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Disappointing day in Leafland: Phaneuf the early prize, but unfortunately, no follow-up for the Leafs; Salary cap makes for quiet deadline day across the NHL

The Dion Phaneuf trade will resonate in Leafland for years to come. While it was not a “deadline special”, it was a brilliant stroke that should help energize the team’s fortunes for the next few years.

While we have all seen some holes in Phaneuf’s game since arriving in Toronto, he indisputably brings passion, energy and a physical presence to a team that had no identity whatsoever—and still doesn’t. Whether Phaneuf’s personality will be a comfortable fit in TO is difficult to gauge, but as I posted as soon as he arrived, I have no doubt he will be the next Leaf captain. He has the attributes Burke likes.

The deal Burke made was phenomenal. I just can’t conceive what motivated Calgary to make the move they did, giving up a potential All-Star, a useful winger (Sjostrom) and a still-growing defenseman (Aulie) with upside for a number of third and fourth-line players. What Calgary received is available on any time of the year. (Stajan’s new contract was stunning to me, but I likely missed something all the years I watched him in Toronto. He may indeed be a difference-maker out west. He should be, at 3.5 million a season on a long-term contract.)

I just think it was an awful trade for Calgary, who to me looks like an organization going quickly in the wrong direction.


Overall NHL trade observations

• The teams that did the most to get better yesterday, in my view, were Washington in the East and Phoenix in the West. Scott Walker gives Washington grit, which can only help come playoff time.

• The Phaneuf and Kovalchuk trades were the early highlights, but the deadline “day” itself was a letdown, at least for me. For those rooting for a particular team, one of the many smaller moves that were made may well make a difference for your club, but overall it was a dud for me.

• While there were many deals, it was a very boring deadline day for the most part. I was shocked to see Colorado give up on Wolski. I honestly thought he would be there for a long time. I know Mueller had not progressed in Phoenix but I was really surprised about Woski. I remember watching him in the OHL and he was such a gifted offensive player.

• I liked Buffalo picking up Raffi Torres, but it’s hard to know why big forwards like Torres get moved from club to club. You would think players like him—rugged wingers who can chip in offensively, would stay with a club for years.

• The Oilers faced problems a bit like the Leafs, but even worse. Old, expensive guys with bad contracts (good for the players, bad for the team). The Oilers couldn’t move anyone—Horcoff, Moreau, Souray—that in years gone by, pre-cap, would have netted at least a decent draft choice. The Oilers moved their most skilled defenseman, Grebeshkov, who isn’t even old, and Visnosvky, who was their best defenseman overall. I’m not sure how that will make them better.

• Is there any reason to believe that it will be anyone but Pittsburgh and Washington in the Eastern conference finals? Did anyone else really do enough to bolster their roster to make a run at either team? Philly lacks goaltending. Montreal lacks toughness. The Rangers have been better of late but always seem to lack certain ingredients in the Sather regime. I didn’t like the Kovalchuk deal for New Jersey. Boston will be interesting to watch, but can they score? I think it’s Pittsburgh and Washington.

• At 48, the amazing Chris Chelios is back in the NHL with Atlanta. That was way more interesting to me than 90% of the deals yesterday.

Leaf moves?

• I’m still concerned about the Leafs next season. Obtaining 6th-round draft choices is fine, but they just didn’t do anything to change the make-up of the roster yesterday. Addition by subtraction works to a point (Stempniak to Phoenix) but I somehow expected even more moves. That probably wasn’t fair or realistic on my part.

• This just proves that the Leafs have precious little that other teams want—perhaps that’s why they are in 28th place, or whatever. If ever there is a day that teams will over-pay for a player, it is trade deadline day. And the Leafs could not acquire any significant players or high draft picks. Not one.

• In fairness, I know nothing about the young forward (Caputi) or the young defensemen (Matt Jones and Chris Peluso) the Leafs acquired. I’ll gladly retract my claim down the road if proven wrong, but I’d be stunned if these were moves that make any real impact.

• The Leafs didn’t move Primeau, Exelby, Finger or Mitchell. They recently added Jamie Lundmark, who has moved a lot in his career.

It’s funny, so much of assessing the moves or lack thereof is how hopefully you choose to look at things. The optimist will say Giguerre should rebound to be a top number-one guy again, and Gustavsson will be the long-term heir-apparent.

The pessimist (realist?) will suggest Giguerre’s early success in blue and white was all adrenaline—and he is now settling into what he has been with Anaheim of late, an aging, inconsistent goalie. And Gustavsson, they would say, has a scrambling style and is unproven.
Hopefulness aside, the Leafs may have a reasonable back-end next season, assuming pairings as follows:

  • Phaneuf  - Gunnarsson
  • Kaberle  -  Komisarek
  • Beauchemin -  Schenn
 That could be OK, if they don’t move Kaberle.

But who will score? I ask the same question I’ve posed before: how many legitimate “top-six” forwards are there, or will there be, come October?

Next fall, the lines could be (at least two-thirds of the lines could be)
  • Kulemin  -  Kessel
  • Sjostrom - Bozak
  • Caputi  -  Hanson
  • Stalberg  -  Lundmark
Assuming no deletions, beyond this, we have Grabovski, Mitchell, Wallin and Kadri, all natural centers—and Colton Orr, among the forwards. (I’d be surprised if Kadri was a big-minutes guy with the Leafs next season. I have to believe he will need a season with the Marlies.) Of course, summer trades and the draft could change things, but the Leafs don’t have an impact player, at least someone who will play right away, coming their way in the draft in June.

 A central question: where are the big, tough wingers? Who will play right wing? How many of the above centers (strength down the middle still being so important) are proven and/or top-tier talents?

Maybe the moves made will provide cap relief, which in turn will allow the team to sign people this summer.

Thankfully, the Phaneuf deal gave Leaf fans hope for the future. But as of right now, it’s still a bleak-seeming future.

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