2008-2009 and 22 points and +3 so far this year) after an absolutely monstrous 2007-2008 (17 goals, 60 points, +12). The addition of Jay Bouwmeester, combined with Phaneuf and Calgary’s recent woes has made him expendable. However, this is a 24-year-old who has the potential to be a legitimate Norris Trophey candidate in his career (especially now that the Lidstrom monopoly is about to end). He throws devastating open ice hits (although they sometimes leave him out of position) and he has a cannon of a shot. He adds a much-needed dimension to the Leafs powerplay that is very Kessel-centric at this point. Teams now need to respect Phaneuf’s shot on the powerplay, which will open plays for Kessel down low and off the boards. He can also kill penalties. I really like this addition by the Leafs. If Phaneuf can bounce back and play at the high level that he is capable of then the Leafs have done extremely well today. The only downside to this trade is that if the Leafs pair Pheneuf and Schenn then I don’t think Pierre McGuire will be able to handle himself. He might start masturbating on air.
Keith Aulie, the prospect in the deal, is more than just a throw in. According to Hockey’s Future, he’s Calgary’s 3rd ranked prospect (behind Mikael Backlund and Greg Nemisz) and was a fourth round selection in 2007. Canada also selected him for their 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship team and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe he was a part of the team’s shutdown unit. He’s a big boy, standing at 6’6 and 208 lbs (obviously needs to add some weight to that frame) and is currently playing in the AHL. In Burke’s press conference he said that Aulie will be sent to the Marlies so he can log big minutes. I think Aulie is a great part of the deal.
The other player is Fredrik Sjostrom and seems like a throw-in. Burke says they wanted him and he can really help their penalty kill. Sure, why not. When your penalty kill operates at less than 70% efficiency then pretty much anyone can help it.
I guess the Leafs also get Elisha Cuthburt thrown into the deal.
What I really like about this deal is that the Leafs didn’t have to sacrifice much for the players they received. Although, in reality, I would willingly trade almost anyone on the roster not named Kessel, Schenn, Bozak, Stalberg, Monster, or Kadri. Stajan, a UFA at season’s end, was definitely going to be traded and I thought his return would be a 2nd round pick. Mayers didn’t actually want to play here anymore and his return would have been a very low round pick or a bag of old pucks (maybe some new). These players were already off the roster in my mind. The two more significant pieces of the deal, White and Hagman, were players I thought would be around for a little longer. I'm sad White is going because he's been my favourite Leaf this year. He has been the Leafs most consistent player this year, but was going to be a RFA at season’s end and maybe Burke found out his price was too rich for the Leafs. Hagman's deal is for two more years at a modest $3 million and looks like a consistent 20-30 goal scorer that works hard and has some moves. But really, this Leafs team is so bad that almost the entire forward group is replaceable with Marlies. It can't be much worse. They’re in 29th for a reason, it’s not like the departure of these four players will torpedo the season.
Although what the Leafs sacrificed wasn’t very much, what the Flames gain is actually quite significant (if that makes sense). There is something seriously wrong in Calgary and they desperately needed to make a deal. The main problem with Calgary is a lack of depth surrounding Jarome Iginla. On too many nights the burden to create offense falls on Iginla (similar to Kessel in Toronto). Jokinen was supposed to alleviate this pressure, but he looks absolutely lost in Calgary.
Stajan has shown an ability to play well anywhere from the first line to the third. He probably settles in nicely as Calgary’s third line centre, behind Jokinen and Langkow, a position he is better suited to. Stajan works hard and has shown some grit that will go over well in Calgary.
Mayers did nothing in Toronto, but could become a useful fourth line player in Calgary.
Trading Phaneuf leaves an obvious hole on the Calgary blueline, but signing Bouwmeester in the offseason and having Robyn Regehr make it acceptable. Adding White to this group that also include Corey Sarich and Mark Giordano is a good fit. White won’t be forced to play the excessive minutes he was in Toronto and can be an adequate replacement for Phaneuf on the powerplay.
Hagman was probably the key to this deal being done. He will be an excellent compliment on Calgary’s second line and gives their offense more balance. I originally thought his 27 goals in Dallas were an aberration, but watching him play in Toronto makes it clear that he has the skills and the work ethic to consistently score around 25 goals in the NHL.
It’s never fair to judge a trade upon its inception, but at this time it looks like it could work well for both teams. Calgary gets the depth it sincerely needs (plus some long-term cap relief) and Toronto adds a potential star player that is still very young (along with a decent prospect). I think this trade makes Calgary a for sure playoff team and the Leafs make a major shakeup which was long overdue.
As if this blockbuster wasn’t enough, Burke goes out and makes another deal. I suggested the Leafs should take a look at J.S. Giguere and I guess Burke is an avid reader. The Leafs trade Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks for J.S. Giguere. While the Calgary-Toronto trade was a pure hockey trade, this trade was strictly money related, with a little hockey element.
The Ducks get out from Giguere’s $6 million salary, which is enormous for someone who they don't play, and can now re-sign Bobby Ryan. They save about $2 million in cap space next season (about $4 million in real payroll). I was following this trade on twitter and at first it looked like the Ducks were adding a first round pick to the deal. I was ready to run around the neighbourhood like a lunatic. Too good to be true. Thankfully, the Leafs still unload Jason Blake, who has 2 more years left at $4 million while ridding Vesa Toskala who has become a shell of a goalie. That was just the price of business for the Ducks who will play Jonas Hiller the majority of the games. Toskala is a UFA at year’s end, so there is no burden to the Ducks. Maybe Blake can even re-find his scoring touch in a less intense market. He certainly works hard enough, but never recovered in Toronto after his first dismal season.
Adding Giguere to the Leafs isn’t as much of a salary move as it may seem. I think Giguere still has some good hockey left in him and with only one more season on his contract the deal isn’t too bad for the Leafs cap. He can serve as a mentor to the Monster, convince him to fully buy into former Duck goalie coach Francois Allaire’s goaltending system, and reduce the load of Gustavsson. I think this can be a good goaltending tandem. I’ve always been a Giggy fan ever since he stonewalled the opposition during the Mighty Ducks Cup finals run in 2003.
In terms of the salary cap, at the end of the day the Leafs shed close to $15 million and take on about $13.250. So they save a bit of money this year. Add a lot next year.
With the likes of Ponikarovski, Stempniak, Exelby, and Kaberle still on the Leafs roster it’s nice when I hear Brian Burke say, “we’re still open for business”.