Monday, February 1, 2010

Leafs deal for Giguere and Phaneuf




Yesterday will go down as Maple Leaf Day. With his club languishing in last off a brutal 4-3 home loss to the Canucks in which they blew a 3-0 lead, Brian Burke finally did something The savvy exec, whose penchant for making big moves never wavers, revamped in net and on the blueline acquiring Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Dion Phaneuf in separate deals.

Hints at the first trade came a day prior when the Ducks extended top goalie Jonas Hiller, setting the stage for Giguere's Anaheim career to come to an end. With Burke desperately in search for a netminder to stop the bleeding, he turned to old pal Giggy Jiggy (thanks @Erin Rose)who backstopped the Ducks to Lord Stanley in 2006-07.

Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake were sent packing for the 32 year-old former Conn Smythe winner who'll reunite with Burke in an attempt to turn both his career and the Leafs around. Giguere earns $6 million this year and gets $7 M next year. Can he regain his old form or will the Cup winner be in an identical situation with Jonas Gustavsson? Only time shall tell. Meanwhile, the Ducks acquire Toskala ($4 M) who comes off the books this summer, saving them space. However, Blake earns the same salary and has two more years left. He's 36 and had just 10 goals this season. Better hope he finds the Fountain Of Youth in Tinsel Town.

Who Wins? MAPLE LEAFS

They get a proven goalie capable of shouldering the load, which likely won't be necessary due to their Swedish Monster project. Burke sacrificed little and upgraded at an important position. The Ducks get a serviceable backup who's once again blocking former Leaf prospect Justin Pogge albeit temporarily. They free up space but take on Blake.

Burke's second move was even bigger going for the much maligned Phaneuf, who Calgary was basically whoreing. The seven-player trade between the Flames and Leafs stunned the hockey world. Phaneuf, Freddy Sjostrom and defense prospect Keith Aulie went to the Hockey Capital in exchange for a package that included Ian White, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers. It's amazing to think in the Cap Era that such a blockbuster deal involving big salaries could actually be consumated, speaking to the gambling nature of Burke, who added Phaneuf's hefty $6.5 million paytag to a crowded blueline that includes Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 M) along with overpaid duds Francois Beauchemin ($3.8 M) and Mike Komisarek ($4.5 M). With Jeff Finger ($3.5 M), Garnet Exelby ($1.39 M) plus kids Luke Schenn ($2.975 M) and Carl Gunnarsson (626 K). Mike Van Ryn ($2.9 M) anyone?!?!?!?!?! Figure Kaberle to be on the move if he agrees to waive his no-trade.

By unloading Stajan and Hagman, the Leafs boast little up front outside of top scorer Alexei Ponikarovsky and Phil Kessel with Lee Stempniak the third best option. With only 148 goals, Toronto was already a lowscoring team. Unless they see improvement from Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, John Mitchell and kid trio Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson, it could become uglier. What Burke's banking on is that Phaneuf rediscovers the talent that made him a Norris candidate while Giguere shores up the goaltending. The last thing the Leafs want is to finish last in the East with only Edmonton worse, meaning that No.1 pick they traded to Boston could actually turn into Taylor Hall. Considering that this is the same franchise that gave away Tuukka Rask to the B's for Andrew Raycroft, who got the ultimate revenge coming in relief of Roberto Luongo the other night, it would be EPIC FAIL.

There's no doubt Burke got the most talented player back in the enigmatic Phaneuf, who has regressed. Still just 24, he possesses a lot of physical tools including a booming shot along with utilizing his size for thunderous hits that can intimidate opponents. Basically, he's Komisarek with offense. A high risk player who often will go for the big hit, prone to getting caught out of position. There's also a reputation with a few dangerous blows coming under intense scrutiny. Think that's going to change in Toronto where everything's under the microscope? Opponents will be out for retribution making the former 2003 Calgary ninth overall pick a target.

If he wants to have a long career, it may be wise for Phaneuf to tone it down because that kind of rugged style tends to create wear and tear. With another four years to go, what kind of player will he be? Offense is also a concern with the Edmonton native's production way down. Sure. The 10 goals are fine but how can he only have 12 assists? You'd think playing under Junior coach Brent Sutter would've benefited him. Instead, the Sutters gave up on him with rumors that he was a locker room problem. No wonder local fans were split on acquiring the big guy. On one hand, you can argue that Burke didn't give up anyone with that kind of potential. Even if White's a year older and a solid player, he's not in Phaneuf's league.

Stajan and Hagman weren't part of the Leafs' future and are good fits for a Calgary club that lacks scoring depth. White is a decent return who is added to what should still be a good back end featuring Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and emerging Mark Giordano. Vet Cory Sarich, Adam Pardy and Aaron Johnson are also still around.

Who Wins? NO DECISION

It would be easy to say the Maple Leafs because they got the best player and also added Aulie, who's supposed to be decent. However, the deal hinges on Phaneuf. Can he regain the form that made him an All-Star or is he a headcase? While we won't know the end result on one side for a while, for the Flames it's all about now. They expected to compete in a crowded West for the Cup. Instead, they broke up part of their core to plug holes. A 6-1 blowout of hapless Alberta rival Edmonton doesn't mean they're back. They were reeling and needed a change. Will it work? Stajan is a nice player who can play first or second line. Does he get to play with Jarome Iginla? Daymond Langkow really should be anchoring another line. If Olli Jokinen is traded today, then they get even more depth in Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik. But why in the world would you take Kotalik? Makes little sense unless they're setting up for another big move. Kovalchuk??? They'll have a lot more space this summer.

If Calgary doesn't make the playoffs, they lose with probably just White (RFA) being re-signed. At least Toronto has Phaneuf for a while. The big question lingers.

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