Burke gets busy as Olympic trade freeze looms
Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
What began as a Sunday no different from any other in the world of hockey quickly turned into a busy day of wheeling and dealing in the NHL.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames were in the middle of the action, and the two teams collaborated on a seven-player deal that sent talented defenseman Dion Phaneuf from Alberta to Ontario.
The Leafs and general manager Brian Burke did not stop there, however, as Toronto also landed goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a deal with Anaheim. Toronto sent goaltender Vesa Toskala and forward Jason Blake to the Ducks and received the former Conn Smythe winner in return.
The eventful day could be a sign of things to come in the next week or so before the NHL's Olympic trade freeze starts on February 12. Clubs will not be allowed to resume trading until March 1, leaving little time before the official trade deadline on Mar. 3.
With the irregularities inflicted upon the NHL season due to the Winter Games, the strategy for many teams could be to make trades in the week leading up to Feb. 12 in order to get acquisitions in place before the league breaks for the Olympics.
The Leafs landed the biggest prize on Sunday by getting the 24-year-old Phaneuf from Calgary along with forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defense prospect Keith Aulie. In return, Toronto sent the Flames forwards Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Matt Stajan, as well as defenseman Ian White.
Dion Phaneuf has been dogged by a lack of discipline on the defensive end.
By acquiring Phaneuf, Burke once again proved himself to be the most enigmatic GM in hockey, and the only one who can make a press conference the slightest bit interesting. He makes bold moves and is the rare general manger who does not seem horrified at the notion of making a mistake.
Phaneuf was in his fifth season with the Flames after the club had selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2003 draft. He combines size with offensive skills and a penchant for delivering the big hit, but has been dogged by a lack of discipline on the defensive end.
His NHL career began with tremendous promise when Phaneuf joined Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as finalists for the Calder Trophy in 2005-06, but the two- time All-Star hasn't progressed at the rate Calgary had expected. Then, when Flames GM Darryl Sutter opted to trade for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and sign him to a five-year, $33 million this summer, it appeared that Phaneuf's days in Calgary were numbered.
However, when he addressed the media on Sunday, Burke seemed pretty confident about the player he had received in Phaneuf.
"This guy is a warrior. He's got a cannon for a shot. He plays the game hard, that's the most important part of this not only is he a good but he plays the game hard. I want players that play the game hard, that are hard to play against."
He is trying to compete by acquiring players who he thinks compete the hardest. Not a terrible plan.
Burke also went on to call Phaneuf "a quality person" who he got to know well a few years back. The GM also linked him as a key building block alongside winger Phil Kessel, another young and promising player acquired in a trade by Burke. Kessel came at an even bigger price, as Toronto sent a first and second-round pick in this year's draft to Boston as well as a first-rounder next year.
With Phaneuf and Kessel, Burke has set Toronto up with the centerpieces on offense and defense, but the club is now left with little scoring on its roster. By sending four forwards to Calgary and Anaheim on Sunday, the Leafs dealt three of their six skaters with double digits in goals this season.
Burke's vision for Toronto is still very much a work in progress, but the Maple Leafs' brass appears to be giving him ample time to achieve the goal of turning Toronto into a contender once again. However, the club is tied for last in the Eastern Conference and after trading away a sizeable chunk of offense on Sunday, it appears that the Leafs are headed for a fifth straight year out of the playoffs.
It's clear the Leafs have long-term plans for Phaneuf, but Giguere, who became redundant in Anaheim with the emergence of Jonas Hiller in goal, may be another story. Giguere is clearly an upgrade over Toskala and rookie netminder Jonas Gustavsson, but with so many holes to fill on offense, Toronto could wind up trading Jiggy before his contract is up after the 2010-11 campaign.
The key in dealing with Burke is always what is offered in return. You get the feeling that when he sees a player in action for the first time he knows instantly whether or not he is a fit for his vision of a team.
What Burke has currently in Toronto is nothing more than a framework. We can be pretty sure that Kessel and Phaneuf are in the plans for the foreseeable future, but everybody else seems to be up for grabs.
It's difficult to see what Burke has in store for the Leafs down the road, but at least he'll make the rebuilding process in Toronto interesting to watch.