Look at it this way.
Handsome Viktor Stalberg came to the Leafs in the sixth-round of the 2006 draft.
Through artful arranging by Leafs GM Brian Burke, Stalberg has netted a first rounder, albeit a very late one, and another in the third round.
All this for Kris Versteeg, a talented player who rises to the level of the talent around him. That was a great thing in Chicago and it will be a wonderful quality in Philadelphia. It was not an ideal one when playing with a fledgling team in Toronto.
Said Burke: “Kris’s best contributions would come with a good team,” and it doesn’t come much truer than that.
Versteeg, an honest player who has worked tirelessly to better his game, never really caught on as a Leaf although 14 goals isn’t easy to hate.
The wonder, of course isn’t that Versteeg was dealt. Burke was holding a peculiar asset, one that was more valuable to most everyone else than to him.
The wonder is what came back wasn’t a warm body, not that Burke didn’t try. He left the deal at the checkout counter in Philly and spent a week looking for someone who could play now or at least sometime next year. None came to mind and with the trade deadline only two weeks ago, Burke acted.
The elements coming back seem likely to grate, even to those who have been castigating the Leafs GM for dealing two first rounders and a second to land Phil Kessel
. It seems inconsistent for Burke to suddenly covet a draft choice.
Burke sees it in the plainest terms. Someone who could play now was infinitely preferable to someone who might play in three or four years. But you can’t steal a horse from an empty barn.
Which is, for Leaf fans, frightening really. With Francois Beauchemin and now Versteeg gone, the Leafs supply of trading stock has thinned out. Tomas Kaberle, he of the perpetual trade rumour, has along with his agent requested a complete lockdown of information. The Leafs have complied so expect the Kaberle talk to lower all the way down to a crescendo in the days leading up to February 28. That just leaves J.S. Giguere and the hunger for goaltending help is rarely substantial.
Already Burke has bundled the third round pick into a package for a forward but there is no word on the fate of that deal. The Toronto GM said he would move the first rounder, although he is in no hurry to do so.
So the situation looks like this. Burke might use the third rounder as a tease. Combine the pick with the willingness to take on salary and the Leafs might harvest another player.
Versteeg takes a contract worth a little bit more than $3 million annually to Philadelphia. Burke hasn’t just swapped Versteeg for the future, he has gained $3 million in salary room; for a team already rich in space. Cap room is like oxygen. Without it, you’re dead.
“Before today we could have acquired a player who made $6 million in salary and now had any cap issues,” Burke said.
That cap room is only going to become more pronounced at season’s end when Kaberle’s $4.25 million and J.S. Giguere’ $6 million are off the books.
The end game, Burke said, seems to be the July 1 free agency frenzy. The prize, maybe the only meaningful one is centreman Brad Richards . “We intend to be active on July I,” Burke said flatly. The story of Viktor Stalberg’s legacy may not be written yet.