Division Rival Makes Some Moves

First, there was the Mike Komisarek free agent signing, then there was the Phaneuf trade. Now the Maple Leafs are a Sean Avery trade away from owning a monopoly on hockey players who have had relationships with Elisha Cuthbert. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been surprising for the Leafs GM to shake up his roster and the rest of the NHL by consummating two separate trades today. If you have not heard, Brian Burke dealt Ian White, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom respectively. And an hour or so after that deal had been consummated, Burke had shipped Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to the Anaheim Ducks for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

For those of you keeping track at home, that’s a combined 57 goals that Brian Burke moved to strengthen his team’s blueline and goaltending situations. By parlaying a slew of inexpensive depth for Phaneuf, Burke conceded that he’s willing to sacrifice immediate cap space (Stajan and Mayers are impending UFAs, White is a RFA) to invest in Dion.

Personally, I love this deal for Calgary. Darrly Sutter had to shake things up and could no longer afford to pay Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf top dollar to underachieve. (Ed. note: He also could have fired the goaltending coach. Apparently it works wonders.) Between Dion’s reported arguments with the Sutters and the fact that Bouwmeester signed this past summer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dion’s the odd one out.

Despite the fact that White, Stajan and Mayers are all on the final years of their respective contracts, their acquisitions will give the Flames some short-term offensive production while offering some salary flexibility that otherwise wouldn’t have been available had Sutter held onto Phaneuf. And it can’t be said enough that although Ian White is not a sexy name player who can replace Phaneuf’s physicality, his offensive numbers this season — 9 goals, 17 assists — are understated.

To Burke’s credit, he somehow managed to find a way to rid his organization of Jason Blake’s albatross of a contract. And all it cost his team was an additional $2M in offset between Blake’s and Giguere’s respective cap hits next season to do it. It was a deft move that has immediate dividends for both teams.

Could Brian Burke have dealt the aforementioned assets for more than he received in return? Maybe. Could he have moved those same players for any prospect who would have a higher ceiling than Dion Phaneuf. Probably not.

The risk that the Leafs may have overpaid to bring in a defenceman who draws comparisons to Ed Jovanovski or a more physical version of Bryan McCabe, is very real. If he can’t develop into that elite defenceman, Burke may have potentially hamstrung the budget for the next four years by adding Phaneuf’s $6.5M salary. And there are also concerns like the one that Mike Brophy brought up by asserting that there’s an inherent risk in building a team around notoriously flaky players like Phil Kessel and Phaneuf.

The list of questions surrounding Phaneuf will continue to grow for the next few days: Will he be able to play under the intense scrutiny that comes with playing in Toronto? Will he get paired with Komisarek on the Sloppy Seconds pairing? Can he overcome his defensive liabilities and develop into that Scott Stevens’esque kind of presence on the blueline? Or will he wilt under the pressure become a footnote in the list of players who used to induce Pierre McGuire stiffies?

As a Senators fan, today’s moves are bittersweet. On one hand, it’s funny because the Leafs no longer have any scoring depth. The question of who is Kessel going to play with before they made these moves? has now been replaced by who is left for Kessel to play with? Without their first round pick, Sens fans can joke that the Leafs don’t even know how to tank properly. Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Boston Bruins management staff likely haven’t stopped doing cartwheels since the announcement of the deals was made. Their path to landing Taylor Hall likely just got a little bit easier. As a divisional rival, it’s tough to stomach seeing Boston receive a top three pick in reward for mishandling their cap situation.

In the end, Calgary’s decision to move Phaneuf and his large contract is a lot like Australian sprinter, Jana Rawlinson’s decision to remove her breast implants. Sometimes it’s not about having some sexy top heavy pieces like Phaneuf. Sometimes it’s more important to have a well balanced whole to reach peak athletic performance. As a Sens fan who has endured life after Heatley, I can attest to this.

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