TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs sacrificed offence for work ethic Sunday – and GM Brian Burke is hoping the two big-name players he acquired will rub off on their new teammates.
Burke pulled the trigger on a pair of blockbuster trades, shipping out six players to acquire all-star defenceman Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames and goalie J.S. Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks.
Toronto had high hopes coming into the season, with Burke believing his team had a shot at making the playoffs for the first time in five years. Instead, a porous defence and lacklustre goaltending have contributed to the Maple Leafs (17-28-11) boasting the second-worst record in the league.
Burke dealt with both weaknesses Sunday, and said after announcing the trades that his team needed more players who led by example – players like Phaneuf and Giguere.
“I think it makes a big statement about where we’re going in terms of what’s needed to play here,” said Burke. “It should be clear to our players that hard work’s going to be a big part of that.”
The offensive cost was steep.
In the Calgary deal, the Leafs also acquired six-foot-six defenceman Keith Aulie and winger Fredrik Sjostrom. In exchange, Toronto gave up defenceman Ian White and forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers.
The Leafs sent goalie Vesa Toskala and winger Jason Blake to Anaheim in exchange for Giguere, who became expendable after the Ducks signed No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller to a four-year extension Saturday.
The trades remove a fair chunk of Toronto’s offence, with the departing players accounting for 57 of the Leafs’ 149 goals. Four of the Leafs’ top eight scorers heading into Sunday are now wearing different uniforms.
“We’re just going to have to find other ways to manufacture offence,” said Toronto coach Ron Wilson.
Some of it may come from Phaneuf, who made the NHL all-rookie team in 2005-’06 and has twice played in the league’s all-star game (2006-07 and 2007-08). Phaneuf is having his worst offensive season with just 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games, but Burke believes a change of scenery will help the 24-year-old regain his form.
“This guy’s a warrior,” said Burke. “He’s got a cannon for a shot. He plays the game hard … I want players who play the game hard because they’re hard to play against.”
Phaneuf, an Edmonton native, had spent his entire career with the Flames after being selected ninth overall in 2003.
“It was definitely a shock, but I’m very excited about going to Toronto and being a Maple Leaf,” said Phaneuf.
“It’s part of the business.” he added. “It’s a cliche. If Wayne Gretzky can get traded anyone can get traded. I was very surprised, but on the other hand I’m very excited to be going to the biggest hockey market in the world.”
Burke raved about Giguere, whose presence will allow the Leafs to give Swedish rookie Jonas Gustavsson more time to learn.
“What I loved about him is I’ve never had a goalie that works this hard … I’ve had lots of goalies and I’ve had good goalies but I’ve never had a goalie that worked as hard as J.S. Giguere,” said Burke.
Toskala has posted a 3.66 GAA over 26 games while Gustavsson – who twice has been treated for a heart problem this year – has a 3.03 GAA in his 31 appearances.
“Not taking any shots at Vesa, we felt we had to make this move,” Burke said.
The move also reunites Giguere with Burke and goaltending coach Francois Allaire. Giguere credits Allaire with helping transform him into one of the best goalies in the league, and said he’s excited to be working with him again.
“We had a great relationship in Anaheim,” said Giguere. “I believe that relationship will keep going. I think between me, Jonas and Franky, as a goalie group we can have a really good working relationship and find a way to do something good here.”
Sjostrom, taken 11th overall in the 2001 draft by Phoenix, has one goal and five assists in 56 games this season. He was billed by Burke as a good skater and a fine penalty-killer, and should help a Leafs special-teams unit that has allowed the most power-play goals in the league (60).
The 20-year-old Aulie is currently with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL and the Leafs plan to keep him in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. He won gold with the Canadian junior team.
“Excellent skater for a big man,” said Burke. “This is a guy we coveted and had to work very hard to get him in the deal. We think he’s going to be a real good NHL player down the road for a long time.”
Burke said he hoped the moves would rid the team of its “sense of entitlement.”
“We’ve got to create tension where there’s enough talent on the roster and a high enough battle level that the coach has decisions to make,” Burke said. “Right now he doesn’t have decisions to make. It’s these guys who got to go on the ice. We’re trying to change that. Today is an important part of changing that.”
The shakeup comes after Toronto lost a 5-3 decision Saturday night to the Vancouver Canucks to extend its winless streak to six games. The Leafs are tied with Carolina for the fewest points in the East, and sit 11 points out of the final playoff spot.
Burke said he would remain active right up until the March 3 trade deadline.
“We’re still open for business, we’re not done,” he added.
Stajan, who was second on the Leafs with 41 points (16-25) in 55 games, was one of the last players on the Toronto roster the last time the Leafs made the playoffs.
“To be here through that and to know what it was like in my first year to be in the playoffs, and then to fall short the next four years, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” said Stajan. “I wish things would have worked out differently … they didn’t, but not for a lack of trying.”
Hagman had 20 goals and 13 assists in 55 games. White had nine goals and 17 assists in 56 games and Mayers two goals and six assists in 48 games.
Blake had 10 goals and 16 assists in 56 games.
The moves also give Toronto a pair of big-salary players. Phaneuf earns $6.5 million this year – the second of a $39-million, six-year pact – while Giguere will make $6 million this season and $7 million in 2010-11.
Sjostrom is at $750,000.
Asked about the salary cap situation, Burke said it was manageable.
“At the end of the day, with this trade I think we end up pretty close to where we were,” said Burke.
Hagman makes $3 million, Stajan $1.75 million, Mayers $1.4 million and White $950,000. Stajan and Mayers are unrestricted free agents on July 1, while White will be a restricted free agent.
Blake has two years left on a $20-million, five-year deal. He’ll make $3 million next season.
The Ducks locked up starting netminder Hiller with an $18-million, four-year contract extension. That made Giguere an expensive backup – had Anaheim kept the two, they could’ve entered 2010-11 with $11.5 million tied up between their goaltenders.
Giguere, certainly fills a need in Toronto, where neither Toskala nor Gustavsson have grabbed the job. The 32-year-old has a 4-8-5 record with a 3.14 GAA and a .900 save percentage this season.
Giguere was drafted 13th overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1995 NHL draft. He played in the Calgary Flames organization for four seasons before joining the Ducks in 2000.
The Montreal native said he was looking forward to playing in the Eastern Conference.
“Everybody says it’s easier to play in the East, it doesn’t take quite the toll on your body,” said Giguere. “It’s going to be an adjustment, but if anything it should be an easier adjustment.”
He captured the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy before winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
The Leafs blew a 3-0 lead Saturday night, a loss Burke said had soured him but had not prompted the shakeup.
“These pieces were in place prior to yesterday,” he said.
Asked about the status of Tomas Kaberle, Burke insisted he will not ask the defenceman to waive his no-trade clause.