Burke Gets His Guys
The first big moves of the trading season have been made and is it really any surprise that Toronto GM Brian Burke was at the forefront? Burke, perhaps feeling additional pressure to improve the Leafs’ position in the standings because of the inclusion of this year’s 1st round pick that they so generously bequeathed upon Boston for the rights to Phil Kessel, made two huge trades to improve his team. Whether those deals will be enough to propel the struggling Leafs far enough up the standings to prevent the Bruins from cashing in on one of the top prospects in the 2010 entry draft remains to be seen.
The first deal, truly a blockbuster of epic proportions, is already being compared to the huge Doug Gilmour heist perpetrated by the Leafs on the Flames some 18 years ago. Toronto acquired big name defenseman Dion Phaneuf along with underrated checking forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defensive prospect Keith Aulie. In exchange, the Leafs sent the Flames a good chunk of their offense in Niklas Hagman (20 goals in 53 games) and Matt Stajan (41 points). Also headed to Calgary is defenseman Ian White, who is having a career year with 9 goals and 26 points, and gritty forward Jamal Mayers.
Phaneuf is the prototype Burke player. He is aggressive and nasty. By nasty I mean he is physical while bordering (at times) on cheap. Phaneuf is also a very skilled offensively and has recorded full season goal totals of 20, 17, 17, and 11 in his first 4 NHL seasons. Phaneuf adds to the stable of physical defensemen imported by Burke; a list which also includes Mike Komisarek, Francois Beuchemin and Garnet Exelby.
The Leafs also add an underrated Fredrik Sjostrom to the mix up front. Drafted 11th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes, Sjostrom was the first draft pick under the Wayne Gretzky ownership. He has always been a great skater but never has exhibited the hands necessary to score consistently in the NHL. He has instead developed into a terrific penalty killer; a skill that the Leafs can use desperately as they have the worst PK unit in the league.
The Flames rid themselves of a high-priced contract, giving them some flexibility this summer when Stajan (UFA), Mayers (UFA) and White (RFA) all become free agents. Phaneuf has also seemed to have fallen out of favor with Flames management. Some felt that his game had regressed and there were rumblings that he was a locker room cancer.
Stajan and Hagman also will help to add some solid scoring depth up front for the Flames. Despite having the likes of Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla, plus a breakthrough campaign from Rene Bourque, scoring has been an issue for the Flames.
Ian White will also slot nicely into the Flames’ top 6 and should produce solid numbers. He obviously isn’t the caliber of Phaneuf but will be an adequate replacement for the minutes lost.
Ultimately, this trade hinges on who is right about Phaneuf. Were the Flames, who seemed to have soured on his game and maybe more importantly, his locker room presence, right to have moved him when they did? Did they get enough for him as they initially were expecting a top line Center for him? Will Toronto’s faith in Phaneuf be rewarded? The answers to those questions will determine which team wins this trade.
As far as Phaneuf’s price tag goes, we as Rangers fans have been speculating on what it would cost us to acquire the big defenseman for some time now. We theorized that Calgary would want one of Ryan Callahan or Brandon Dubinsky, plus either a prospect or high draft pick just to jumpstart the conversation. It seems that the return from the Leafs wasn’t as high as any of us expected.
Toronto has the chance of coming out the clear winner here; much like they did in the Gilmour transaction.ESPN’s Barry Melrose used to always say that the team that gets the best player in a trade usually wins. Things are a little different in the salary cap landscape of the NHL but the premise is still valid. If Phaneuf matures a little bit more and his offensive production returns to that of his rookie season, the Leafs will have one of the best blue liners in the business. In addition, they add a good PK guy with a low salary and an interesting defensive prospect in Auile. All at the expense of marginal assets to the long term plans of the Leafs. Burke seems to have done well cashing in those chips and taking this high reward, minimal risk gamble.
Of course after adding a potential, franchise defenseman, Burke still had some work to do and brought in the guy that backstopped his Ducks to the Stanley Cup championship a few years back. Jean-Sebastian Giguere had fallen behind Swiss net minder Jonas Hiller on the Ducks goalie depth chart. With a salary in excess of $6 million dollars and with the club just extending the contract of Hiller, Giguere was not long for Anaheim.
It took only a couple of days following the Hiller extension for Ducks GM Bob Murray to consummate this much anticipated swap with his former boss in Anaheim, Brian Burke. The Leafs goaltending has been an issue all season which led to rampant speculation that Giguere might reunite with his former GM in Toronto.
Well the deal is made and Giggy is on his way to Toronto where he will not only reunite with Burke but he gets to work with his old goaltending coach, Francois Allaire too. Giguere only has the rest of this season and next on his deal so it’s a calculated move on the part of Burke to solve the Leafs goaltending issues for the short-term and provide a solid partner/mentor for young Swede, Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson.
Anaheim meanwhile, takes back disappointing netminder Vesa Toskala (who will be a free agent this summer) and scrappy winger Jason Blake. Blake has been a bust in Toronto since signing there as an UFA following a 40 goal campaign with the Islanders. The move saves some money on next year’s cap which the Ducks will need for impending RFA Bobby Ryan.
If Blake can somehow recapture some of the goal scoring touch he seems to have misplaced somewhere on Long Island then this has the potential to be solid move for this year as well for the Ducks. If not then the Ducks dealt a goalie that had been displaced by a younger, better and cheaper option, for enough room under the cap to get another important building block, Bobby Ryan, under contract this off-season. This is another example of Murray doing a great job managing the salary cap during tough times.
Rangers and Flames agree to Jokinen Deal?
While this trade seems to have hit a snag, it was widely reported last night that the Rangers and Flames had agreed in principal to a deal that would have sent Jokinen to Manhattan along with rugged winger Barry Prust in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins.
I loved everything about this trade. Jokinen has a chance, with UFA status pending, to repair some of the damage done to his market value following a year-and-a-half of disappointing performances split between Phoenix and Calgary. He would immediately become the best Center in New York while making the Rangers a little more dynamic on offense.
The addition of Prust adds a gritty 4th line winger that is willing to stand up for his teammates and who works hard; something that the Rangers need more of from their lineup. With Jokinen heading off to UFA and the Rangers losing the long term commitment made to Kotalik, the Blue Shirts would gain $3 million in cap savings this summer. That is huge with stalwart defenseman Marc Staal headed toward RFA.
I’m not sure what the Flames are hoping for in this deal other than to get the stench of Jokinen’s colossal failure out of Calgary. I like Higgins and think his effort has been good but question what happened to the 25 goal guy that used to play in Montreal. He’s had some good chances, many of which he’s worked hard to get, but hasn’t been able to cash in.
Kotalik, as has been discussed on many Rangers’ forums, has been worthless since getting off to a good start while quarterbacking an effective power play earlier this season. His -16 +/- rating is one of the worst in the NHL. He has been a healthy scratch on an offensively deprived Rangers squad in 8 out of the last 9 games I believe. What the Sutters expect Kotalik to bring to the Calgary table is beyond me but I would be grateful if they took him off our hands.
Of course, as is the case with most good news around the Rangers lately, this may all be for naught. Whether the Sutters are just posturing in an attempt to extract more from Glen Sather (rumors have had the Flames asking for anyone from Marc Staal to Matt Gilroy and even Ryan Callahan) or Ales Kotalik actually having the audacity to exercise a NMC that supposedly blocks trades to 3 teams (the Flames being one of them of course), this trade is on hold as of now.
Personally, I was looking forward to seeing Jokinen in a Rangers’ sweater tomorrow night. Now, it doesn’t look like that will happen. Even if the teams were to reverse course and make that trade happen right now, it would be difficult to get Jokinen on a plane and in uniform for tomorrow’s game against the Kings. One can hope though; can’t they?