Sunday, 31 January 2010

Trade Deadline Looms

There are a number of players who are getting fitted for new uniforms today. Seven players are changing addresses after the Maple Leafs, Flames, and Ducks got in on some pre-Olympics player swapping. With the moves made today by three teams, it appears that there are a number of trades looming on the horizon. While I'm not going to speculate on who is going where, I will give you a look at the trade that went down, along with some other potential player moves that several news sources have reported. Needless to say, the moves made today will have an impact on the three teams involved, and the moves could have a very significant impact on the future of these three teams.

IN: Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Fredrik Sjostrom, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
OUT: Ian White, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala.

Let's start with the changes in Toronto. The Leafs dealt away four of their top-twelve forwards in this deal. Now, there have been a lot of people complaining on various message boards and hockey sites about how much potential offence was given away, but if your team is in 29th-place overall, what offence did you have?

Jason Blake's point-per-game average in New York was 0.61.
Jason Blake's point-per-game average in Toronto was 0.65.

Toronto was paying a player $5 million to essentially put up 53 points per season based on his point-per-game average. Do you really think Jason Blake is worth $5 million per season?

Brian Burke has essentially shed himself of a pile of bad contracts, made his team younger, and reinforced the one major problem of his team: keeping the puck out of his net. Phaneuf and Giguere are obviously the highlights of this trade, but I really like the pick-up of Keith Aulie in the Phaneuf trade. Going forward in a couple of years, we could be talking about Phaneuf-Schenn-Gunnarson-Aulie as the top-four defencemen in Toronto, and that's a pretty good outlook. Combine that with some bad expiring contracts, and Toronto's future is brighter than what it was yesterday.

IN: Ian White, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan.
OUT: Keith Aulie, Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom.

I'm not sure if Calgary wants to make the playoffs this year. I find GM Darryl Sutter's moves odd and out-of-line with what playoff-bound teams do. While I don't argue that there was some sort of change needed in Calgary, blowing up your team before the Olympic break seems questionable.

Dion Phaneuf had regressed under Mike Keenan, and that was apparent. I'm not sure what happened to Dion Phaneuf, but he is on pace for his wost season yet statistically. This would be the second year he has seen a decline in points from the year before.

However, we're talking about a 24 year-old physical defenceman. The kid has all sorts of potential, but, to me, it appears he was stuck between a rock and a hard place in Calgary. He couldn't score enough to be a perennial all-star, but he couldn't throw enough monster hits to be a physical defenceman. It was like he never did enough despite all he tried to do. And when a player starts trying to do too much, his play suffers. Thus, it surprises me that Calgary gave up on a player who appears to have at least ten good years of hockey left in him.

The New Jersey Devils had a kid who scored a lot of points from the blueline. He was considered one of the premiere defencemen in all of hockey, and they paid a big price to get him. However, he was given a leadership role on the Devils, and was told to play physically and to not back down in his own zone. The result? Between 1994 and 2004, he never scored more than 31 points despite having broken the 70-point barrier twice earlier in his career. Who was this player?

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Stevens. Not surprisingly, the Devils' success came after Stevens was given a well-defined role. Perhaps Calgary simply needed to allow Phaneuf to find his niche?

The players that Calgary is receiving will not solve the scoring woes that they are experiencing. Matt Stajan appears to be penciled in to play alongside Jarome Iginla, but Stajan is far from a first-line centerman. Hagman could be a decent second-line winger, but it appears he may suit up alongside Stajan and Iginla in the hopes of igniting Iginla's scoring. Mayers will most likely see fourth-line action, but his career is on the decline.

The one player that Calgary might be happy with is Ian White. White can play forward and has shown that he is a very capable defenceman. However, with players like Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester, the Flames already have a plethora of offensive defencemen. While I have no doubt that White will find a role with the Flames, it might be a more defensive role than what he's been used to playing.

IN: Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala.
OUT: Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

This deal was simply one team trading a problem for another team's problem. However, it appears that both deals may work out for all parties involved.

With the Ducks signing goaltender Jonas Hiller to a four-year contract extension earlier, the writing on the wall was visible in terms of the Ducks dealing Giguere. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner hadn't been playing anywhere near his potential, and the money the Ducks were paying him could be better used elsewhere.

Enter Toronto who had a minor goalie controversy as well. With Jonas Gustavsson emerging as Ron Wilson's guy between the pipes, the higher-paid Vesa Toskala wasn't doing anyone any favors by sitting on the bench.

While it would be impossible for both teams to take on a large salary, we're beginning to see how problem contracts can solve themselves. In the exchange, the Maple Leafs get Giguere's heavy salary, but counteract that by dealing Blake's fat contract along with Toskala's mid-range deal.

With the Ducks having Toskala on the bench, they have an NHL-ready back-up goalie in case Hiller falters. While there is no discernible difference in Giguere's stats and Toskala's stats, the price tag makes a huge difference.

With Jason Blake as the counter-balance in the salary swap, the Ducks get faster down the wing while adding a former 40-goal scorer. Adding a player of Blake's experience and calibre never hurts when trying to make the playoffs.

So what do I make of this?

Toronto got better in the long-term. There's no denying that adding the youth in Phaneuf and Aulie will make their blueline better for the future.

Anaheim got better in the short-term. Hiller is a superior goaltender to both Giguere and Toskala, so his extension was paramount. Getting a veteran like Jason Blake for a run at the playoffs is a pretty good bonus for the Ducks.

Calgary, in my mind, took a step back. No longer do they have that intimidating presence on their blueline that can change a game with one monsterous hit. They dealt a defenceman who looked like he might be a solid prospect despite being a couple years away from the NHL. And they acquired a number of players who have never come close to scratching the surface of their potentials.

If the rumours are true, it appears Calgary is sending Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. While I appreciate the Flames getting grittier, this is doing nothing to help their scoring woes.

Time will tell if Calgary made the right moves for this season. Anaheim's moves are more of an intermediate-term case where Toskala will be gone after this season, allowing the Ducks to use that cash to improve their team of they don't make the playoffs. The Leafs are the long-term planners who are investing heavily in their future.

For all three teams, time is of the essence.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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