If it is true that the team that gets the best player has made the best deal, Leafs GM Brian Burke will sleep soundly tonight. Burke gutted what has quite rightly been the third worst lineup in the NHL and brought two marquee faces in 24-year-old kingpin defenceman Dion Phaneuf and 32-year-old J.S. Giguere who had been one of the league's best goalies but not recently.
Let's start with the Giguere deal simply because it's so fascinating. Coach Ron Wilson and Burke are convinced that being reunited with goalie coach Francois Allaire will help Giguere, just 32, rekindle his game. But just as importantly, they want Giguerre to continue his habit of mentoring young goalies. Giguere is a rabid devotee of Allaire's philosophies and techniques and should he rekindle the elements that made him great, the Leafs goaltending will look just a tad different. That's because the Leafs' goalie of the future, Jonas Gustavsson would not just have to fight for playing time, he wouldn't have to look too far for an example on how to be a pro. Vesa Toskala was a fine goalie in front of a good team in San Jose. He showed, as a great many goalies do, that he wasn't great enough to be a good goalie on a poor team. The price paid for Giguere is mostly financial. He is a $6 million ticket next year and a $7 million cap hit but that is defrayed by the $5 Blake brings over the next two years. Toskala was a nice throw-in but the question of his long-term health lingers because of his groin and hip injuries. His contract expires this season so he provides some veteran experience but nothing in his performance over this season or last made you want to sign him again.
In landing Phaneuf, the Leafs got a player who had been one of the top NHL defenceman, but who had been left off the Olympic team amidst reports in Calgary that he fell short of being a perfect teammate. Burke insists he has done due diligence and that Phaneuf, while prickly, is of sound character. Probably his personality is tolerable when you are winning and a hair short when you lose. There is no arguing with his skill set. Phaneuf owns one of the hardest shots in the league and the Leafs have pined for a bomber from the blueline since the departure of Bryan McCabe. He is absolutely predatory in open ice and can play the penalty kill. Coach Ron Wilson foresees him as a 26-27 minute a night contributor and with Mike Komisarek's injury casting his season in doubt, you can't argue with the timing of the move.
Fredrik Sjostrom brings the Leafs some speed that can be deployed on the penalty kill which, as you no doubt know, is the worst in the league. Prospect Keith Aulie is a six-foot-six defenceman who will work with the Marlies for an indeterminate length of time.
So the question comes down to this. What have the Leafs given up and are they further ahead? The answer is, a lot of second and third tier talent. Hagman was a good second-liner. He was a streak scorer but his competitiveness never wavered. White logged a lot of ice time because of his aggressiveness and willingness to follow the puck. He will help the Flames, as will Stajan who never had quite enough to establish himself as a first line centre but was well rounded enough to thrive further down the lineup. Jamal Mayers is an honest grinder. But are any of these players difference makers? Can they be? Can Dion Phaneuf be a difference maker? How about J.S. Giguerre. How you answer those questions determines who you think won the trade. I think the Leafs did. Let's find out.