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When will a gutsy GM say: “I’d never make that trade again”? And more useless booing...

The much-anticipated "booing" of Dion Phaneuf in Calgary was much ado about nothing, but it helped build anticipation for and interest in a mid-season non conference game, I suppose.  I can't help but feel that booing just doesn't accomplish anything.  (Click here to read my post on how Leaf fans booing Bobby Orr and other visiting stars has had zero impact over the years.)

It was good to see Kulemin score against the Flames.  I still think there's another gear that will kick in that can make him a 30 goal, 70 point guy. (And Grabovski and MacArthur continue to be the most consistent point producers on the team.  Who'd have thought  it?)

For the first 30+ minutes, Giguere looked like his 2003 Anaheim playoff self.  Some of those glove saves were remarkable.  (But again, as I've posted in the past, the difference between being "successful" and not is sometimes a fraction of an inch.  The difference is not always the goalie but where the shot happens to go.  If a couple of those Flame shooters with a wide open top shelf had puck the puck there, Calgary likely would have blown things open even earlier.)

It's amazing how quickly a goalie's confidence can be shaken.  Giggy went from being outstanding to allowing a very weak fourth goal to the Flames.  Confidence for an athlete is often a fragile thing.

Stajan had to feel good about assisting on the Flames' second goal.  The goal triggered the three-goal outburst that put the game away for Calgary.  And another ex-Leaf, Hagman, had a two-point night to add insult to defeat.

For his part, Phaneuf led Leaf defensemen in minutes played and ended the night a plus one.  Small solace on what turned out to be a lousy night.

Media reports out of Calgary this week indicated that Flames GM Darryl Sutter says he would absolutely do the Phaneuf trade over again.  Similarly, Toronto fans have often heard Brian Burke say he would do the Kessel trade over again.

What else are these guys going to say—even if they felt, in their hearts, they missed the mark?

I mean, c’mon.  When will a GM ever be honest enough to admit, publicly— for fans, the media and his bosses—that he made a big mistake?

Probably never.  And certainly not if they are currently employed—or ever want to get a job in the game again.

GM’s, in their minds (at least publicly) are never wrong, it seems.  I don’t know how Sutter can honestly say the Phaneuf deal was a good one for his team. And I don’t suggest this because Phaneuf has exactly been all-world since joining the Leafs.  He hasn't.

But, despite Sutter's protestations that he had to do it for cap reasons (and that is often a constraint facing GM’s, though usually self-created because of their doling out awful contracts themselves) it’s what he extracted from the Leafs, and his subsequent moves, that made— and still make— no sense.

What did he obtain for arguably a first/second line defenseman?  Ian White, the best guy in the trade for Calgary, who he has already traded; Stajan, a popular player with the Leafs, yet still finding his game in the NHL at the age of 27.  Then there was Hagman, a skill guy who with the Flames has been exactly what he was with the Leafs—hit and miss. And Mayers, also gone.

The desperation trade didn’t get them into the playoffs last spring and they seem little further ahead this season in the tough Western Conference. (Though, for one night, Hagman and Stajan were part of the Flames hammering the Leafs.)

The Leafs received Phaneuf, Sjostrom (billed as an elite penalty-killer but quite replaceable most nights this season) and young blueliner Aulie, who seemingly has the potential to be a player.

Again, it’s not that Phaneuf is playing like an All-Star.  But the bottom line, for me, is that the trade was a disaster for the Flames from the get-go.  Throw in the re-signing of Jokinen and I still don’t get it.

Certainly I’m open to hearing what those who follow the Flames more closely than I do have to say.  They bring a better perspective than I can. 

But my broader point remains:  GM’s seemingly always have to rationalize their questionable decisions.  No one wants to admit a terrible trade, or a high-priced signing that just doesn’t work. (Though interestingly, Indianapolis Colts executive Bill Polian said recently his team made a mistake by not taking a certain guy in the first round of the draft this past June.  You don't hear that kind of candor very often.)

And, when all is said and done, I guess that’s understandable.  Most of us aren’t very good at acknowledging mistakes, especially if our jobs are on the line.


  1. I am so happy to find this! Like you, I was born in 1953 and grew up in the thick of the fever.
    While I would never consider myself an expert in hockey, I remain a fan of the Leafs.
    Thank you for creating this trip down memory lane. I will follow your musings with great interest.


  2. Michael, nice blog you run here: classy and professional while still having strong opinions and an obvious passion. This is what blogs were meant to be. OK, enough blowing sunshine. I'm a Flames fan here to shed a little western light on the Phaneuf trade.

    With Neon Dion's (I'd never heard that until today) return to Calgary there's been no shortage of coverage, from G&M to TSN and The Hockey News, and of course all of the local dailies and radio shows. Everyone, almost without exception, is hammering Daryl Sutter for this move, overwhelmingly saying how he got taken/shafted/robbed/schooled (take your pick) by Burke. Now I'm no friend of any Sutter and I think that not only the Flames, but hockey largely, has moved past their brand of play and I'm in favour of sweeping changes here, but I'm still not against this trade.

    I started out loving Phaneuf as a player. Then I had to admit that I would hate him like Pronger if he was on any other team (brash, loud, wouldn't take off his visor to fight when other players did, then let Iginla fight his fights for him). Then I started to get more and more annoyed by his mental errors, lazy-ass defensive play, complete stagnation as a player. Two seasons before Daryl pulled the trigger I couldn't wait for him to be traded. I find it interesting that I have seen Leaf fans starting their own journey through the same series of sentiments.

    Sometimes I wish we could have got a first-rounder or a legitimate first line centre in trade for him but then I think that beggars can't be choosers. (Mostly I wish Sutter had used that pick for Shea Weber instead). I liken getting rid of him to talking someone into taking over the payments on the Pontiac Aztec that seemed like such a good idea when it was new. What? We got serviceable players in exchange? Great!

    So, some trades are for getting, some are for getting rid. Sometimes there is no great upside to trades, just elimination of downside. I have no hate for your Blue and White, and if Neon Dion turns into a complete player and you guys win a cup with him as your captain I'll be the first to say congratulations. But I'll still say it was a good move.

    Now the Kessel trade - you have my sympathies there.

    Best of luck out East.

  3. Elizabeth...thank you for taking the time to write and for the kind words. It's difficult to gauge how many fellow hockey fans enjoy sharing stories and memories from what we might call the "old days". I realize the current generation of Leaf and hockey fans primarily seek discussion around the current Leaf team and present-day issues, so I try to provide a mix. I hope it is good reading for some people, at least. Thanks again.

  4. To "Anonymous" and your post on the Phaneuf trade: Thanks for your generous comments regarding this site. Vintage Leaf Memories is intended to be a place where Leaf and hockey fans can relax and visit and read about the old days, but also what's occuring in hockey now. So I appreciate your kind words.
    With regards to the Phaneuf trade, yours is the kind of thoughtful assessment I was looking to hear. Phaneuf had always struck me as a talented guy, but your comments quite rightly (from what I have seen of him since the trade) provide a perspective and a reality check for Leaf fans. Like you, I'm among those who feel that, if he can become a "complete" player, then yes, he seems to have the skill set to be a high-end NHL defenseman. But being the loudest guy in the room doesn't necessarily translate into effectiveness on the ice.
    And I can see your point about why certain deals are made. Sometimes it's not so much about what you get in return...

  5. Team sports are funny. There are as many examples of a group of misfits excelling as there are stories of stacked teams failing. Why? Because it's a team game and an inspired group of journeymen working together and firing on all cylinders can beat a team of Kovalchuks (or Phaneufs?) any day. And to understand what makes your team play like that, you would have to sit in the GM's chair.

    So, nice of you to say my assessment is thoughtful, but keep in mind that, while I have my suspicions and theories, I have no access to the GM's office so, by definition, I don't know jack. None of us do.

  6. Response to "team sports are funny..." post. Agreed. I thought about that, as I was developing the piece on GM's. Sutter was a fine player in the league for many years, a successful coach, etc. I've been a follower of the game for 50+ years but can't hold a candle to the knowledge these guys have- not to mention the nuances of running a team.

    That said, part of the fun of being a "fan" is indeed that we can speculate, watch, interpret and comment. It's a big part of what keeps hockey vibrant.