Brian Burke today managed what nobody seemed to believe was possible in the salary cap era: he pulled off a pair of multi-player trades on the same team, drastically changing the image of his team and two others in the process. We’ll get to Toronto, but let’s take a quick look at the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames first.
In: Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala
Out: Jean-Sebastien Giguere
For the Ducks, the algebra here was pretty straight forward: they just re-signed Jonas Hiller to be their starting goaltender, and that meant they had $6.0 million invested in backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. They needed to move money around, and to do that they were willing to take on Vesa Toskala’s remaining dollars (he’ll be a free agent at year end) in order to get their hands on Jason Blake. Blake should be able to fill a top-six role; he’s a useful second line winger who does a lot of things well but is also prone to long scoring droughts.
This trade makes Anaheim better today, although they’d better hope Hiller stays healthy, as Toskala’s essentially a $4.0 million paperweight at this point. Giguere’s a tricky asset to figure value for, since there aren’t a ton of teams likely willing to take the risk on him, but it’s a little surprising the Ducks couldn’t squeeze a little more out of Toronto. Still, as I said they’re a better team right now because of the trade, so in that sense it’s probably a win for the club.
In: Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Mayers
Out: Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, Keith Aulie
Dion Phaneuf has been an overrated commodity for years, but faced some surprisingly bad press this season, despite the fact that he’s actually made some big strides. His offence has decreased from last season but offence was never the problem with Phaneuf. This season, Phaneuf’s been playing top-pairing minutes against the best opponents alongside Robyn Regehr and normally his loss would constitute a major short-term blow. In this case, however, the Flames are absurdly deep on the back end and between Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and incoming defenceman Ian White the Flames should be okay in the short-term. In the long term, this really becomes a question of whether Phaneuf will be a better defenceman than Bouwmeester, and Sutter might be okay here too. Phaneuf will have the edge in offence, but Bouwmeester should be the better two-way player.
Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman represent some fairly serious improvements to the Flames forward corps, and it’s an offensive transplant the team desperately needed. Stajan was the most effective scorer on the Leafs’ power play and should help the Flames in that department, while both he and Hagman should help the team score 5-on-5.
Jamal Mayers is basically deadweight and I have no idea what interest Sutter has in him; he’ll bring a physical game and that vaunted veteran leadership but other than that he’s of little interest.
Toronto Maple Leafs
In: Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Fredrik Sjostrom, Keith Aulie
Out: Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Vesa Toskala
The word ‘bold’ almost seems understated looking at Burke’s moves today, which completely changed the dynamic of both his blue line and goaltending while gutting the top half of his forward corps.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is an immediate upgrade in net and will easily be the best goaltender between the pipes since Ed Belfour held the goaltending job before the lockout. Giguere has struggled since the death of his father midway through last season, but he does possess the talent to bounce back and Toronto should be a good fit for him.
Dion Phaneuf is a top-pairing defenceman right now, and a move to the Eastern Conference should suit him just fine. His defence has improved this past year; he’s played top-pairing minutes and done a fairly good job of it, although his offence has suffered. Fans in Toronto will love him, while fans everywhere else will undoubtedly hate him. His offence will bounce back and his defence should remain at least passable.
Fredrik Sjostrom isn’t anything special but will more than replace Jamal Mayers, but that’s where the good news ends up front. The loss of players like Stajan, Blake and Hagman will have a negative effect on Toronto’s offence; they’re all more or less support players, but combined they represent roughly one-third of Toronto’s even-strength offence. The Leafs are ludicrously heavy on the back end, with nine NHL defenceman (seven of whom will earn $2.9 million-plus this season) at a combined cap hit of just under $31 million. Phil Kessel, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mikhail Grabovksi are now the only semi-legitimate offensive threats up front. The team desperately needs to shift some money from the back end to the forwards, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Burke isn’t finished.
Still, with that caveat, the Leafs are probably better today if only because they’ve stopped the gaping wound in net.