Sunday, January 31, 2010

Leafs Trades Analysis: Big moves, bigger risk

For Brian Burke, last night's collapse against the Vancouver Canucks after building a 3-0 lead in the first period and chasing all-world goalie Roberto Luongo from the nets, only to lose 5-3 was the final straw that forced his hand in two earth-shaking moves for Toronto.

After the loss dropped them to the Eastern Conference basement (Carolina ithout any draft picks to speak of, Burke was forced to part with roster players in two separate, multi-player deals with Calgary and Anaheim, bringing in Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Fredrik Sjostrom (as well as defense prospect Keith Aulie). However, the Leafs surrendered a significant portion of their offense in order to shore up their D and goaltending. Gone to Calgary are: Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and defenseman Ian White. To reunite with Burke's Stanley Cup-winning goalie from Anaheim days, Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala went out west.

Make no mistake- with the Leafs being in a free-fall, Burke had to do something. But, two big moves like these are a big risk.

In reading some of the initial feedback, I'm sensing that the general consensus is that the Leafs are worse today with a chance of being better in the long run. I am going to stay from the norm and say that in my view, these are bad trades for Toronto that is going to make a bad team worse; not just today but tomorrow as well.

Phaneuf is overpaid and overrated. Since taking the league by storm as a rookie, we've watched his overall game regress. He's a good, talented player who will definitely bring some snarl to Toronto, but he's not the kind of guy who will carry a team on his shoulders. On paper, Phaneuf seems like the right player to bring in, but given his struggles on a better team in Calgary, what makes anyone so sure he will suddenly reverse his fortunes on a team where the pressures to keep the puck out of the net will be bigger than before now that a big portion of their offensive firepower is gone.

Hagman had 20 goals in 55 games with Toronto at the time of the trade. Stajan was the second-leading team scorer after Tomas Kaberle with 16 goals and 41 points. Blake was clearly struggling with 10 goals and 26 points, but his speed and experience will be missed. White, who was second on the team for scoring among defensemen with 9 goals and 26 points was having an up-and-down season, but I had seen him come up with several clutch goals this year when his team really needed them. White will be missed as well. Between them, Toronto is giving up 55 goals and getting back 11 when you combine Phaneuf and Sjostrom's totals. Mayers only had two markers and needed a change of scenery. I remember him being a tough, character guy in St. Louis, but was clearly down on his luck in Toronto.

Toronto cut some contracts, yes. But they added two big ones in Phaneuf ($6.5M) and Giguere ($6M) for the 2010-11 season. That is going to make whatever moves Burke planned for the off-season a little trickier. Now, if you assume that Phaneuf and Giguere would be better than anyone Toronto could have landed in the offseason, then we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. However, recent trends of both players have not been favorable. Leafs fans will have to hope and pray that both suddenly reverse their relatively mediocre performances over the past few seasons. Giguere, who lost the starting job on the Ducks to Jonas Hiller, probably has a lot left in the tank, but he isn't going to have anywhere near the offensive firepower he had in front of him in Anaheim to bail him out.

While the trade brings in a couple of bigger names for Toronto than the ones who departed, one fact remains: this deal is no sure thing. Burke has dramatically altered team chemistry, and there's no telling how that will affect the Leafs' bottom line. The Leafs may turn things around, but the pressure on that defense to play mistake-free hockey is going to be bigger than ever before.

There are just too many ifs, here. Maybe this deal turns things around in Toronto, maybe not. Thus far, Burke's moves as Leafs' GM have not turned out well...we're taking a big leap of faith to assume that this one will work out the way he and Leafs fans hope.

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